The Networked Workplace

The networked workplace is the new reality. It’s always on and globally connected. This is where all organizations are going, at different speeds and in a variety of ways. Some won’t make it.

First you connect people inside the workplace, then you connect organizations, and then you connect the world. That’s where we are today.

Look at how work gets done. First, simple work keeps getting automated. Many years ago the typing pool was made redundant. Today lawyers are on the block, tomorrow it may be you.

Then complicated work gets outsourced. Complicated work is that which can be analyzed and broken down into its component parts. It’s ripe for outsourcing. That used to mean overseas, but today, overseas is getting closer to home. These shifts will continue.

What’s left is complex work, but this requires passion, creativity and initiative. These cannot be commoditized. This is where the main value of the networked workplace will be made. It’s a constantly moving sweet spot. Today’s complex work is tomorrow’s merely complicated work.

At the edge of the organization, where there are few rules; everything is a blur. It’s chaotic. But opportunities are found in chaos. Value emerges from forays into the chaos. In such a changing environment, failure has to be tolerated. Nothing is guaranteed other than the fact that not playing here puts any organization at a significant disadvantage.

Two major changes are needed for the networked organization to capitalize on simultaneously working in simple, complicated, complex and chaotic environments.

First, power must be distributed. It’s a move toward democracy without losing the entrepreneurial zeal. Some companies are already there. There are no answers or cookie cutter approaches here, so don’t try to copy anyone.

Distributed power enables faster reaction time so those closest to the situation can take action. This is often the case in complex and chaotic environments where there is no time to write a detailed assessment of the situation. Those best able to address the situation have marinated in it for some time. They couldn’t sufficiently explain it to someone removed from the problem if they wanted. Shared power is enabled by trust.

Second, transparency must become the norm. Transparency ensures there is an understanding of what everyone is doing. It means narrating work and taking ownership of mistakes. Transparency helps the organization learn from mistakes. Of course this is very difficult for any command and control organization, with its published organization chart and sacrosanct job titles, to embrace.

Power-sharing and transparency enable work to move out to the edges and away from the comfortable, complicated work that has been the corporate mainstay for decades.  There’s nothing left in the safe inner rings. It’s being automated and outsourced. But the outer rings are scary and workers can’t be controlled out there or they’ll be ineffective. Aye, there’s the rub. Deal with it, or others will.

9 Responses to “The Networked Workplace”

  1. Brent MacKinnon

    I so like how you put this picture together Harold. The Cynefin framework with the complicated, complex and chaotic levels really chart where and how organizations are evolving. Your post also helps me see the larger messy picture so I can make sense of stuff on the ground in my own work with organizations and workers.

    Reply
    • Harold Jarche

      Like most of my blog posts, it’s a work in progress. I’m testing different models and ways of representing the workplace in order to inform its redesign.

      Reply
  2. Howard

    Harold; I agree, a very good explanation! I originally was concerned by the term narrating work, an idea which seems to me to work against the tacit knowing that you imply as reasoning for distributed power in the previous paragraph. But I understand it differently as explained by John Hagel here. http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2011/05/the-pull-of-narrative-in-search-of-persistent-context.html
    I would like to find a place for relationships and I believe that trust and transparency are primarily built through relationships. Part of my thinking is based on a book by Gelso: http://howardjohnson.edublogs.org/2011/05/13/the-real-relationship-an-idea-to-support-collaborative-practice/

    Reply
    • Harold Jarche

      Work is very much about relationships, Howard. Trust is very important and it’s part of sharing power as well as being transparent. It’s difficult to be transparent if you are not trusting or trusted. I didn’t want to make the graphic too complicated though.

      Reply
  3. Jon Husband

    First, power must be distributed. It’s a move toward democracy without losing the entrepreneurial zeal. Some companies are already there. There are no answers or cookie cutter approaches here, so don’t try to copy anyone.

    Distributed power enables faster reaction time so those closest to the situation can take action. This is often the case in complex and chaotic environments where there is no time to write a detailed assessment of the situation. Those best able to address the situation have marinated in it for some time. They couldn’t sufficiently explain it to someone removed from the problem if they wanted. Shared power is enabled by trust.

    Two important (and essential to address for any organization involved in / with networks) paragraphs.

    Reply

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