What is so different about working online? Why do social media scare the sh*t out of many organizational decision-makers?
As I wrote last year, working online is different:
But it’s not about the technology. The real issue is getting people used to working at a distance. For instance, everything has to be transparent for collaborative work to be effective online. Using wikis or Google Documents means that everyone can see what the others have contributed. There is no place to hide. For example, I once developed a Request for Proposals with a large group distributed across several time zones. Everyone could provide input for a specified period of time and then that issue was closed. Later, some people complained that their requirements were not being addressed. I was able to look at the revision history of the wiki and show that they had not even contributed on those issues. This stopped the complaints and we were able to move on.
A major aspect of online collaboration is that our symbols of power are stripped bare. No one knows what kind of fancy suit you’re wearing or if you have an expensive watch on your wrist [which only old folks use anyway]. Nobody has seen you drive into your private parking spot with your high price car. You are what you contribute. That’s it.
Computer technology has been a great equalizer in our society. I can buy one of the best computers on the market and the richest person in the world is not able to get one that performs much better. Consumer technology devices are great equalizers. I probably have as much computational power as most CEO’s of major technology firms. Actually, I may have more, because my system has not been crippled by the IT department.
The collaborative, networked enterprise saw its birth in open source software projects. From these widely dispersed groups we got blogs, wikis and micro-sharing as tools to help get things done. But these groups are fairly egalitarian. You’re as good as your code. The suits weren’t invited.
You see, on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a suit … and that’s a major barrier to adoption.
Image: The New Yorker, 1993