Why work isn’t working

The trends of flexible working, social business and how employees and managers need to change the way they operate to take advantage of them, are all explored in a recently-published book written by Microsoft U.K.’s Dave Coplin.

In many ways it seems that we are all living the technology dream. The advent of the internet, then the web and the ever faster evolution of services and devices have transformed the way people live their lives.

In the last few years there has been an even more notable shift, where much of the innovation has happened in the consumer sphere, rather than in the enterprise. People are connected and embracing technology in incredible ways; they are communicating with friends over Skype, they are playing games online, they are on Facebook, they are streaming movies and music and sharing photos. And they are doing all this increasingly on the move.

The technologists among us would say that now the ever-accelerating trends of mobile, cloud, big data and social are transforming the IT landscape. Which means that we live in a period where technology is all around us, where it has become a natural, normal part of our every-day lives.

However, the workplace largely hasn’t changed and today we continue to live with the legacy of a couple of hundred or so years of office work. We have gone from working pretty much for ourselves (or the local lord) as farm workers and labourers through the industrial revolution into the rise of modern multinational corporations.

And somewhere along the way, how we work got stuck. We have found ourselves at the mercy of command and control hierarchies, butting up against principles that were designed for an analogue world and which have become more or less irrelevant in today’s digital, connected world.

We have lost sight of the fact that we are all, for the most part, professional, independent creative beings, employed by our organisations to help them achieve great outcomes.

Some now wonder whether technology – the very thing that was supposed to set us free – might not have instead ensnared us without truly adding the value it so richly promised.

The modern day “curse” of email is an example of where productivity or process has replaced creativity or work. It’s also a great reminder of what happens when a technology tool’s use is extended way beyond the parameters it was originally designed for until its value is lost.

We have become slaves to our email. We impulsively, constantly, fanatically check for messages when we should be cognitively elsewhere. We spend our lives on the thankless, merciless and never-ending quest for the nirvana of “inbox zero”. We blame the fact we get email rather than blaming ourselves for compulsively checking for messages every five minutes. It’s a classic example of where technology becomes the prison rather than the release.

We have allowed email to become the only solution when so many other (better) choices exist. Just as when, as a young boy let loose in my Dad’s workshop, I would reach for my favourite tool and as I anxiously searched around the workbench for something to “fix” my Dad would sigh and simply remind me: “Son, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Business Reimagined by Dave Coplin
Business Reimagined by Dave Coplin

July 16, 2013


These is just one example of how we have become stuck in old ways of managing, communicating and collaborating. We measure success by process not by outcome.

It is time to harness the power of collaboration and flexible working to rethink the way we work towards a better, more agile, more creative working environment. We need to take a more flexible approach to both the workplace and the work we do; one that provides us both the physical and cognitive space to harness the incredible power, insight and experience we offer.

The Business Reimagined book is available from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith Travel and the publisher’s website and, for a limited period, the ebook for Kindle from Amazon is available for FREE, so get your copy and encourage others to download it too! And do join the ongoing conversation on twitter at #bizreimagined.