The Future of Work: Social and Mobile Technologies that Will Matter

Today, we have a guest post from Charlene Li. Charlene is the co-author of the bestseller “Groundswell”, author of the New York Times bestseller “Open Leadership”, and Founder of Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm helps companies and industries leverage disruption to their advantage.

In my webinar tomorrow, I’ll explore how the adoption of social and mobile technologies will change work. Beyond simply enabling people to work from remote locations (like the neighborhood café) or update each other on the latest office outing, these technologies will fundamentally transform the way work gets done – the very flow of information and decision making that takes place within an organization.

But what are the implications of these technologies for your organization? Here are 2 trends that you need to know.

Trend #1: Works gets fun thanks to gamification.

Gamification tends to be a dirty word in the world of business – I guess it’s because we’ve been trained to think that work shouldn’t be fun, that it’s not a game. But the reality is that gamification has been happening for years – think of the sales incentive contests that challenge representatives to close 10 sales in 2 weeks, complete with a leaderboard on the wall. What has traditionally been a short-term, labor-intensive behavior management tool for enterprises is now easier to run and maintain and applied continually to encourage new and better behaviors.

For example, gamification-provider Bunchball has a service called Nitro that adds points, achievements and rewards to installations. Bluewolf, a business process consultancy, used this service to create an internal social business initiative called #GoingSocial , recognizing and rewarding behaviors such as posting on blogs or sharing content on Twitter.

LiveOps, which runs virtual call centers, uses badges and points to encourage agents to shorten calls and close sales. Agents can compare results on leaderboards that are accessible to everyone online. The results speak for themselves: some agents reduced call times by 15 percent while others increased sales 8-12 percent.

These game dynamics don’t even need a monetary incentive nor a clearly defined victor to be successful – everyone who participates can be a “winner.” That’s because the social aspects of gamification – the “psychic income” of recognition by management and peers – can be just as, or even more, powerful than the other incentives. When these achievements are highlighted in corporate profiles and the enterprise applications themselves, it encourages people to chime in with their congratulations.

Regardless of what it’s called, game mechanics tap into the age-old truism that something is always more fun with friends.

Trend #2: Enterprise social data remakes work processes.

Many companies today use enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Chatter, Lotus Connections, Socialcast and Yammer. These internal social networks allow people to share and update each other on their work. But when these updates take on a specific purpose beyond simple social sharing, the nature of collaboration changes. Picture the dreaded annual performance review, where the employee and the manager sit down to talk about the past year. The conversation goes something like this:

Manager: So, what have you done for the last year?

Employee: Well, I did that project last October, and in June I went to the conference.

No data, few examples and little, if any, documentation is provided. What would it be like if they could instead look at a report of everything that the employee has done, generated by trends in social data from an ESN? Not only would the work be tracked better, but the manager would be able to see how other colleagues recognized the employee for a job well done through features like “Praise” and “Thanks” (in addition to the standard “Like”). Because of this readily available and easily analyzed data, the manager could also monitor and course-correct on a more real-time basis. So reviews could happen more frequently – and in some cases, as the work happens.

That richness of social data inside the enterprise will lead to a re-working and re-thinking of how work gets done – thanks to an increase in information creation, intuitively captured data and readily accessible reports. These 3 aspects of social data – Creation, Capture and Use – will transform the face of work. Here’s how the new review process would sound:

Manager: Looking at your activity, it appears you’ve really gained the support of the IT team for our plan.

Employee: Yes, and you can see that at first they didn’t back it in October, but I was able to turn them around over the past few months. See that Praise comment from Jill? She was originally one of our biggest detractors.

This is just one small example of how work processes could change – imagine the possibilities if social data permeated supply, finance and product development as well.

We’re only at the start of this transition, from the traditional, hierarchical structure of today to something that’s more fluid and adaptive. The coming opportunities will be dictated less by technology constraints than by cultural norms that will be questioned. So prepare yourself by looking at these changes with an open mind and trying them on for size to see if they fit with your organization’s long-term goals.

Be sure to join the webinar tomorrow to hear more about how these and other trends are impacting the workplace – and what you need to do about them.


Photo credit: seandreilinger