Always on connectivity and management

I wrote about hyperconnectivity a few days ago which is essentially a technology trend, but it is and will continue to have a profound impact on management both professional and personal. The basic issue is with everything always connected and communicating where does one draw the line?

Let’s take the obvious examples, BlackBerry’s and personal email.

I walk around the office these days and people seem to be always checking personal web based email during work hours. 10-15 years ago back in the days when personal phone calls were monitored, this would be unacceptable. But today management in most “knowledge worker” organisations seem to have accepted that personal email will get checked.

A side note IT organisations have a paradox to manage, they don’t want the work email system filled with personal emails, however personal web based emails allow for virus ladened files to be easily deposited into the corporation.

The BlackBerry and other push email devices have taken over our personal lives. I walk around shopping centres, restaurants, parks etc and there we have people checking work emails. Spouses, kids and friends are ignored while the process takes place. Again a portion of society now seems to accept that this will take place.

I haven’t even begun to touch on RSS readers, SMS messages, blogs, mobile phones but the same is true for all.

It is only going to get worse.

Over the last few weeks Microsoft in the UK set up a tree house in a park in down town London to show that with all this great new technology people can work anywhere, at anytime. They even have a new name for this type of work Moof, “Mobile out of office” with a blog. Where is the balance?

Web Worker Daily wrote about Busy vs Burst working styles back in April, based on James Governor’s post , a FastForward post, and a post from Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee. The basic idea across all posts is that we have a clash of cultures brewing around how work actually gets done in the workplace. Web Worker Daily summed it up nicely:-

Busy: Show your face during all standard working hours.
Burst: If you produce what you need to, we don’t care when you do it or how long it takes.

The bursty style can only succeed when you have an always on environment.

Here are a few questions I think we need to explore.

  1. As a manager how do you control both, personal and professional so one doesn’t take over the other?
  2. How do we manage the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies” James Governor talks about?
  3. How do we measure productivity of the “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkies”?
  4. Do we need to change the definition of productivity?
  5. How do you recruit a “social/knowledge/collaboration tool junkie”, what would the job description look like?
  6. How do we explain to the Busy people that the Burst people are actually getting their work done?
  7. If Bursty people can, or are perceived to, get their jobs done so quickly, should we expect more productivity out of them during 9 to 5?

There are some easy answers to some of the questions but I feel once we add everything together management is going to get very interesting.

11 thoughts on “Always on connectivity and management

  1. Michael, I’ll have a stab at the questions as they feed directly into some subject matter I’m presenting at upcoming conferences.

    1. Good time management. Have allowed hours for the “moof” tools. For example, once I leave work, I do my best to not touch these tools until after my daughter is in bed. Then I give myself 2-3 hours to keep up on industry news, do blogging, do back office/afterwork stuff.

    2. You don’t manage, you trust and empower. At least until these people prove they are unable to be trusted – an infrequent thing in my experience. Let them use their tools. So long as productivity doesn’t drop below acceptable, you actually don’t have an issue.

    3. This is the easy one. Rather than having a n-hour week model (busy style) have an output centered model, e.g. Employee needs to produce x, y and z by the end of the day/week/month (exceptional circumstances notwithstanding). So long as those outcomes are reached, it doesn’t matter how many hours the employee is at their desk, answering email, attending meetings, etc.
    If they have responsibilities to other work groups, obviously they need to be present when those groups need their input, but otherwise, every metric is against output and not face time.

    4. No. But we do need to convince management that it’s around output and not presence that the metrics should be based.

    5. Tough one. I think you need to change the model of the workplace to understand and accept the bursty worker (oh look, Question 6!). Advertise based on the responsibilities and expectations of the role, but make it abundantly clear when meeting and talking to the person that bursty styles are considered okay.

    6. The “busys” will never quite get the “burstys”. You can see this in my anecdote at acidlabs. Again, base it around delivery of carefully defined outcomes. The busys will end up being happy if the burstys deliver.

    7. Wrong question. 9 to 5 is the wrong model. Burstys don’t work 9-5. They spend a lot of time in their own, or others’ heads getting the scaffolding around their problems before solving them in what looks to be short period busy work. Don’t count the thinking time as not doing the work.

    This is long. I’m going to post it on my blog as well.

  2. the more i think about it, the more i think an outstanding team will always be comprised of both bursty and busy people. hard to find both characteristics in one person. but small agile teams composed of both characters, in varying balances, should work well. i am “good at sales” but then i forget to send over the paperwork or whatever. i am so focused on the next thing, that I drop a ball. not a good admission to make perhaps. i am great at breakthroughs, but the ongoing day to day job of administration- i am terrible at. My colleague Cote on the other hand is both bursty and busy which is why he is such a gem, one which is becoming more polished every day.

  3. The other aspect to this “hyperconnectivity” is the burstiness of work.

    Professionals, and those who are not being actively key-logged by their managers are bursting on/off “work”

    And what is “work” anyway?

  4. oh, and Moof! is the sound Clarus, the DogCow (former mascot of Apple’s Developer Evangelism team).

    Before Apple got all serious, insular and medaevil.

  5. @james agree you need diversity otherwise team and organisations fail. There is a whole another post on this topic!

    @Steven thanks for taking the time to post such a long comment. Where an organisation/job/culture can support these concepts your answers are right on the money. The challenge is in the execution of these plans and the change management program need to move most organisations/managers/employees into this model, (note to self begin thinking about a post on this). However I still feel there might be roles that just don’t suit this working style. Oh and thanks for the tip on your wifes new blog!

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