If anyone remains unconvinced that we must move very fast to a shared work environment across the government or any organizational unit of work, consider this:
- Employees are more mobile than ever. They stick around only as long as the job makes financial, logistical and emotional sense to them. When they leave, information and insight departs with them.
- New information comes at the organization more quickly than ever. It's carried into the organization by employees as well as external stakeholders who interface with employees. As well as by the media, Congress, organization-watchers and so on who simply discuss the organization outside its walls. We are constantly bombarded with data.
- The insight generated by this information changes the scope of our projects, creates requirements for new projects, and obliterates the need for old ones.
Appealing to employees themselves to make this change is silly. "What if G-d forbid you died tomorrow? How would anybody at work find your stuff?"
For one thing a lot of people hate their jobs, their bosses or just don't care. Or they like the secrecy a little bit. After all, a certain amount of mystery lends them value.
From the perspective of the employee, sharing of work is more enticing when the organization encourages it, the user interface is friendly and if there's peer pressure that makes it weird to always work in isolation.
However, employers still resist the social workplace. They don't fund knowledge management, they don't implement it as part of standard operating procedures along side "regular work," and they don't like for work to be overtly social. For it implies that nothing productive is being done.
Employers like the idea of an assembly line out of which work emerges. Which is of course a very faulty vision. Since people are not machines and what we produce is the result of our unpredictable, creative and inspired brains. Creativity and inspiration often come from interacting with other people.
Inevitably social work involves conversation. Employers are worried about what people will say. Not only will they discuss fluff but very likely they'll say rude things, things that offend, inappropriate things. And how will you moderate that? Will there be legal problems? It feels like a big headache.
Knowledge management as a function does exist to make sense of our work data in theory. The problem is that old-fashioned tools - or tools implemented in an old-fashioned way, with extensive controls and lockdowns - make it absolutely miserable to share.
"Yes, let's sit around all day and upload documents and "tag" them. That is just so fun."
From a rational perspective it is time for employer and employee to take social work very seriously. Time to get over the irrational fears and teach people how to impose security controls and then loosen them as needed. More broadly to teach people technology in an immersive and continuous type of way rather than turning them loose on it.
Handing someone powerful sharing technology without giving them continuous access to training is like putting a child behind the wheel of a car - no driver's ed, no testing.
But you can't use the excuse of a car accident to keep growing people at home.
What we need to do is get to a place where work is both social and secure. Where people are sufficiently skilled in the technologies and trained to know what's appropriate to do and not do. Where the technology itself is a help and not an impediment to actually accomplishing the task.
To get to this place it is necessary for all of us to get over unfounded fears and address the founded ones.
On the employee side, it's not going to be possible to hide a lack of tangible value forever. You can play cat and mouse for so long by pretending to be busy, and keeping information to yourself, but sooner versus later the organization simply won't be able to afford keeping people who aren't clear producers.
On the organizational side, failing to promote the social workplace means a lot of duplicated effort, unnecessary work and competition to fight for and keep turf that really doesn't belong to one stovepipe or another, but is shared.
I once worked for someone who said, "Fighting for a piece of the pie is stupid. Because when you share, the pie actually gets bigger."
Conceptually that is hard to believe. But in reality, I have found that to be true. Sharing creates new ideas, new projects, new directions and leads to new and valuable activities all around that are actually in touch with what the customer wants - a sign that the organization is mentally healthy.
In the end the shared work environment doesn't have to lead to disaster. But it is a new kind of place, with different metrics for value. The world isn't waiting for employer and employee to play catch-up. We can put our stake in the ground, now, or we can feel the pain later.