Have you ever visited your favorite restaurant and noticed that the menu was new – but when the food came to the table – it was the same food that was offered on the old menu? This is the way I feel about how the web has changed my workplace. I work in an organization that is 100 years old. We deliver research-based information to communities to improve quality of life. Our mission remains the same but the tools that we use to research, develop, and deliver education programs in communities have significantly changed over the last 100 years.
The most significant impact in my workplace is the way we communicate. The web provides the platform for email, webinars, chat rooms, surveys, and social media just to name a few. These platforms are used for various forms of communication including one-on-one communication, one-to-many, and many-to-many (Shirky, 2008). Interactions with stakeholders, employees, and other professionals using the web increase the opportunities for collaboration and decrease former barriers including the financial costs associated with travel, phone calls, and postage. As a leader, this shift in communication requires a shift in the skills of employees. Organizations now need communication specialist and information technology specialist to develop, train, manage, and evaluate communication strategies to meet the needs of internal and external stakeholders. The constant change of the technology requires a flexible workforce that can quickly adapt to the changing environment.
The new tools are often criticized as barriers to getting the job done but I would disagree. They are just new and different distractions. Jason Fried has a great TED Talk about how we all waste time in the office regardless of the influence of the web and makes the point that these various tools on the web are no greater distraction than many of the distractions we had prior to the web. If you manage people and go to lots of meetings, I highly recommend watching his video for some interesting tips about being more productive.
The benefit of increase collaboration through the web leads to higher quality educational products using less staff resources and a greater turnaround time from bench science to the community. The collaborative environment provides an opportunity for learning, sharing and vetting of ideas for research and programs in communities regardless of geographic location and socioeconomic status. In an educational setting this environment can be very productive but it does come with barriers. If my organization collaborates with 50 other professionals from around the world to develop a new educational product and then we turn around and sell the product in our on-line educational store, whom should profit from the product? Shriky (2008) explains that financial context is one barrier to successful collaborations.
Shriky’s TED talk highlights the lack of control that organizations and leaders have to shape the story and messaging of an organization. He also explains that openness is just a new form of debate. As leaders we have a responsibility to use the openness and collaborative nature of the web to move society toward the greater good. “Open” is the new reality. The challenge for leaders is channeling the noise on the web toward positive societal impact.
We have a lot on our plates – enjoy!
Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin.