Learning to work smarter

Anne Marie McEwan’s Smart Working nicely summarizes the shift that is taking place in how we work. These shifts have happened before – when we developed agriculture, moved into cities, or created powered machines. Now we are becoming networked.

The term ‘smart working’ has in recent years been associated with flexible and mobile working, that is ‘anytime, anywhere’ ways of working enabled by communication technologies. Another view, broader than the narrow focus on location and time independence, is that smart working is about flexibility and autonomy in where, when and how people work.

In my view, smart working is the outcome of designing and putting in place systems, working environments and governance principles that are known to be associated with effective business performance, including workforce autonomy and self-determination, and which seek to maximise opportunities to use and develop people’s knowledge, skills.

I’m in the process of putting together several threads as a single article, and this is where I do my thinking in public.

In The Learning Age I said that business models and work practices are becoming networked and global, speeding the rate of time to implementation. The lines between work and leisure are blurring, as with work and learning. Today, about 16% of us can be described as hyperconnected but that is expected to grow to 40%, and I would say those people will be the main drivers of our economies and societies.

Effective knowledge sharing is essential for all organizations today but the mainstream application of knowledge management, and I would include learning management, over the past few decades has got it all wrong. We have over-managed information because it’s easy and we’re still enamoured with information technology. However, the ubiquitous information surround may put a stop to this. As enterprises become more closely tied to the Web, the principle of “small pieces loosely joined” is permeating our industrial walls. More and more workers have their own sources of information and knowledge.

At an individual level we need to make sense of the ever-increasing signals coming from our networks, while reducing the noise. This is why I developed sense-making with PKM which I am continuing to refine. Just yesterday I explained social bookmarks, feed readers and using Twitter as a search engine to a “digital immigrant” the same age as me. The light went on when I showed how she could connect with a worldwide cooperative community that shared several of her professional interests.

The power of micro-blogging with Twitter so far is quite impressive and I was one who adopted this medium with a fair bit of skepticism. I just noticed that in the past few months Twitter has replaced Google as the prime referring site for visitors here, surpassing Google.

With some individual skills in using social media, the next question an organization may ask is how to start an online community. Of course starting one doesn’t mean it will grow or be useful. Communication does not equal collaboration, and that is a challenge in “building” communities of practice (CoP). Just because the communication tools are in place does not mean that people will automatically collaborate.  You can’t really build a CoP, it has to emerge through practice; but you can put in systems and processes to support CoP’s.  You know you’re in a real community of practice when it changes your practice.

Taking advantage of social networks for business can give a temporary advantage (everything in business is temporary anyway) and help to develop disruptive business models. So that’s it – there are significant shifts in how we work which will require new skills and if used effectively can create new ways of generating wealth. The information age status quo isn’t the same for the learning age.

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