managing the virtual workplace

Managing the Virtual Workplace

The future of work was a workplace years into our future. With coronavirus, that workplace is now. How our we managing the virtual workplace now?

For economic and now societal needs, business is being forced to use new workplace virtualization and communication optimization tools. Experiments in new management techniques must follow. Business leaders will also see more clearly than ever that communication is their most important asset, yet also the most difficult to manage. Those companies that excel in using and creating communication solutions for the virtual workplace will survive and grow. 

Leaders should not be mistaken, this experiment environment is not temporary, as the companies that excel will illustrate that a physical office is today’s abandoned factory. These successful companies will keep asking, what is the modern digital enterprise? Luckily, there are new ways of understanding our business that will enable and enhance the virtual workplace. One tool, natural language processing (NLP), has matured to the point that our communication is also now data. The transparent use of our business communication data will be the key to mastering the virtual workplace and describing the modern digital business. So let’s look at one possible experiment.

Managing the Virtual Workplace

Three independent, but rapidly converging ideas are at play in our virtual workplace management experiment. They are:

  1. Open source NLP applications such as Google’s ALBERT bring capabilities that were the domain of scientists to the IT department’s toolkit.
  2. Software architectures that are resource centric and integrated by linked data (e.g., JSON-LD), like those advocated by software architect Brian Sletten, enable rich decision support environments that are massively flexible, while reducing data duplication and compute needs, while also not requiring new security protocols.
  3. Knowledge graphs are quickly becoming the main data curation and analytical formulations for enterprise data. These structures move seamlessly between machine learning applications and analyst queries. Curated properly, knowledge graphs can enable everyone in the enterprise to become data analysts.

And therein lies the main problem. The bane of big data/business intelligence has been data curation approaches. How best to organize data? A business is not a library. A business is not an encyclopedia. What organizational approach for data best reflects what a modern digital business looks like?

If we look at our experiment, the business activity conducted at home or our shelter in place does not stem from a building in an office park. It is not a white board. It’s not the company workstation. It’s people exchanging via communication the ideas that align with, and sometimes not, the direction of the company. What NLP research has taught us is that most of our communication has iterating components. Our words and larger constructs; sentences, paragraphs and even emails, iterate. There are semantic similarities. Thus, for our experiment, why not let the iterating pieces form the backbone, or base knowledge graph, for our resource centric, linked data decision support environment? Curation becomes an exercise in self discovery, both literally and figuratively. 

Our experiment further supports first principles thinking about the very act of making decisions – the essence of management. Successful decision making is simply the ability to understand and manage the iterating things sufficiently to discover, harness, enhance or mitigate the unique things. The maturity of NLP tools means you can now take high fidelity iteration inventories from your unstructured data very easily. Those iterating things could be words, words, objects, even phrases. Add-on machine learning algorithms can quickly identify the unique from the soup of the iterating. Some can even predict the unique. This decision support approach, semantic discovery, illustrates how widespread and powerful NLP can and will be in the enterprise.

With an inventory of the unique iterating communication pieces, along with any retained context information, a modern natural language based knowledge graph can become the main index to enterprise data. In fact, the totality of your knowledge graphs linked together; NLP index, resource, capabilities, product components, domain facts, supply chain, etc., is the digital representation of your business. This is an experiment worth every company’s time.

With Agile, we started telling ourselves stories. We innately understand the power and the foundational aspect of communication. Agile brought us to the doorstep of using communication as data for our decisioning. Leaders will have to embrace full transparency in this experiment, as everyone must acknowledge the risk of abusing this new found toolset. However, communication is the natural resource that fuels the new virtual workplace. Leaders that leverage communication data to better understand and manage their business will be better positioned to react to the unique, good or bad.