In early June of 2021, Apple CEO Tim Cook penned a long email asking his staff to return to the office three days a week starting in early September. The announcement was noteworthy for several reasons.
First, it’s freakin’ Apple—the very definition of a bellwether. Oodles of companies follow its lead. Second, Cook’s comments followed highly publicized and controversial quotes from JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and WeWork head honcho Sandeep Mathrani about the limitations of remote work.
Brass tacks: Many physical workplaces will somewhat resemble their pre-Covid counterparts in the months and years ahead. As I write in Reimagining Collaboration: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and the Post-COVID World of Work, however, workplace technology should not do the same.
Before making my case, let me briefly summarize the last quarter-century of work.
Pre-Covid: The Reign of the Inbox
It’s no understatement to call email the killer work app of the Internet age.
In July 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute released The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies. MGI found that knowledge workers on average now spend—get this—an astonishing 28 percent of their work time managing e-mail. The math here is downright scary: People who work 50 hours per week spend 14 hours stuck in their inboxes. Ouch.
A few notable exceptions aside, the vast majority of organizations used email indiscriminately. That is, for both internal and external communication. When employees left their positions, all of their knowledge, correspondence, decisions, and documents effectively died.
If this seems inefficient and not very collaborative, trust your instincts. As but one example, a 2018 eBay employee survey found that more than 80 percent of employees agreed with the statement, “We’re committed to collaboration.”
Unfortunately, fewer than half felt that “Our existing tools meet our collaboration needs.”
Can you say chasm?
Where Are We Now? Collaboration During Covid
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
—Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
The greatest work-for-home experiment in history has upended many norms. In terms of workplace technology, the use of new collaboration tools has exploded. Nothing like forced adoption. Examples include:
- Zoom users famously spiked to 300 million in April of 2020, up from 10M at the end of 2019.
- Microsoft Teams recently surpassed 145 million users.
- Facebook’s collaboration offering Workplace hit 7 million paid users.
It’s not hard to see what’s happening: Enterprise-software vendors see a massive opportunity to finally redefine work.
They’re not wrong.
Hubs, Spokes, and the Massive Post-Covid Opportunity to Reimagine Collaboration
A few weeks ago, it appeared that we had turned the corner on Covid. Thanks to the Delta variant, we’re regressing.
Regardless of where we are when you read this, the effects of COVID on how we work will linger for decades—if not forever. Most important, remote work, hybrid work, and flexibility are here to stay. In January of 2021, Gallup reported that more than half of office workers say that they’d leave their job for one that offers flexible work time.
Laggards will doubtless use Slack or Microsoft Teams as Email 2.0 and Zoom as a souped-up version of Skype.
For their part, employers are responding. LinkedIn’s Economic Graph team found that, as of May 20, the number of paid job postings on LinkedIn that offered “remote work” skyrocketed 457 percent compared to a year ago.
To be sure, companies can pretend that COVID never happened. Employees can revert to email-based “collaboration.” Laggards will doubtless use Slack or Microsoft Teams as Email 2.0 and Zoom as a souped-up version of Skype. It’s a shame.
Progressive companies, however, increasingly view these new collaboration tools through the same lens that enterprise vendors do. Specifically, they see the power of Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Workspace to act as internal collaboration hubs. Think of them as digital headquarters and comprehensive knowledge repositories.
What’s more, they are connecting these hubs to spokes—software applications designed for a specific purpose. Examples include productivity, content creation, customer-relationship management, and project management.
Simon Says: Hubs and spokes represent the future of work.
The Hub-Spoke Model of Collaboration allows organizations to minimize manual work, reduce multitasking, simplify legacy business processes, create more collaborative work environments, and increase organizational transparency. Even better, effecting the model requires zero technical skill.
In other words, they are finally reimagining collaboration.
What say you?