The Hastings Conundrum
How do we square the following two statements? The future will see more remote knowledge work, not less; and as Reed Hastings has said about being remote, ‘Debating ideas is harder now.” This is a very difficult organizational learning problem. According to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, over 42% of the US workforce is working from home full time due to the pandemic. Further, Harvard Business School estimates that one in six workers will remain in a mixed on site and remote work mode post pandemic. Other estimates reach as high as one in five workers fully remote by 2030.
There is a ton of research also supporting Reed’s assertion of the problem. Professors M. Mahdi Roghanizada and Vanessa K.Bohn found that face to face interaction is 34 times more successful than email. They found we tend to overestimate the effectiveness of the structured give and take forced by email and messaging applications.
Video, email, messaging, phone and even gamification have strengths, as well as impossible to overcome weaknesses. That’s why we have so many communication mediums for remote workers. You would think that video is the savior for remote workers, yet the New York Times recently reported, “Psychologists, computer scientists and neuroscientists say the distortions and delays inherent in video communication can end up making you feel isolated, anxious and disconnected.”
Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier wrote in their book, REMOTE: Office Not Required, that communication is the top issue and challenge for remote teams:
“When the bulk of your communication happens via email and the like, it doesn’t take much for bad blood to develop unless everyone is making their best effort to the contrary. Small misunderstandings that could have been nipped in the bud with the wink of an eye or a certain tone of voice can quickly snowball into drama.”
If there was anything that begs for some fun gamification in the workplace, that does. However, after quite a few years of unfulfilled promise and basic flaws, gamification seems like a tool, not a solution. For example, the University of Pennsylvania’s Tae Wan Kim and Kevin Werbach provided insights into the ethical issues of gamification, such as; exploitation, manipulation, and negative character effects. It appears for now we are stuck with the communication channels of in person, digital voice, video, email, messaging and social media as the mediums we use to debate our ideas. Can we find other insights?
The Conundrum’s Onion
Marketeers already understand that a brand has distributed presence. Great marketing departments actively tune messaging for each communication channel, while tracking results by message and by channel. Just like a brand’s message, a worker’s communication is now distributed between in person, email, messaging, phone, video and social media. We can certainly train our talent to be better communicators in this new digital world, but how can we augment our other communication channels to make debating our ideas easier?
Slowly, we are coming to the realization that replacing or enhancing our communication mediums is not the answer to easing idea debate. If face to face is 34 times more effective than email or messaging, it’s going to take a bunch of supporting techniques to get to in person parity. We are going to need to augment our new virtualized communications across the board to get anywhere close to the same effectiveness of face to face for debating our ideas. For example, Stanford University has chartered the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI). Stanford’s HAI seeks:
“To develop new human-centered design methods and tools so that AI agents and applications are designed and created with the ability to communicate with, collaborate with, and augment people more effectively, and to make their work better and more enjoyable.”
If you look at HAI’s charter there are some clear places to start. Whatever we do, our tools must be communication and collaboration centric. With those story points in place, then our tools can augment us. Our designs must take into account the basic nature of how humans work. Deloitte recommends defining work around human capabilities. They state, “The essence of redefining work is shifting all workers’ time, effort, and attention from executing routine, tightly defined tasks to identifying and addressing unseen problems and opportunities.” Basically, and pretty much in keeping with Reed’s thoughts, the primary form of work should be about debating ideas and not statusing tasks.
There is a deeper fundamental way to look at our problem. If we use first principles questioning, we realize that what we are talking about is a new look at both knowledge management and organizational learning. Recently, Wolfgang Scholl, Christine Konig, Bertolt Meyer and Peter Heisig researchers from the University of Berlin canvased experts in knowledge management about the future of the field and found:
“According to the experts, the future of knowledge management lies in a better integration into the common business processes, a concentration on the human-organization-interface and a better match of IT-aspects to human factors whereas IT-aspects rank low on this agenda. There are no broadly agreed theoretical approaches though something can be gained from the related organizational learning field.”
Organizational learning as defined by Wikipedia is the process of creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge within an organization. An organization improves over time as it gains experience. So, organized learning at the enterprise scope. Thus, the first step on the path to better debating ideas is to know what we know.
Organizational Learning: A Conundrum Solution
For our new multichannel augmentation, using machine learning, the technology must be able to communicate and collaborate with us, while helping us to debate ideas all the way to market. One clear use case would be the ability to mine out the existing ideas at play in the enterprise communication channels. This is the learning what we know step. Another would be to understand how ideas interact and affect one another – adding sophistication to the very definition of an idea. A very powerful one would be to map as metadata the rest of our enterprise data to our new idea inventory. This step is the beginning of creating real knowledge, as we curate data into information. Along the way, we will want to update our people’s skills using modern concepts and multichannel reinforcement. The future is remote, yet we have to augment our communication and collaboration via technologies to make remote more than in person. We must focus on making debating ideas easier.
At Take2, our mission is to address this problem. We are an organizational learning and knowledge management company that illustrates the human-organizational interface of your ideas and knowledge. We have developed the Idea Index™, a natural language processing inventory, network view, and machine learning ready curation of your unique ideas. We use a modern linked data architecture to build your domain knowledge graphs that are then indexed to ideas. We also teach five foundational digital workplace classes to help your talent build a learning organization. We leave the debating of ideas up to you.