The Rise of the 3rd Generation Organisation

The impact of the physical workplace on how we organise is a fascinating topic. For example the transformation of factories thanks to electricity and electric light changed how they operated. Modern offices, in the shape of skyscrapers, are an example of another development that has also affected how we manage. However, both the modernisation of factories and the creation of the modern office primarily depended on overcoming physical constraints to create physical structures. This in turn helped to define structures for work that we became familiar with in the developed world during the last century (lets call them 2nd Generation Organisations).

As the digital era continues, my impression is that intangible features are playing a greater role in defining the workplace environment and creating what I would call 3rd Generation Organisations. One trend that is starting to show what a 3rd Generation Organisation looks like is the shift towards Activity Based Workplaces (ABW):

As the name suggests the work space is organized by spaces designed to support specific activities… This loosely structured physical workplace is supported by work practices that facilitate it.

Note the relationship between space design and how work happens – this is more than simply creating a pleasant office space to work in and shouldn’t be confused with hot desking or hoteling either. I recently had the opportunity to see Commonwealth Bank’s Activity Based Workplace, built out on the edge of Sydney CBD. Its interesting to see how in practice IT plays a defining rather than supporting role in making their Activity Based Workplace possible.  In fact, urban planning consultants Urbis advise that:

During the 1990s, wi-fi didn’t exist, so flexibility was limited. Now, a successful [Activity Based] workplace must consider the IT environment to deliver productivity gains. ABW is fundamentally linked to technology and any ABW project will require significant investment in IT as well as the fitout.

The benefits of ABW appear to be a combination of soft and hard benefits:

  • Employee engagement (better collaboration and productivity).
  • Savings from more efficient use of space, less use of paper and lower building running costs.

Of course implementing an ABW is no easy task for a large organisation – it requires capital and motivation to make the change. Yet at the small end of town co-working spaces are becoming popular too, like Hub Melbourne. Just like their larger enterprise counterparts they are also enabled by access to mobile, social, Web-based and cloud information technologies.

It is easy to doubt the transformational impact of information technology in the workplace – including social software – but equally we shouldn’t ignore the symbiotic relationship to the physical workspace. It is the combination of the two that will actualy create a deeper systemic change to how we organise and will allow 3rd Generation Organisations to emerge.

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What Google+ could learn from About.Me et al

Basically, about.me enables you to create a centralized personal profile page that links to your content around the web. Sound like a Google+ profile page? It’s different for quite a few reasons, but mostly so due to the “splash page” look of the site (where I usually choose to show a large picture of what I look like).

In addition to the slick front end content management tools, about.me also provides analytics so you can see who viewed your profile, where they came from, and where they’ve gone afterwards (your facebook, linkedin, flickr, twitter, blog etc). The only thing that’s missing right now is domain mapping, so I can use my domain name.

They also have a partnership with moo.com (the business card and sticker folks) that let’s you get free business cards that feature a QR code that will link to your about.me profile.

Highly recommended.

I’m a fan of about.me and also flavors.me too. Google isn’t know for the visual aspects of its user experience and I really think they could learn something from the visual design and ease of use of these profile sites.

Content rather than Chrome, Form follows Data

Occasionally, amidst the rapid rise and fall of trends, fashion and fancy, we are faced with true revolution: paradigm shifts that throw out excess baggage of some kind and usher in new ways of thinking and seeing altogether. The catch is that you need to have the benefit of hindsight to truly measure their effectiveness. With this in mind, I believe that the interaction design community is witnessing an important revolution — an ‘IxD Bauhaus’ of sorts.

Great post reflecting on the Bauhaus-like revolution in IxD. Importantly, Rahul Sen also asks, “How much of less is more?”

Craigslist and the User Unexperience

Earlier this year, Gary Wolf wrote a great article in Wired magazine about Craigslist, the world’s dominant classified ad site…

…Wolf writes that craigslist has “… a design straight from the earliest days of the Web, [where] miscellaneous posts compete for attention on page after page of blue links, undifferentiated by tags or ratings or even usernames…Think of any Web feature that has become popular in the past 10 years: Chances are craigslist has considered it and rejected it…it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate.”

So how on Earth does cl maintain its ridiculous popularity and growth? Very simply, because it works. It lets users initiate and advance a transaction with an absolute minimum of time, expense, hassle, rules, or oversight. And many times, this is exactly what we want.

I missed Wolf’s article in Wired the first time around, so I’m glad to catch it via Andrew McAfee.

Craigslist is certainly interesting in the way the site scorns aesthetics and features, but remains hugely successful. It does make you wonder if visual design and other features are just a waste of time?

Personally I think the apparently ‘retro’ user experience works for Craigslist because fundamentally we know what classified ads are and it underpins a process where the users are already motivated to use the system to achieve that end. Craigslist is as rough and ready as an advert stuck in a shop window because that is all it needs to be.

However, in another situation where users are not familiar with process or uncertain about why they want to use a system, then I’m not convinced the Craigslist approach would work so well.

Further more, aesthetics online – just like design and architecture in the urban environment – also help to define the online environment in many different ways above and beyond simply making functionality look pretty. The Web would be a pretty dull place if every site looked like Craigslist, don’t you agree?

BTW I have to admit that Craigslist isn’t the first place I would think of to listing a classified because I’ve always assumed it had a focus on the US market, but apparently they offer listings for places even obscure as Wollongong, Australia. Meanwhile Gumtree has a similarly basic design, but appears far more popular in my part of the world.