A mobile workforce needs better on-site conversations

The future of workplace learning is social, cooperative and especially mobile. One approach for this type of workforce is to support their mobility with something like a ‘genius bar’, instead of having to request a support ticket from IT or get an appointment with HR. There is a growing array of enterprise software tools to support the emerging workforce, but it takes more than technology, as Dion Hinchcliffe warns.

We forget at our peril that collaboration is a fundamentally human activity. This implies that any use of enabling technology without taking into account how people actually conduct their work, their inclinations to share information and interact with each other, and in particular how the proposed technology will empower them and alter their collaborative behavior for the better/worse, is bound to disappoint.

Providing mobile access for work and learning just makes sense today. Clark Quinn says that mobile technology makes a lot of sense, as “it decouples that complementary capability from the desktop, and untethers our outboard brain“. Sense-making is a critical skill for most knowledge workers today, and frameworks like PKM can help. When I refer to personal knowledge management, especially my blog, I often call it my outboard brain. Supporting mobile technologies can leverage every worker’s outboard brain and free up cognitive load for pattern recognition, the stuff that machines are not as good at.

clar quinn on mobileWhile sales of tablets are increasing, and mobile business is an expanding sector, there is still a lot of work to be done on how people actually conduct their work. Legislating mobile collaboration is probably not the best solution, but it does underline the huge cost-savings of abandoning the industrial age concept of being paid for merely putting in time. As Nancy Dixon writes, “The only reason to come together face-to-face is for people to be in conversation with each other!” Too often though, the workplace is not designed to enable conversations. While mobile technologies may be part of the solution to a more agile workforce, another component is improving the workplace environment so that people can do what they do best face-to-face — converse.

If you replace the word “learner” with “worker’ in this article on the SPATIAL model, you can see that there is a lot that can be done to make work environments more open. More open environments can encourage conversations [AKA, participation in complex work].

Participation is a critical variable in nonmandated education; thus, the physical environment’s impact on participation rates can be especially important in educational and training efforts outside of school settings.

Mobile work and learning proponents should also be looking at changing the physical workplace to further support a more nomadic workforce that is empowered with mobile technologies. Let me finish with another example from Nancy Dixon, a case study called The Hallways of Learning, where a change in the physical layout of a hallway significantly increased in-depth professional interactions.

The learning that occurred in Researcher’s Square did not come from presentations, rather the knowledge gained was through conversation. When we think about learning from others our first thought is to have someone make a presentation. But as ubiquitous as presentations are, they are a poor way to learn from peers. Typically, a presenter offers what happened in his or her own situation, but that is not what learners need to hear. Learners are interested in knowing how to adapt the lessons to their situation and for that they need to have a conversation so that the other person can understand their context, and they also can understand the context of the other.

This post is brought to you by Mobile Enterprise 360 Community and Citrix

Note: I retained editorial control and take full responsibility for what is posted. Contract writing is one of the ways I make my living.

4 Responses to “A mobile workforce needs better on-site conversations”

  1. Julian Stodd

    All very true – ‘nomadic workers’ need great spaces to come together – it’s an evolution of the workplace. Thanks for another great article, Julian

  2. Bruce Waltuck

    A wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this. My one additional comment would be that I’m not sure the “only reason” for employees to be face-to-face is to engage in conversation. Unless the author of that line includes “doing together” as a part of talking and thinking together 🙂

    • Harold

      I would say that was the intent of the statement, Bruce, particularly doing together that which cannot be done at a distance.

  3. Gillian Walter

    I agree that online work environments require more conversation and interaction. If so, it would allow employees to share ideas and thoughts about anything there company is going through or producing. More socialization with online companies could be a major benefit.


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