Navigating the Digital Impact on Working Lives B1

This is a live blog from the CIPD ACE conference 2016 so please excuse any typos! The session was delivered by Dr Nicola Millard.

Nicola to be called a Futurologist which always comes with a question attached – do you have a crystal ball? She said she does but it doesn’t work. Nicola heads up customer insight and futures and is part of the BT Global Services team. Someone said on Twitter that they might kick her if she mentioned the future of work and AI and she offered to do the rest of the session in interpretive mime. She is going to speak about the digital possible and the collaboration conundrum. 99% of the team are looking at technology but for tech to be disruptive, people need to adopt it. She is a psychologist so she looks at this side of tech. It’s not taking analogue and putting it into digital, it’s about asking what can be done differently.
BT have an “innovation ecosystem” as you can’t do innovation in a vacuum. Nicola works with people at Cambridge University, MIT and other locations as well as “tech scouts” roaming the globe to see what is out there. Nicola’s job is to try to distil the information they are getting.
The rise of diversity and the droid. The death of Dolly, Dilbert and Dr No.
The way we work is changing. Technology has untethered us from our desks. We are starting to see the death of the desk – this is the Dilbert bit. In some territories, the office is becoming not quite a thing of the past but is certainly no longer the primary way of working. Technology has enabled us to work wherever we want, whenever we want. The future of work is a collaboration between HR, IT and property.
Evidence from Randstad and MIT Sloan shows that collaboration is the focus rather than the office environment. The closest thing to a magic and around collaboration is purpose. People collaborate when they feel they have a sense of purpose. This can often be a crisis situation – but we can’t lurch from crisis to crisis. Technology is an enabler here but not necessarily a driver. Social networks have been described as a silver bullet but evidence is showing about 70% of enterprise social networks fail. Why? No sense of purpose. About a third of people say they don”t need to collaborate. Just over half said that they would only collaborate if they were rewarded for doing so.
Sandy Pentland from MIT has studied Big Data in the context of social physics. He used RFID tags to work out how the physical spaces of MIT were being used for collaboration. MIT want to encourage collaboration. But we don’t just collaborate physically, we also collaborate online so he also analysed that.
In the future world of work we are starting to see a profound influence of a move away from command and control towards collaboration. The analysis of data shows us the skills that leaders will need in the future. We need “charismatic connectors”. Lynda Gratton uses the term “boundary spanners” – connecting people and creating a purpose are likely to be key skills for future leaders. But they aren’t being raided for those skills yet.
But does this talking lead to productivity? Sandy looked at a call centre and the trading floor. In the contact centre, he suggested taking the whole team off the floor for a cup of coffee for 10 minute in the morning and the afternoon. It raised productivity startlingly. Nicola calls this “social glue”.
On the trading floor, he found the people who keep their heads down – but they weren’t very productive. On the other hand, the echo chamber was also identified. They only get the same ideas echoing around. Non-diverse groups. Boards are another example. Non diverse groups are also not productive. There’s a middle group which balances the “we” and “me”.
Diversity covers all sorts of areas but Nicola is interested in is introvert v extrovert. She doesn’t believe in the distinction about generations, or designing the workplace for millenials alone. We do have five generations in the workplace, however. We are likely to be working much longer than ever before: it is no longer linear. As some of our skills become redundant, how do we retrain? Sabbaticals could become more important. We need a more flexible approach and all generations want that, not just millenials.
We are a product of the technology we grew up with. Typically the over-50s love email. Email is a terrible collaboration tool – it’s a great communication tool. If you want to understand the future of work, watch a 14 year old play Minecraft. Chat is very much where it’s at for younger demographic.
“Dr No” – one size does not fit all. The instinct is to say no – IT and HR. No you can’t bring your own device. No you can’t use Facebook. How do we create common ground? It’s a leadership issue, not necessarily a technical one. Where’s the common ground? One answer is the office. But it’s a one size fits all solution. We want to communicate, collaborate, concentrate and collaborate at different points. How do we redesign the office?
It has to fulfil four purposes:

  • Co-working hub/Coffice worker
  • Home worker
  • Activity based working
  • Virtualised working

Home working in BT in 1992 cost £11k per seat as there was no broadband and they had to dig up people’s gardens. Now 22% of their staff work from home. But you need a home to work from and that rules out the younger demographic.
A third option has begun to emerge – the Coffice. Nicola needs good coffee, good cake, connectivity and company to work. She hasn’t been based with her boss for 12 years.
The death of Dolly (the 9-5!) – we are stuck in “we” mode for most of the day and suffer from collaboration overload. It’s being driven by the pressure to be constantly connected. The charismatic connector can be the victim of this overload and burn out. Email is a big issue – it’s the screaming 3 year old child in our lives. Nicola would love a smart personal AI assistant to manage her inbox (and so would I!).
We are trying to kill distance but we aren’t succeeding. We’r all here in person today. But if we’re all globalised, it’s like herding cats getting everyone together. So how do we improve collaboration remotely? We need to promote fast trust – video conferencing works by far the best in this area. But there are some problems – we want common ground and it’s not universally accessible. If you’re on a train the signal is a problem. If you want to speak to someone in Australia, you have to get up at 4am.
Then there is audio – conference calls. It is pretty good but the trouble is the heavy breather or the person on the train. We asked who can do sound? The answer as Dolby. We use audio technology to cancel the sound of the heavy breathing. We can move people around the stereo spread so you know who is speaking.
Social media creates weak ties and we are in a universe of weak ties. But we do see interesting stuff falling out it – we got the tweet up and the twunch. Instantly this strengthens the ties.
BT are doing work on augmented reality but for trust to occur, some element of body language has to be present.
We aren’t going to kill distance. But if we believe collaboration is important, the big question is who owns it. Is it HR? IT? Property? Internal Comms? We’ve created Chief Customer Officers but should we create Chief Collaboration Officers?
How do we reinvent work? We know technology is only part of that. We want to create a new digital possible.

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