The Network Organization and Its Hybrid Workplace Systems
Geographically distributed, functioning in a global context and ongoing engagement with internal and external professionals are apt key descriptors of the 21st century organization.
The complex pulsating networks in which an organization comes to life and thrives, in reality, is the organizations itself; while the planned and spontaneous connectivity that fills members’ daily work routines is the modern office. The workplace is wherever one is when connect via technology.
These are themes that have been examined over the past several months in the Rethinking Complexity blog.
Let’s continue this exploration, concentrating on the impact that globalization and technology is having on how the workplace is envisioned and structured.
Knowledge generativity is now a key, some would say even vital, goal of an organization’s culture and its management.
As is well known, we live and work in a Technology Age driven by a knowledge economy fueled by skilled innovative knowledge workers. It is the era of the network organization whose hallmark is a form of connectivity that transforms rich data and information into forward thinking visions and business strategies, enables collaborative decisions and problem solving, and fosters inventive proactive action. The organization is learning and creating its future.
Weaving people and technology into dynamic human-centric workplace systems that link people and allow information to freely flow as needed has the potential of expanding organizational innovation and higher levels of success. Knowledge sharing ecologies formed by such connectivity can unleash organizational intelligence and enable it to be strategically leveraged.
In The Knowing Organization Chun Wei Choo (1998) describes organizations as "sense-making communities," "knowledge creating enterprises," and "decision-making systems." Knowledge is always emerging and being discovered and being sought and applied. It also becomes outdated and has to be transformed.
- The relevance of organizational knowledge is revealed through the systems of meaning that the organization uses to assign merit and significance to new information and knowledge. The value of organizational knowledge is manifested in how it extends the organization's range of capabilities and choices. The effectiveness of organizational knowledge is unveiled overtime in its ability to nourish the growth and renewal of the organization. (pp. 242-243) [Emphasis added.]
Successful managers draw upon a variety of strategies and skills to operate in organizational settings that are complex webs of ever-evolving communication systems and dynamic workplace relationships in which knowledge is freely shared. Redesigned workplace environments are leading to a new notion of what it means to “have or work in an office.” It is no longer about physical place but being in relationship and being connected. It is about being active in a network.
More and more, distributed organizations are fashioning ever-evolving, borderless workplaces characterized by open space, fluid networks and interactive F2F and virtual environments where people meet, engage, and create. Workers freely move around in the physical and virtual organizational open spaces, accomplishing their work by seamlessly moving in and out of the physical and virtual dimensions or domains that comprise the organization and its expansive system of networks.
In light of this dynamic, what is the office of tomorrow that is taking shape today?
This is a practical challenge for there is not one format emerging for the “interactive network” office space or one view on the role that technology will play. As can be imagined, there is much experimentation. But, let’s take a stab at identifying some interesting ideas that are surfacing and worth reflecting upon. Also let’s look at the changes, some quite dramatic, in both thinking and behaviors that will be required of workers and managers.
Establishing and maintaining a vibrant organizational culture that builds teamwork and generates knowledge is critical. That is obvious. Central to such an organizational environment, though, is fashioning people and technology into adaptive workforce systems that continuously innovate, collaboratively make decisions, and enable workers to complete tasks by operating in a “high presence virtual workPLACE.” Furthermore, the notion of “workforce” is no longer the people alone as in the past, but the people plus the technology as a unified system. Now that is a challenge.
While there is no easily attained answer to how to establish such a work environment and its processes, let alone what such a workplace actually is, some “talking points” can be set out to create dialogue about core aspects of this dynamic notion of workforce and its environment comprised of people and technology. These points include…
- A continuously adapting open workspace that takes shape based upon employee needs;
- Shifting from an “I space” to a “we space” mindset;
- Networking experts through technology regardless of geography and time zones;
- Collaboration and ease of connection that enables more spontaneous talking and interacting and teleworking systems measured by quality of work completed on its scheduled timeline;
- Telepresence and flexible office space populated by people, robots and avatars;
- Organizational culture, processes and technological infrastructure that enable dynamic internal and external 2-way conversations, easy 24/7 information access and analysis, and ever evolving work environments responding to organizational and networking needs;
- Co-sharing office space with other companies; and
- Interweaving work with play to make completing job assignments more innovative and enabling employees to be more rested and motivated.
While some of these ideas are exciting because they break down the solitary, siloed way of working so characteristic of the past, others may seem more like science fiction than science fact. But just stop and recall how organizations were structured in the 1980s or how professionals communicated or functioned as teams in the 1990s, let alone how they operated in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Mobile technology, the Internet and cellphones have revolutionized organizations. Believe it or not, various types of robots, holograms, telepresence technology, and avatars are already being utilized to bridge the impersonalism created by geographic distance and working across time zones.
The key question is how can technological and virtual work environments be actual meeting places? How can they be human-centric systems characterized by a high level of human presence and interaction?
As you can readily see the network organization and it adaptive workplace poses many practical communication, managerial, cross-cultural workplace, organizational technological systems, and operational challenges, whether you are a manager who oversees US employees or are a global manager who facilitates virtual teams whose members are spread out around the world.
How these issues are practically addressed is the challenge that faces today’s organizational professionals. With that said, it seems, then, that this conversation needs to be continued. Watch for further postings.