New technologies in the world of work often change the office in more ways than they intended.
What seems like just an improvement in one area can have dramatic effects on how we look at work as a whole.
Email changes communication
Take email for example. Companies first started using email primarily to eliminate the slowness of interoffice memos and quickly connect people who were in offices far away.
But email changed the entire approach to work. It became the new way of sharing documents ("Email that to me"), organizing tasks and the entire definition of being on task. Many people spend up to a third or more of their day logged into their email client and consider it "working."
Google Docs changes collaboration
When Google Docs came on the scene, it was meant to solve the problem of fixing versioning of documents. Instead of suffixing files with NEW_Updated(2), team members could know they were always working on the latest version.
But Google Docs also brought a paradigm shift in how we think of collaboration. A document or spreadsheet can now serve as a launch pad for bringing together people to work on the same idea at the same time. When someone has a new idea, they can draft it, invite others to comment, and invite others to the conversation through tagging. Google Docs introduces the idea that collaboration should be instant and limitless.
The new horizon for tools
The next breed of tools that will change how we work has arrived. They are called digital workplaces. A digital workplace is a combination of technologies on a single platform that offers your employees an end-to-end experience of completing everything related to work in one place.
Many of the technologies of a digital workplace have existed for years, but they existed as separate applications that required you to jump back and forth between tabs depending on what part of work you were working on.
Our company has recently embraced a digital workplace. For us, this means using a platform of interconnected tools that allow us to do three main things. First, we use it to collaborate–posting ideas, having discussions, and updating teams on what is going on. Second, we use it to coordinate human-led projects or cases such as updating a new website or restructuring our sales process. Third, we use it to provide control and automation to system-led processes that are central to our core business.
What we expected, and what we didn’t
We knew that this digital workplace would allow us to have more control over our work and keep us organized. We knew that we would be more organized and have better conversations about work by keeping all the moving pieces on the same platform.
But we started to realize that in some ways our culture was changing as well. For example, before our digital workplace, if there was an inefficiency, most people just dealt with the delay or at worse assigned blame to someone else. After implementing the digital workplace, team members now realize they have the power to correct inefficiencies and share data on their own without waiting for someone else.
But the most surprising effect we’ve seen from using a digital workplace is that we do more work in public.
Working in public
When email forms the bulk of your digital experience at work, the only thing you are aware of is what is in your inbox, or what others have included you in. Most of these are private conversations or with small groups.
The same is true if you use process or project management software. You may have a slightly broader view of what is going on with other people, but you are mostly only able to see what is assigned to you. Modern messaging tools like Slack can help some with additional channels, but it can get so noisy that it is hard to be aware of what is going on.
With our digital workplace, we've embraced the idea of working in public by asking teams to share all nonsensitive work in the digital workplace for everyone to see. This means that discussions, projects and processes are fully viewable to the entire company. We don't require everyone to be aware of all the work going on, but it is publicly available.
Here are the specific benefits we’ve seen as a result of doing more work in public:
- We know what other teams are working on. If the sales team has a big push, or if the customer success team just completed onboarding a large customer, everyone knows about it. Before the digital workplace, we might have sent out a mass email, but those were usually ignored because there was no context for what the other team had been doing all along.
- We celebrate each other more. When our engineering team completed an important sprint recently, the whole company was eager to shower them with praise and appreciation. It was not only because we all understood how important this new release was for every team but also because we had seen the progress move along and knew the extra work they had put in.
- We share knowledge more. The marketing team needed to have a series of detailed conversations about how we were going to change our positioning. Nothing we were talking about was sensitive to the company, but it didn't make sense to invite the entire marketing team to the meeting. Instead of asking those attending to keep their teams informed of what was discussed, we recorded the conversation and posted it along with some written notes. This allowed the entire team to follow along with the conversation and also add questions.
Later, when we realized we needed to transfer the same conversations to the sales team, it was easy for them to quickly come up to speed and our discussion didn’t have to start at zero.
Working in public is one of those unexpected benefits that come from adopting new technology. For us, a digital workplace has not only served the purpose of keeping us more organized and informed but has gone beyond that to change the culture of how we work. As you start to embrace new technologies, pay attention to not only how they directly solve your existing issues but also how they bring to light new solutions you didn’t know you needed.