A two year plus pandemic and a migration to hybrid ways of working have resulted in overflowing workplace digital toolboxes. Even if you choose to limit your choices to the biggest toolbox of them all, Microsoft 365, the toolbox is becoming increasingly complex. Those charged with facilitating the adoption of such toolsets, the “what tool to use when” matrices developed out of necessity, are becoming unworkable for the everyday end user. What we have observed in our analysis of Microsoft 365 usage patterns is that staff are largely confused, with many sticking to what they know best (i.e., email and meetings).
A Workplace Digital Infrastructure
We are seeing the evolution of the toolbox into a digital workplace infrastructure. We often relate the term “infrastructure” to transportation systems, communication networks, sewage, water, electric systems and similar. Infrastructure is a foundation, established to facilitate our lives in a modern world. Workplace digital infrastructure facilitates our working lives.
A decade ago Professor Kai Reimer from the University of Sydney blogged about “Tools or Infrastructure” as it related to social media. Reimer noted that predicting the ROI for the usage of a single tool usage was relatively straightforward, such as time saved by using email. However, he also stated, “Infrastructures on the other hand help open up new spaces for users to fill and define in practice. What they become, and the kinds of context-specific purposes they acquire, is generally the result of an open-ended process of sense-making among the user group …. when we first see them, we don’t quite know what they are for.”
Infrastructure provides a multitude of choice for individuals and groups to explore and experiment with. Predicting the ROI from an investment in infrastructure suddenly becomes more problematic. Think of a transport infrastructure where the timetables for the different modes of transport are not coordinated. The benefits from using one mode of transport could be lost waiting for a connection to the next mode. Similarly, if individuals in your group prefer email while others prefer chat or calls and others meetings, the potential gain from the use of one collaboration mode can be lost in the time resolving the resulting miscommunications.
Related Article: Is the Collaboration Development Platform the Future Desktop?
How Do We Profit From Effective Workplace Digital Infrastructure Usage?
The burgeoning workplace digital infrastructure, along with the unknown effects of a gradual movement to hybrid working, is what is known as a “wicked problem.” Wicked problems are seen as “difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements.”
What was Reimer’s suggestion? “Don’t try to predict, but of course, you observe and measure what happens.” In essence, his advice was consistent with an accepted practice for dealing with complexity: observe, measure and monitor the small fail-safe experiments individuals and groups undertake as they explore this new infrastructure. Identify what works and what doesn’t work. Then amplify the good and dampen the bad.
For those tasked with facilitating the profitable use of workplace digital infrastructure the advice is:
- Acknowledge not only the huge potential the emerging digital infrastructure promises, but the complexity that exists in realizing that potential.
- Start by understanding, in detail, how the infrastructure is being used over time. Look to workplace analytics tools to facilitate this.
- Create a select few purposeful experiments. Identify a few diverse groups or teams in your organization to learn what works or does not work for the different contexts across your organization. Instrument these experiments with both active and passive monitoring tools to maximize the learning potential.
- Actively share the results of these experiments across your organization. Be careful not to offer these as prescriptions, but rather as insights to be drawn from by other groups and teams. Prescriptions do not work in complex environments. Adaptations and improvisations, based on shared knowledge can.
Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.