“We are rarely static people,” writes Kevin Benedict at the Center for the Future of Work blog in an article titled “Time, Space, and Speed – Mobile vs Static Apps.” Although Benedict wrote this in January 2016, he could have been channeling my own thinking as I compiled my original 7 ways that email must die list five years ago. I said one of the forces that would kill email was our use of “mobile rather than stationary work spaces.”
Benedict goes on ask us to:
consider two people in a vehicle. The driver, assuming they use their smartphone only when safely parked, searches for places, locations and directions based on a static starting point. However, if the person searching for places, locations and directions is a passenger in a moving car, a different set of information is appropriate. One based on movement, speed, direction, intersections, changing distances, etc. How should those variables change the way mobile apps are designed?
Mobility even within an office setting — and work within office settings is also changing for knowledge workers as I’ll write about later — is a design challenge one that the very design of email fails. Email has a context; it’s context is someone sitting at a desk typing a memo, penning a post-it note, sending in slow motion from her work station. While we still work, we are not usually at a station or as Benedict says “We are not static people.”
Even apps are having difficulty moving from web (static) to phone (mobile) just barely beginning to use voice effectively for requests, directions, and answers. When I began #noemail in 2011, Siri was not yet released for the iPhone 4S — that would happen in October of the year. Five years later, we are much further along than even I had hoped. Search and Google Now try — in my case more successfully than not — to anticipate the information that we need to know when and where we are when we want it. Sometimes before we know we want it.
“A transformation in thinking and design needs to take place, one based on the real world, rather than on static models” writes Benedict. While he is often in his brief piece taking about apps, he could easily be taking about the design of our workplaces as well.
Changes in organization, in spaces themselves, the rise of co-working, of open offices, of design for collision (for almost accidental encounters while in transit, at lunch, at coffee or just sitting in the sun) are the subject of Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay’s Harvard Business Review article “Workspaces That Move People”
“Office buildings are no longer the sole locations for knowledge work. In fact, research from the consulting group Emergent Research suggests that two-thirds of it now happens outside the office.”
Waber et al remind us of three key elements of successful communication: exploration (interacting with people in many other social groups), engagement (interacting with people within your social group, in reasonably equal doses), and energy (interacting with more people overall) as described in Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s April 2012 HBR article, “The New Science of Building Great Teams.” These are measurable elements, as Magnolfi demonstrates in her study of Zappos.
These casual collisions designed into working spaces as shared coffee shops, central letter boxes, larger lunch/break rooms increase trust, reduce isolation, enlarge social networks, increase the effectiveness of business networks and increase productivity. Not by magic but by increasing bonding, deepening later interactions, and easing knowledge transfer.
Digital interactions are about continuing relationships, making weak bonds stronger, initiating f2f encounters and keeping links alive more often than beginning and remaining purely digital. Coffee can be as important as more than a dozen email messages as Waber shows.
For initiating and maintaining relationships, business and personal, the social, the casual and even the intimate exchanges in the moment whether digital or in physical spaces suit knowledge workers better.