Creating a Remote Office: A Web of Workplace Conversations

3113058 man working on his laptop on top of his suitcase waiting for his flight at modern airport - Creating a Remote Office: A Web of Workplace Conversations

I spent this past week in Washington state’s Hood Canal region, a rural area dominated by exquisite vistas of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. I travelled there from California to get out of the hectic, stressful, 24/7 work atmosphere of my university campus office. While I had to check email, chat with colleagues and students when needed, and keep my work projects progressing, the change of locale allowed me to shift my work style and pace, and intersperse my job tasks with hikes, artwork, and daydreaming.  “Unwinding” in this manner actually enabled me to work more thoughtfully and efficiently.

A nature get-away with a gorgeous vista was my now “remote” office.

Modern technology, distributed organizational models, and virtual collaborative workplace structures coupled with managerial trust have given rise to flexible work arrangements that maintain vital work communication and relationships.

Sitting in the airport waiting for my plane to return me to California exemplified even more the core nature of the Information Age and networked society in which we now live and work.

Cell phones, iPads and laptops abounded, giving travelers the information they needed about their destination—the weather, accommodations, dining options, local attractions, travelling times, and prices. Not only could they access the information, but they could compare and contrast options to make a knowledgeable decision based upon analysis.

For business travelers, the above technology transformed airport terminals and airplanes into their offices. Not only were they writing reports and answering emails, they were updating colleagues on clients and projects as well as participating in work meetings. The organization is unchained from its geographic location

Not only was information at people’s finger tips, it was dynamically flowing through networks that arose when needed and ended when they had achieved their purpose. Connectivity was on demand and so were the people in the network.

As I reflect upon this past week, I recall ideas about organizations I presented in 2005 at a conference in Trento, Italy. Conference participants explored how to manage knowledge in today’s organization. I examined this phenomenon from the point of view of the organization as a “knowing entity,” a dispersed workplace society that is a complex social system comprised of living knowledge networks and evolving learning communities that are enabled by modern digital technology.

Below are a few excerpts from that paper to ponder as you consider how to use social media to create organizations and workplaces that are more enriching and flexible:

  • Organizations, when understood as thriving organisms, have intelligence. When drawn upon it makes them vital, innovative and successful.
  • Organizations are adaptable intelligent networks and communities. A learning organization is a dynamic knowledge commons dedicated to the operation, development and success of the organization so that customers are served well.
  • Dialogue and conversation are critical dimensions of these social networks and communities. In this manner, modern emergent organizations are interactive conversations that foster inquiry, and promote reflective thinking and problem-solving. They are adaptive knowledge generating ecologies rooted in varied information sharing relationships that foster innovative thinking and creative decision-making via human-technological connections.
  • Since computer-based information, communication and collaboration technology (or ICCT) has become ubiquitous in the daily operations of the globally dispersed workplace, such complex networks are an intricate weaving of people and technology into a single, harmonious system.
  • In such a cyber environment, organizational communication, information sharing and knowledge application requires a consistent technological infrastructure that enables ongoing inquiry, conversation and collaborative workplace relationships among people, as opposed to employees merely accessing and interacting with data.
  • In The Knowing Organization, Chun Wei Choo describes intelligent business enterprises as sense-making communities, knowledge creating entities, and decision-making systems. The decision-making phase which leads to organizational action is characterized by information being explored and practically applied.
  • In this manner, interpreted organizational experiences result in organizational beliefs. Articulated tacit and explicit knowledge becomes organizational cultural knowledge. Managers’ and staffs’ viewpoints become rules and routines. Beliefs and preferences provide shared organizational meaning, purpose and practical wisdom, while shared knowledge leads to new capabilities and innovative behavior that result in goal-directed adaptive behavior. Thus, the information-driven enterprise is a learning organization that is continuously transforming itself through new insights and informed, thoughtful decisions.
  • In Information Management for the Intelligent Organization Choo argues for the value of a well-designed ICCT infrastructure and how it enables information to effectively flow throughout a distributed organization.
  • Such technology and conscious systems analysis and design enables an organization to strategically leverage information and knowledge, thus having the ability to adapt in a timely and effective way to organizational and marketplace environmental changes; engage in continuous learning, including the unlearning of outdated perceptions, assumptions and practices; mobilize the knowledge and professional expertise of employees to foster creativity and innovation; and focus their understanding and knowledge on clearly thought out, decisive action. They also make possible a distributed organizational structure and customizable work environment.
  • Information technology (or IT) departments have a strategic role in aiding the management of the information-driven and knowledge powered enterprise develop its intellectual capital in order to stay competitive. While an IT staff maintains the information and communication systems’ technical infrastructure, it also crafts knowledge-sharing within a culture by designing and implementing user-friendly tools that establish social networks and support continuous on-the-job learning.

In light of these perspectives…

  • Organizations are continuously emerging, and are a web of communication networks not bounded by geography and time zones. An organization’s intelligence is rooted in its ability to create connections that generate new knowledge and solve issues.
  • Organizational intelligence includes an enterprise’s capacity to network, or link with people and data stores to access knowledge, information and practical wisdom; dialogue, articulate, and convey ideas by interpreting, analyzing, formulating, and disseminating information and knowledge; and discern and act by creating meaning and value from information, making decisions, and taking appropriate action.
  • They are complex systems that are simultaneously a recognizable entity in time and space, and a phenomenon that continuously emerges through face-to-face and electronic communication connections.
  • In the former, information flows throughout the organization and is stored in data banks, while in the latter, knowledge and practical wisdom is the dynamic interactive social communication network.

In conclusion, organizations are a web of conversation networks mediated by ICCT—a matrix of dynamic relationships comprised of diverse, disparate individuals and work groups. No longer are they defined by their location. Workplaces are no longer restricted to buildings as they were in previous eras. Through these fluid knowledge generating cyber-social networks an organization comes into existence, achieves its mission and serves its customers and clients.

Read other posts by Chuck Piazza

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