October 10, 2010

Living 2.0

It appears that the concept of "work 2.0" or "the new way of working" (NWOW) is still quite popular as the subject is actively being discussed in many blogs, books, fora, etc. Fact of the matter is that the title / label seems completely wrong for the topic, possibly due to the fact that many companies just don't get it.

It is hard to come up with a very strict definition of what the 2.0 concept really is, or entails for companies. I'll stick to mentioning some of its aspects here to get a sense of the spectrum.

One of the best one-word characterizations of "2.0" seems to be 'social': sharing knowledge & information in and with a group of people of which not all members are necessarily known. It even goes as far as sharing belief systems and relations (a rather extrem version of 'any friend of yours is a friend of mine'). Perhaps the most prominent/ visible aspect of the 2.0 movement is the digital aspect of it. Indeed, social media such as twitter, facebook and hyves are important enablers in this respect. Many companies are struggling with these technologies indeed. The discussion tends to focus on productivity: does technology xyz enable my workers to be more productive? Indeed, employees tend to be considered as 'production units' and the new tools and techniques as 'toys to keep the kids happy'.

In the workspace, the new way of working is often equated to "no longer work from 0900-1700, but enable the workforce to work whenever they want. In itself this could be a good thing. It recognizes that a nine to five mentality no longer fits our needs. Unfortunately it seems that many companies again take a productivity approach: because n% of my workforce is in heavy traffic while commuting into work, we'll allow for more flexible work hours so they can get some work done before they hit the road. The consequence, company hands out laptops and cellphones for mobile connectivity and pride themselves on how well they facilitate their workforce.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not against mobile working, handing out laptops, cellphones and flexible work hours (on the contrary!). My point is, that looking at these phenomena in a 2.0 context, the line of reasoning does not make sense, even though some of the consequences of this line of reasoning do!

In my opinion, the 2.0 concept is about the following things:
  • empowerment of people
  • work = fun && fun = work (or: fading boundaries between work and private life)
  • focus on relations with people rather than a focus to the company / brand
Indeed, new "toys" (laptops, cell phones, instant messaging, ..) can empower people. When taking a 2.0 approach, however, companies should put the people first and dare to be bold. Let the workforce figure out what they want, why they want it, and trust that this will motivate them enough to do the right thing and make the company thrive!

I'll give two small examples of what this could entail. Lets start with my own personal experience as consultant / trainer. Over the last few weeks I have kept of how I spend my time. I've learned that I'm on the move (taking trains, airplanes etc.) for 15-20% of my time. During this time, I want to busy myself with things I think are fun: writing blogs, conversing with clients, working on client reports, reading (summaries of) new technology books online, skyping with the kids etc. First thing to note: for me there is no boundary between work and private life. I do a lot of "stuff" during the week and for part of this "stuff" (expressed in 'hours') I happen to get payed. Second thing to note: in order to do the things I want to be doing, I need two things: devices & connectivity that enable me to get my hands on computing power and connectivity to my loved ones.

The former is sort of taken care of: I have a company-provided laptop that mostly does the job. It is a bit slow, too big, and too heavy to carry around all the time, but at least it is there. It would help if the concept of mobile working (mobile not being: working at home in the morning, dumping laptop in the back of the car and driving into the office) was thoroughly understood for our company. The bigger issue, however, is connectivity. Here's economics at work for you: the Netherlands has pretty good connectivity in most of the country. Then why is it that, while taking a train from A to B, I lose my connection so often? Even for up to 20 minutes at a time? Why do we pay so much for this lousy service? Even while typing this piece, my provider dropped the connection at least 3 times...

From a social / 2.0 perspective I can't help but wonder if no one at the provider is empowered enough to take bold action and actually fix this. From a strategic perspective, this must make sense! many consultants are out there every day, and I'm sure they're willing to pay a (slight) premium for a guaranteed connection...

All in all, I propose we drop the label "the new way of working" and start talking about "living 2.0". Working should be a way of life! Working is fun, and it is fun to work. We just happen to have made a deal with a company full of interesting people with shared interests, and they pay us to do what we think is fun in the first place!
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