The Four (IT) Horsemen

We have spent some time speaking about the way workplaces need to change to adapt to the new digital environment, the innovation age. These disruptive changes to the way innovative workplaces are structured can be a nightmare for IT organisations. Companies need to find the right balance between simplicity, cost effectiveness, relevancy and being state of the art. The businesses that get this balance right will be the ones who lead the wave of innovators into the future.

But what is the magical formula to balance these ideas, to balance the very real opinion of the Accountants who are paying for this disruption, and the slightly less tangible opinions of the technological innovators who are asking for it?

In order to find the right balance, you need to understand the ideas you are shuffling around. What are the names of these Four Horsemen who are signalling the disruption of the way you do business?

The Mobility

It’s not just freelance writers and self-employed consultants who get to work from home any longer. Innovative employees are demanding the chance to work remotely from the office. Whether its issues with transit, or just productivity in an office environment, in today’s digital environment more and more work is being completed outside the four walls within which the business has shrouded itself.

Providing mobility isn’t just about allowing your employees to work from their kitchen table. Mobility means working anywhere that is not the open space. You don’t need to facilitate an employee’s ability to work from an airport departure lounge. If they can move from your office into the meeting room next door, with their laptop, then they’re mobile. If they can flip open their laptop on the bus or train, or at the coffee shop under your building, and still connect to the business’ servers, then you have given them mobility.

If your innovators can decide to avoid a traffic jam or an overcrowded subway because of the equipment you have provided for them, they are going to be productive at times when the innovators who work for your competitors are tapping their steering wheel and cursing out the Volvo driver in front of them. Who wouldn’t be interested in that?

The Collaboration

The next step in creating the digital workplace your team needs is applying tools to allow your workforce to collaborate. Even inside the business premises, large offices mean it is becoming less common for team members to be sitting around the same breakout table with documents passing from hand to hand as they review each other’s drawings.

If the digital workplace is to be effective, your team need to be able to shuffle documents from one side of the country to the other, at all times of the day and night. Luckily there are off-the-shelf products that are designed specifically to facilitate this: Google and Microsoft have designed platforms to allow the seamless sharing of documents (they also allow your team to work on multiple devices, but I’ll get to that shortly). Facebook is arriving on the playground too now. Trello provides a complete new way of managing tasks and activities at a large scale. Skype creates a virtual meeting room that can be spread across as many locations as there are participants… and so many more that I don’t even know!

The Engagement Model

Today in order to generate the most value out of their creative teams, companies need to engage with them by leveraging all the capabilities of the digital tools they are using. Buying Corporate licenses to MS Word and Excel just aren’t enough to satisfy this need any longer. Innovators don’t want to work on these broad service platforms and create documents now. They want to move from a Recording model to an Engagement model of operation.

This is what I’m talking about:

Gamification

Have you ever noticed how your workforce like to find ways to make work fun, and apply a game-like mode to their work? It is partly about being competitive, about finding a way to win. But it’s also about pushing the team to be better.

Once upon a time only nerds played video games. They huddled together in someone’s basement rolling dice and casting pretend spells to defeat non-existent dragons (as opposed to the existent dragons, of course). But now everyone has at least one game app on their smartphone or tablet. They share their results on facebook and compete and collaborate with online ‘friends’ all over the world (Clash of Clans, anyone?). Playing video games has become a social activity.

Gamification is about finding a way to apply those same game design principles to your business to motivate your workforce to collaborate and be more productive. This type of environment, and these practices, are being popularised by Google (the Google Code Jam), Dominos (Pizza Mogul) and or even La Poste in France (Facteur Academy), each with different objectives.

The new digital workforce is attracted to a company that operates a game-like environment to motivate them, and reduce the stress that a traditional work environment usually generates.

Gadgetisation

Let’s face it, the geeks in your workforce are going to want to play at work with their cool, super-powered laptops. Other people in the office are going to be satisfied with something simpler.

Ultimately everyone is going to want to work with a device that is simple for them to use, that is aligned best with the way they want to deal with technology. Some people love touch screens, while others just want a cordless mouse with a scroll button. Some will want the Apple, they’ll demand the Macbook, and others will want the Surface Pro, the Galaxy Tab, or just a Dell. Not everyone can work on a tablet.

Don’t be dogmatic, let’s be innovative for a little while, and assume gadgetisation by adopting heterogeneity in the workspace.

Automation

The first impulse might be to think that automation is about robotics or artificial intelligence. But in the modern workspaces, automation is about replacing manual and useless activities by automated tasks. Those routine things that we currently have to do every day can be things that a digital workplace can automate.

I believe that automation in this form is one of the next big shifts that is going to impact the technology industry.

We are experiencing the rise of self-help in the workforce. When an office computer develops a problem, is the first step to ring the helpdesk, or run a Google search? If your washing machine is playing up, do you call the Tech first, or check Youtube? Today automation is about aggregating the knowledge of the company and using it to provide pro-active support to the workforce in an integrated manner. The self-help phenomenon is a symptom of the automation of employee support.

When I got my first job I had to remember roughly 7,000 passwords and login combinations to use all the different systems the company had bolted together for us to use. Now I have one. I log into my computer in the morning, and that single login gives me access to everything I am going to need during the day. The single password system has become the new norm. But because the single sign on only allows a unified authentication mechanism for corporate applications, it’s still not enough for the true innovator. There is still time being consumed by entering multiple passwords during the day. This has resulted in the implementation of third party tools to manage personal login as well. The advent of the single sign on is an example of the automation of password typing.

As with anything, the examples of automation innovation are numerous. Automation like this will foster the rise of an IT without IT. This concept benefits highly digital advanced users that want a workplace that will enable their creativity instead of acting as an inhibitor.

To truly appeal to the digital savvy employee, you need to adapt your workspace to their needs, and not the other way around. For years companies have been 100% customer focused, planning all their activities with that in mind. Now it is time has come for those same companies to be a bit more (even if it’s just a little bit, that’s still better than nothing) employee focused. ‘This is the way we do it here,” isn’t going to work, because the genuine creators will just say, “I don’t do it that way.”

The idea of Four Horsemen signalling an IT apocalypse seem a little dark at first. I think though, if you look at each of these ideas in isolation, you will see that the appearance of these new characteristics of the digital workplace signals not the end of the world, but rather then end of the old ways of doing things, and the emergence into a new, brighter future for IT businesses.