News & Views

2014: The Year of....Change in the Workplace?

by Dan Southern

With the first month of 2014 already making its merry / weary (select as appropriate) way to the annals of history, there are plenty of technologies already staking their claim that this is their year. Feel free to insert your own ‘Year Of Mobile’ joke here.

Will it be the ‘Year Of Wearable Technology’, for example? It has made a strong start to the running at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Nevada, sending the world cock-a-hoop with promises of self-enhancement and knowledge for all. Although this website suggests the backlash is already under way.

Or could it be the ‘Year Of The Connected Home’? Google has caused an almighty stir with its $3bn cash purchase of Nest, the design company behind the connected thermostat of the same name.

Or how about this: rather than 2014 being the ‘Year Of’ any type of new technology, could this be the year that more companies truly rethink the way they organise their workplace, in order to get the best from both people and the technology they use? Granted, not so catchy a title, but innovative changes in the workplace could be afoot.

By way of example, ecommerce monster Zappos has recently announced that it’s to adopt ‘Holacracy’, where rather than being organised by hierarchy, titles are eschewed  in favour of flexible, self-organising ‘circles’ of employees. This approach intends to make the company more adaptable to changing economic conditions and emerging technologies.

Meanwhile, in the coming week or so in the UK, the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Services team (GDS) will be reporting on its progress at its annual Sprint conference. The GDS team was formed in 2011 with the aim of ensuring that all Government information and transactional services become ‘digital by default’.  Far more than a few website redesigns, the GDS team has delved deep into the work of the civil services in order to transform how services are delivered to citizens.

Some of the lessons of that process are discussed by GDS lead Mike Bracken in this presentation at Code for America. But three things I admire about the GDS way of working are:

1)      Laser sharp focus on user need. This is GDS’s organising principal, using a service design approach to ‘design from the outside, in’ rather than the other way around

2)      Nurturing new ways of working. Those responsible for delivering services around user needs are inducted in agile working methods that ensure the state can adapt in the future to changing needs or technologies

3)      Publish everything! The GDS website and accompanying blogs are a treasure trove of crystal clear information on how to design services for users and how to help those responsible along with the process of internal change and transformation, as well what the standard for success is.

No doubt many businesses have made huge changes over the past few years to embrace new ways of serving customers. But redesigning the way you work internally matters too. Perhaps in 2014, we'll be talking less about the tech, and more about the people.