The numbers we overlook when reinventing work

The world is moving fast, the economy is moving fast, changes come fast and businesses have to keep up with this pace. Innovate, solve problems, handle exceptions faster and at scale. We can talk about that for hours but this sums up everything that force organizations to transform, either they like it or not. That will eventually lead to deeply transform the way we work.

More collaboration, more interactions, conversations, information,data. So we’ll be equipped to face the world that surrounds us. Actually…not. Overwhelmed by this waves of pushed information and solicitations, not mentioning what we’re searching or initiating ourselves, we must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff to focus on what matters.

We spend more time sorting information than using it

If good information management practices, a good “personal knowledge management” becomes a key competence regarding to these flows that are become more numerous, there’s not doubt than one day, it will become too much regarding to our own capacity. So much that the time dedicated to processing and sorting what helps us to work won’t leave us enough time to get work done. Notice that the downsides of email are coming back with a new face and that even if they become social our communication tools have not become more relevant. We’ll obviously need tools relying on analytics in the future to prioritize what matters at a given moment. This is going to be – in my opinion – a major trend in collaboration and communication solutions in 2015.

And then ?

Months ago my attention got caught by this question from Chrish Heuer on Facebook. What will happen when everything will be relevant in important in our activity stream ? I can understand that importance is a relative matter and that we can deal with it by being better at prioritizing but Chris points out to a matter no ones mention when discussing collaboration and collective effectiveness. We’re endlessly trying to share more, have bigger networks, have more interactions but, in the end, there is a fundamental truth we seem to ignore.

365 days. 24hrs. Limits no one can go against

A year is made of 365 days. 251 workable days if we reduce it by the number of week ends. From 220 to 240 depending on the countries, taking holidays of any kind into account.

A week is 6 or seven days depending on the country, the industry.

A day is 24 hours. The average day at work is around 8/9 hours. But it’s proven that productivity decreases after 5 hours.

That’s all. If you focus on “physical” realities, it’s not possible to work more than 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you pay attention to legal realities, it’s a little or sometimes much more less (and something tells me that CHROs and legal departments are paying more and more attention to the impact of pervasive collaboration tools…). If you’re more likely to pay attention to practical realities, you know that beyond a certain number of hours in a row, of months without a break, no matter how much and how long one will work, his productivity and the quality of his work will dramatically decrease.

The flow of work is a black box no ones pays attention to. We try to push as many things as possible into without caring of what’s happening next. The intangible, invisible nature of knowledge work prevents us from seeing “inventories”, work in progress we would see in a factory, allowing us to identify undercapacity issues. This is nothing new but the evolution of our tools makes it everyday easier to push things in the flow and let others cope with it. It’s become even more critical with the proliferation of matters that are not directly related to getting work done like communities of interest or practices that businesses want to be successful. Reading, participating, even a little, add to already impressive to-do lists.

Learning to say “no” in the society of collaboration

The paradox is that we’re moving to new models of organizations where the attention paid to others will be a building block of culture and behaviors. Being able to proactively identify when one can help someone, sharing knowledge before receiving, respond to messages in a bottle even if not concerned by the matter because what matters is global success. Paradox because the only means of survival is to learn to say no.

When one has 10 important things to do in a day with less than 20 hours available it’s obvious that not everything will be done. When one receives 200 emails a day it’s obvious that not each of them will be read or processed. When something is urgent but less important than other items in to do list we have to accept that we won’t be able to handle it. This task won’t be achieved, this email not read. They would have had their chance another day but to this day. Unacceptable ? Not. Realistic. Period. There are mathematical and physical realities we can’t go against.

The good news is that we have not reached this point. Not yet. We’re only at the beginning og the process

• Step 1 : make information shared and accessible, increase the volumes

• Step 2 : learn to sort and prioritize

• Step 4 : predictive filtering according to criticality without human work

• Step 4 : say no when everything we receive is critical, priority, important.

We are between step 1 and two. But who knows how fast we’ll rich the 4…

No one will ever run a 100m in 0 second

Maybe this tipping point will lead us to more positive behaviors : being careful about what we share and send (the problem with the wrong use of communication tools is always on the send side, not the receiver’s), learn to delegate when we can’t do things ourselves, collaborate to share the workload. But when no one has time, it will only become one more way to pass the monkey without solving anything.

Over the two last years I’ve heard to sentences I often think about. The first is “to what extent do you want to go faster”, the second “no one will ever run a 100m race in zero seconds”.

The day when we will become the limits of the organizations we are building, we’ll need to rework our definition of “always more” or hope that the day when machines will be able to replace us will never come. Oh wait… This is exactly what’s happening.

I leave you with a couple of slides about truths we too often neglect.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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