“The future of work is right here, right now,” says Chief Executive Officer at Jive Elisa Steele (pictured right). People have started expecting new ways of working as a consequence of technology changing their lifestyle.
Steele’s leadership story is interesting. She became CEO of the leading communication and collaboration solutions provider a few months ago. But even before joining the company, she was a passionate customer. It was in 2007 when Steele adopted the Jive platform for the first time. A massive change was going on at the place where she was working. “I learned as a customer how technology can bring people together.”
To fully explain what Steele means by “the future of work is now” tools alone are not enough. In truth, she refers to a type of transformation that is about the individuals. “To accomplish great things, people need to know each other very well. Colleagues need to find the way to connect and collaborate together as a competitive advantage.”
Liberating as well as challenging: a few companies today are really working that way. But, Steele’s mission is to make it happen elsewhere. She believes that if social collaboration were a standard, then the entire world would be a very different place. “Faster innovation, better connections, more transparency and greater efficiency.”
Not an easy task. Sure. But, Steele is a woman with convictions, passion and determination.
Keep up with the change
One thing that comes up in technology all the time is talking about ‘the next trend’ – everybody has a point of view and opinion on it. But, not all those forecasts are prescient. The reality is that it is very hard to predict. Something that in the past occurred over the course of a year now takes place in minutes.
“Everywhere, something new surfaces: a new start-up; a new idea; a new piece of software.”
Steele is not speaking defensively about it. The opposite. She enthusiastically sees this rapid pace of change as an opportunity for people to think in terms of more possibilities. “At every moment something new is happening. People can choose to embrace it or not. They can choose how to communicate, collaborate, connect and work.”
Ultimately, she believes that this fresh deviation from the usual is transitioning into a style, which people can use at their own advantage and in ways that could not have been even imagined in time gone by.
Business transformation and diversity
There is a challenge: the rate of change happening outside of work is much faster than inside the enterprise. But, why do we need to do things differently when it comes to work? Particularly, if we think that work technology can be as modern and fast as the one we use in our personal lives. Imagine if we could just naturally make the switch.
Steele talks about embracing workstyles: “different ways in which employees want to get their work done. They have their own favourite tools, apps and methods of communications.
“If you can bring all those workstyles together and create a way for people to connect and collaborate, then you will gain more power.”
Sharing knowledge in a very transparent way is also dependent on how people experience the platform. “The product has to be smart, simple and beautifully designed, bringing to life the ability to connect with people.”
It is a new way of thinking, which is important to welcome. As consumers we connect with others in ways that we choose depending on the type of relationships and needs. The same should apply at work.
A multigenerational workforce
There is a lot of talk around Millennials. The common belief is that this generation works and communicates very differently than Baby Boomers and Generation X. Steele believes that this is true because “Millennials have grown up with technology at their hands.” However, she also sees that the digital workplace transformation is impacting all.
To such an extent, it is crucial to consider the multigenerational workforce and how collaboration can support the changing nature of labour – freelancers, part-time staff, people on the move, and access to talent across the globe.
The future of work is now
There are other factors that support Steele’s vision. For a start, there is intrapreneurship. “Culture needs to change to embrace talent. Talent wants to work in an entrepreneurial way, be empowered, make decisions and work in an environment free from bureaucracy.”
The Bring Your Own movement is also changing the rules of work. “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), Bring Your Own Apps (BYOA), Bring Your Own Office (BYOO), Bring Your Own Whatever…Organisations need to equip staff with whatever they need to be able to work productively in different settings.”
Steele also mentions the Quantified Self and the ability to use digital technology to monitor activity on the platform and give real-time feedback. Steele sees a huge potential in this space: “We are going to see more and more in this area to motivate teams and bring people together on common objectives.” In fact, gamification activities that allocate points to staff depending on their behaviours can be an instrumental means of strategic alignment. But, Steele also acknowledges the less positive side: “How far will you go to get underneath the performance and skills of people? Sometimes you can go too far – you may end up with employees having plenty of points but still their objectives are not met.”
That is a useful warning. It reminds organisations to be smart, and maintain an intuitive and disciplined sense of how teams are run. Ultimately, it prompts to remember the importance of human connections. As Steele puts it: “You still need to have that human component to understand people’s capabilities – you cannot do it all with the technology.
Culture sits at the heart of the question of whether a company is ready for the new way of working or not. “An enterprise that is open, transparent, fast, wants to share and believes in the power of collaboration is close to doing that.”
Indeed, there are situations where coaching and training is crucial to drive cultural acceptance. “Change is difficult, as we know.”
Sometimes it happens when a new leader joins the organisation. “At Jive, we see many examples of new leaders coming in and immediately using the platform to have a direct and immediate connection with their people. They can get feedback, and talk about the direction of the business.”
Not surprisingly, at Jive they use their own collaborative platform and enterprise app. “We run the whole business that way. We use it all day long to connect, collaborate, share and ask questions. Everything happens on Jive.”
But Steele has brought the collaborative culture even further. A few weeks ago she announced that the company will go HQ-free. “All the Jive’s Executives are based in Palo Alto, California. This is the place where traditionally the HQ has been located. However, the daily work is done on Jive. The real HQ is everywhere. So, I recently decided that we don’t need an official HQ because the heart of the company is being held inside our product – Jive is where we all come together.”
Indeed, employees seems to have responded favourably: “Everyone at Jive is excited about that, feeling that they are contributing no matter their role and location.”
To celebrate going HQ-less the company designed a 3D image, which symbolises the connectedness of Jive’s people across the world. “We mapped all of our employees around the globe and created ‘Our Jive World’.”
That irreplaceable face-to-face
Steele thinks that HQ-free companies will become more prevalent in near future as they want to acquire, maintain and nurture their talent. “Access to technology has changed everything. The notion of having one specific location where the magic happens is not relevant anymore; working from anywhere and everywhere is now the way of the world.” But the special value of people getting together in the same location is still absolute.
Asked if the human contact can get lost as a result of this way of working, Steele says, “nothing replaces face-to-face. Any business needs it. It is hard in a world where you have dispersed workforce, but it is important to make time for it.”
Therefore, going HQ-less does not mean that the online world replaces everything. In contrast, it complements and adds value to the physical world.