Dear business, It's been awhile, five years today, since we started working together on a daily basis.
It's been awhile, five years today, since we started working together on a daily basis. However, despite 5 years of working as colleagues, I am not sure whether we feel the same about each other. I feel like you either ignore me or you are so sure of my abilities that you throw obstacles at me every day.
However, at our first meeting, we talked about everything that we had in common: Values, collective working, team spirit, and collaboration. All of it was as important to you as it was to me. Maybe not for the same reasons, but that’s not important: At that moment, we seemed to agree on everything.
You want things to move quickly and for us to be productive. That’s obvious. With subjects that become more and more complex, rather than wanting us all laboring away in our own corners, you tell yourself that if we help each other and better used each other’s individual skills, if we shared more, we would work more quickly, then we would do better. And when we are in project mode, that’s true- it’s the coordination that counts: The more we seamlessly share, the better.
I am a social animal
I share a lot of your desires.
Who wants a complicated life, sitting alone in a corner when you can simplify things by having a life shared with others? But it is more than that.
For 10 years now, we have gotten used to having smartphones always by our side. We have almost permanent access to information from our connections, whether it’s big or small, and our groups of friends too. Sometimes it’s called "chat", sometimes "social networking", but I call it permanent problem solving. We always find someone who can, someone who knows, someone who knows someone who knows. But then again, I am a social animal.
We have talked a lot about engagement lately but we know that what defines our engagements is not our company in some abstract way but the quality of our interactions with others at work and the strength of the ties that we weave with others over time. When you are alone, when conversation has become synonymous with combat, you are not as motivated.
Basically, from teamwork to modernization, you sold me on your being a great place to work. By signing on the dotted line, I felt like that really was the place to be. And, because of that, I think it's time we talk about a few problems with your workmanship and finishing touches.
Finding the right person, that’s good – but being able to talk to them, that’s better
To work together, don’t we have to know each other? Because, as you would expect, you have formed teams but the real hard work comes in managing the unexpected - and then everything becomes more complicated. You know, "finding the person who ..." is a basic part of our personal lives.
Well, sometimes it's easier to find help at the end of the world than at the other end of the office when you're at work. The work phone directory gives names and job titles, but I am interested in what the person has done, their knowledge, and what they can do for me if I have an issue. However, as hard as I look, I cannot find anything.
Sadly, I have to admit that I am happy when I find out that they have updated the job titles in the directory! The result of all this is that, last week, we brought in an outside service provider to do something that we had the skills to do internally – but we had no way of knowing that we had someone with those skills.
Finding people is great but talking to each other is better. The directory gives us people’s email addresses (email – the thing that nobody reads due to lack of time, especially when it comes from an unknown sender). We also have their phone extension (when it is up to date). As for the mobile ...
Basically, when I do miraculously find the name of the right person, I spend another two hours trying to find the right channel to reach them. It would be so good to start a chat, a call, a video in one click from their profile. If every mainstream social network offers it, I think that, with our IT budget, we should be able to, right?
Corporate hacking is fun but, ultimately, pretty frustrating
So, it's true - it's not that simple. We don’t all have the same tools. As far as collaboration is concerned, each business has evolved in its own way due to the lack of an overarching set of global standards. I am a member of 5 different social networks but none of them allow me to bring together all the people I work with to put together a project we can all work on.
On top of that, we buy other companies faster than we can properly integrate them. Shall we have a video conference? Should we talk via chat? Oh! We can’t because I am on this and he is using that! OK, no problem! Why don’t we use one of the big publicly available online tools? At least that will work for everyone… Except we can’t! It’s blocked! It’s forbidden on our network!
So we are just going to waste time going round the roadblocks and we’ll get to some kind of solution eventually. I was recruited as a project manager but I spend an hour every day on “corporate hacking”. On the one hand, it’s sort of funny but it’s also pretty frustrating. Still, even though it’s wasted time, we get paid anyway.
Oh yes! Another little detail. I heard about a monumental project to equip us soon (I think they said deployment within two years) with a top level, global solution for everyone. For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion – we would love these things to work immediately. Simple things, easy to put in place, which do only one thing but they do it well.
Finally, and despite the "no email" policy which is plastered all over the walls of our HQ, we're actually really happy to have email. At least everyone has one and it works with colleagues and customers.
Well, almost. In a business that seems entirely powered by PowerPoint, limiting attachments to 15 MB is a bit restrictive. OK, yes, we have a file sharing service that requires just 15 clicks to work and that must have seemed like a great idea to our grandparents. But between the uploading, sharing, the finding the link, the rights management system and everything else, it’s 15 min for every document shared! It's not exactly productive. And, despite all that, we can’t even use it for our service providers and our customers!
10 clicks to achieve something simple
OK, so we succeed with others - but they are often outside the company. We have platforms to interact with them. And they have their own too. And everything is well secured so that everyone only uses the official tool of their own company. But what am I meant to do when I cannot use my provider’s file sharing and project management platforms and they cannot use ours? During the last redesign of our website, we actually exchanged visuals using a USB key sent by courier! In my opinion, it should not be too hard to do much better.
I'm going to admit some bad feelings here. When you look for it, you often end up finding, internally, the exact tool that can do pretty much what you want. But I have friends in the IT department and that helps! They explain everything clearly and it’s just as well they are helpful because, honestly, there are things I would never be able to find on my own. And that’s before I try to get them to work!
Such and such a tool or functionality, with its utterly cryptic name, which is discoverable with a mere 10 clicks from the portal and that needs just another 10 clicks to get it to perform the most basic of functions – and that’s provided that we’ve been given access rights! And, even then, not on a mobile or tablet or outside the walls of the building because remote access is not allowed! All this clearly makes it very hard for people who are on the move, in the field of with clients and it’s another reason why, within many teams, there are barbarian hoards providing a “Shadow IT” service to get things done.
Fighting complexity by using complication
So, there you have it. That is my daily life and I can promise you that I will get over these challenges. And I do not blame you for it. I know you're getting rid of things to make things better. I see that lots of IT projects have been started and I know that in a year or two we will have something better (at least in theory). At least for those who have not become discouraged and left. Because running the 110m hurdles wearing a ball and chain might fun for a while but not every day. No, I think you're coming at this with the best of intentions but you're not doing it right.
You keep telling us about this "complex" world that we now operate in and that you give us tools for. But you are not in the right ballpark with the response: You react to complexity by giving us complication.
We want simplicity and light, elegant solutions - you give us answers from the first industrial revolution! We are waging a war of movement and you give us the trenches. Getting the biggest doesn’t mean that we’re getting the right solution. You want to find a solution that will do everything but we end up with tools that are so heavy, so clunky that nobody ever uses them.
Think about what you do when you get home. You get your tablet out and use apps – apps that are simple and light. They do only one thing but they do it extremely well and in two clicks maximum.
Experience and effectiveness. You like it and that's why you use it. So why should we be provided with exactly the opposite? And on top of our concerns, these bad solutions, take up a lot of your time, consume disproportionate amounts of resources and, overall, cost the company a lot more.
So there you have it. That’s my advice. Inspired by the common sense of the person at the sharp end. In the future, whenever you propose a collaboration tool ask yourself if you would sell it to a customer; if the customer would use it; and, if they wouldn’t, would it drive them to go elsewhere. To work together, we need fluidity and simplicity, not an obstacle course.
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