Monday 18 June 2012

Socialising the Workplace

As an interim for many years now, I often find myself at a client’s site frustrated because the software they provide does not measure up to the software I use at home. The reason I am so enthusiastic about the power of IT is because it has the potential to dramatically improve the efficiency of an organisation or an individual.

I invest in software that makes me – I believe - very efficient, often automating tasks that would otherwise be time-consuming. It also improves the way I store and display data, e.g. programme plans, brainstorming and contact management, so I don’t “lose stuff” and I know what conversations I’ve had with whom a year or more ago and I can track agents’ performances over time.

The quantum shift in easily accessible software with the advent of mobile apps and the emergence of social networking sites is likely to cause similar frustration amongst people far younger than I am as they enter the workplace. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and others change the face of communication. Text messaging and video calling on smart phones similarly alter the way people communicate.

All this creates a huge shock to the system for new people entering the office only to find they have to communicate via email or book a room to hold meetings. In their social lives they have probably been announcing parties/plans/events etc. to their friends via Facebook for years, and suddenly, when they are supposedly in a professional environment, life slows to snail’s pace.

I’m not suggesting of course that business is conducted via Facebook, but I do believe that businesses must embrace socialising technology. That is to say central repositories for programme documentation, bulletin boards, instant messaging and wikis for faster, more efficient communication.

When I entered the workplace – just after the company archived the abacus – a quality review involved booking a meeting room, finding a convenient time for everyone, meeting to discuss the document, making the changes after the meeting and then literally walking the document around the office to confirm to people that the agreed changes had been made. How much better now to use software to store the document where everyone involved can access it and make comments. Furthermore, it will be subject to version control so the history of changes is easily tracked. We used to call that “Configuration management” and employ someone just for that!

With efficient systems, no-one is in any doubt which document is the current version and discussions are open for all to see.

This has implications for programme management of course. Security of the documentation must be paramount, and user access should be allocated judiciously. Perhaps more important than these mechanics is the implication for programme morale. I believe this programme socialising generates far more of a team ethos. Stakeholders aren’t limited to weekly – or even monthly – updates and any problems aired have the potential to be answered quicker because the whole team is aware there is an issue.

This more collaborative way of working should lead to greater motivation, more transparency and a greater degree of trust. It just needs managers to update their thinking and embrace what’s new – arguably the very reason they came into IT in the first place.

I’d like to hear your views and experiences; is your workplace socialised? Are a wiki and instant messaging cutting edge for you, or business as usual? Perhaps they are yesterday’s news and you are far more sophisticated?

Steve Syder RPP, FAPM is a freelance programme manager and RPP Assessor based in London. His web site is