If I was in business, trying to keep things going, trying to make money, trying to grow, I would have little time for all the theorising that goes on about the future of work. It must seem incredibly abstract and distracting. But business runs on stories. Stories about why we do what we do, what works and what doesn't, even stories about why we run our organisations the way we do. Without the stories from theorists of the past such as Denning, Taylor and others our businesses would not look the way they do.
Our stories are changing. How we make sense of things is changing. The days when we all watched the six o'clock news and all had the same sense of what was happening have gone. Nowadays we are writing our stories ourselves. We are making sense of the world through stories shared by our networks. Look at the Scottish referendum. This supposedly apolitical, apathetic populace suddenly became animated and engaged. Westminster and the media were caught napping. Or Hong Kong where people were using social media, and Firechat to coordinate and work out what they were doing and why.
Why should these experiences not transfer to the workplace? Why shouldn't the ubiquitous access to networked conversations migrate inside the firewall? The days when our communications departments were the only way that we found out about our organisations have gone. We are working things out for ourselves and sharing what we know online. Sometimes inside the firewall and sometimes not. The shift has started.
But this shift is really slow. It is not the wholesale rush towards "Social Business", or "Enterprise 2.0" that we were led to expect. It seems even slower because we were all told it was going to be really fast and that Generation Y were going to radicalise the workplace. Really? It is their first job. They've worked hard to get it. They are not going to shoot their mouths off on the corporate intranet if no one else is!
It is now thirteen years since some of us started experimenting with social tools inside work but the number of people following those examples is still small. We are only scratching the surface. Why is this and how is it going to change? What can we do to make networked conversations work better for us and make our organisations more effective?
Seventy percent of staff are currently reported to feel disengaged at work. This is an appalling statistic. To be squandering so much potential has a real cost but it is almost accepted as an inevitable characteristic of the modern workplace. I am often criticised for being unreasonable in my expectations that people will want to think harder about what they do and why. I am told that they want a quiet life. Putting in time at work. Coasting. Getting through their forty years so that they can retire.
I disagree. Deep down everyone wants to be engaged in doing something worthwhile. Even if it is in small steps, in small ways, we all rise to the opportunity to do things better, to make things better. This is what social tools are for. Not for "communication" in the sense of internal communications messages. Not for grand gesture change initiatives. But for actually getting things done. For sharing how things work. For working out together why they don't. For being seen to care about that and to be willing to do something about it. The potential is there. It is huge. So why aren't we doing it?
This is what I will be looking at in this series of blog posts. What is the real promise of networked tools in the workplace and why are we finding it so hard to achieve? I will take a closer look at technology and systems; personal skills and behaviours; structure and policies in the next three blog posts. I hope to raise the lid on the challenges and suggest ways around them.
Euan's 'glass half full' approach is optimistic but I sense he is getting a little impatient with the lack of demonstrable progress. It will be good to hear his insights going forward. In the meantime, I wonder how in a world where a 140 character attention span seems to becoming the norm.