I’m a lucky bloke. I happen to have the opportunity to do a job I love, and I try to remind myself of that as often as possible, because it’s not always been that way, and for most, it will never be the case. Framed on the stairway wall in my parent’s house is my Dad’s final salary slip he received after working for close to 30 years for the same retail bank. It’s a job that he broadly hated but did it for as long as was possible because it meant a small discount on their mortgage every month as a little in-work perk, which meant they could afford the house that my little sister and I grew up in.
If you’re reading this and thinking "I love my job," then you’re as lucky as I am and far luckier than the vast majority of the ashen-faced souls I stand next to on the station platform awaiting the 08:41 to Liverpool Street on a Monday morning. Most are hoping that they can get through their working day as quickly and smoothly as possible—until they get home and get on with the things they do enjoy for a couple of hours—before starting the whole process again for the next four days. Given the paucity of regular and secure employment in a United Kingdom where the horrors of "zero hour" contracts deny even that small luxury to many, even those people feel pretty fortunate as they drift off into their pre-commute sleep.
I’m sitting writing this post on a Saturday afternoon at the kitchen table, not just because I love my job enough to even write for fun on the weekend (which I do), but in the main, because I have to fly off the following day on a short–but long-haul–trip and, otherwise, I’ll miss my deadline. The event that I’m attending promises "A New Way to Work," something which is obviously right up the street for us social business types, not least because it promises a focus on the way in which people go about their daily digital working lives.
Their [collaboration platforms] more recent re-invention as process integration layers, which support work rather than interrupting it, has begun to garnish them with a greater credence with organizations and employees alike.
There is, in general, far from enough focus on work in our industry. Sure, there’s a great deal of lip service paid to it, but much of that falls short of the reality of working, focusing in the main on the symptoms of work, not their causes. For example, a great deal of late has been invested in repeated attempts to reinvent how email clients work; many of them making quite impressive improvements in how email is handled, surfaced and clustered by topic of subject. However, for me, email is a symptom of an underlying set of processes that are their cause: notifications about "x" or discussions about "y." None of them are emails about emails per se–which is a bit meta, if I’m honest–they are about something else entirely. They are about work.
What we are doing is nibbling around the edges of work whilst proclaiming that we’ve transformed it. Take a look at Xerox’s Alto commercial from 1979 and you’ll notice more similarities than differences. Part of the problems that we are facing in contemporary scenarios where customers genuinely have changed is that we’ve stayed more-or-less the same, whilst kidding ourselves to the contrary.
Email is just an example of the disconnect between those systems we utilize for completing our working days and those which we use to for apparent "productivity." Email is nobody’s job, but it has become everyone’s concern and has accidentally become the primary system of record for all of us. Nobody actually enjoys email per se; it’s a place that we have to go to as a consequence of having to get our work done.
Back when collaboration platforms were going to transform the workplace (Remember that? Fun times...), a big part of their initial failure to generate any long-term traction was their broad disconnection from work. They became another place people needed to specifically visit on top of everything else they needed to do every day. Their more recent re-invention as process integration layers, which support work rather than interrupting it, has begun to garnish them with a greater credence with organizations and their employees alike.
Next time, before we convince ourselves that what we’re doing is "transforming work," we need to ensure that we are convinced that what we are attempting is helping those people waiting for the 08:41 to get through their upcoming day at work in way that improves their experience. That should be our minimum standard of our minimum viable product. If we can, in the process, make people’s working lives enjoyable, then great, but for starters, let’s make them more bearable.
Matt Mullen is a senior analyst of social business for 451 Research, where some of his primary areas of focus are digital marketing and social media technology. Follow him on Twitter @MattMullenUK.