With more and more technology to help us work together, it turns out that a better solution for a future workplace might already exist–we just have to use our tech to get us there.
There is a fascinating thing happening in today’s world of work. Employees are drowning in technology, yet they want more and better devices and applications to do their jobs. At the same time, millennial workers, whom we all assume are the most enthusiastic about technology, are expressing a desire for more human, face-to-face interaction while also lobbying for more effective collaboration and productivity solutions. Organizations would be making a mistake if they overlook this “weak signal” of an emerging culture shift.
In the late 1960s, Dr. Ed Lindaman was the director of program planning for Apollo, working for North American Rockwell (formerly North American Aviation). In that role, he was responsible for combining the efforts of multiple work centers, contractors, NASA officials, and Rockwell people. He used to tell the story of how critical a rudimentary form of teleconferencing–communicating via television and telephone feeds–was in keeping that fast-paced and high-stakes project on track and on time. Since the people involved were spread all over the country, it could not have been done without teleconferencing.
Such early experiences with teleconferencing, and the subsequent development of the personal computer, computer networks, then the Internet, the cell phone and, finally, the World Wide Web, all took us into the 1990s in a very advanced mind-set about the future of work. “In the future, we will travel to get together, but not to do most basic work,” said cell phone pioneer Craig McCaw at a teleconferencing conference in Seattle in the mid-1990s.
Fast-forward to early 2013. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer shocks the business world by announcing that she was ending a policy that allowed a high level of remote work at Yahoo, asking people to come to the office instead. As she explained in an interviewshortly after:
“When you look at things like the Yahoo! Weather app, that wouldn’t have happened if those two people hadn’t run into each other,” she said. “You needed someone from Flickr to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got these geo-tagged photos, and I know where these photos were taken and we can probably detect whether or not there [are] faces in them or whether they’re a scene’ and them running into someone from Weather who says, ‘Hey, could we make our app more beautiful?'”
“I sort of call it the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups effect,” she added. “The chocolate and peanut butter taste great together, but that only happens when people really say, ‘What happens when we combine these things?'”