Maximo Castagno’s background in sociology proved to be extremely helpful when he started designing tools for the digital workplace.
“I understood how people work in real life and I had a scientific method to observe and document their habits, their needs, and their struggles,” he said. “Those insights allowed me to design services and products that resonated very well with employees who usually have to cope with enterprise tools which are complex and not adapted to their needs.”
Castagno is currently chief product officer at Beezy, the enterprise collaboration software vendor he co-founded with CEO Jordi Plana and COO Ritse Klink in 2011. The trio decided to “unpack 10 years of experience building enterprise tools running in SharePoint and to build our own product called Beezy.” Castagno had previously worked at Spenta and at IconMediaLab, where he and Plana first met 20 years ago. IconMediaLab was also where Castagno first discovered user-centered design and the importance of minimalism in design.
Build Technology for ‘How People Think and Behave’
As a child, Castagno developed an early interest in computers, and later was “hooked” on the possibilities of the World Wide Web. When he graduated with a degree in sociology from the University of Geneva, he decided to focus his post-graduate research on understanding how people were using this promising new technology.
“Applying sociology methods to build technology which is adapted to how people think and behave seemed to me like a no-brainer,” Castagno said. “All my colleagues were orientating their sociology studies to more traditional fields such as policy making or economics. I found that the technology sector was extremely underserved at that time.”
Castagno is a speaker at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 17 to 19 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will be giving a session titled, “Shaping the Future of Work with an Intelligent Workplace” on June 18. Beezy is one of the sponsors of the conference.
We spoke with Castagno about the concept of the intelligent workplace, the importance of knowledge management, and his thoughts on redesigning employee experiences.
Real User Experience Problems Remain Unsolved
CMSWire: What constitutes an intelligent workplace? How do you see the concept of an intelligent workplace changing so it can support shifts in what ‘work’ means?
Castagno: Today, we are experiencing a new technological shift spearheaded by artificial intelligence (AI). This change will especially affect the future of work.
As a society, we need to understand the best way to split workloads between humans and computers. For that, we need to understand “who is good at what” and, instead of having machines competing with humans, we need to make sure that technology is making us super humans at work.
CMSWire: Which areas of knowledge management do companies currently neglect? What do you see changing in the future and what will be the benefits?
Castagno: Knowledge management is clearly an area where AI is going to be transformative for the digital workplace. Take, for example, taxonomies and tagging.
As employees, we all agree that labeling and categorizing content as we create it is very important for knowledge management. Yet, it is almost impossible to have humans apply good metadata to the content that they produce or share within the digital workplace.
You might produce an amazing slide deck today for your team presentation but, without proper metadata, it is very unlikely that this great piece of knowledge will be effectively used in the future by colleagues elsewhere in the world trying to solve the same problem.
AI and machine learning can dramatically change this situation. In an ideal intelligent workplace, humans should focus on creating and sharing amazing content and robots should take care of properly tagging content, condensing knowledge, and making sure it is resurfaced at the right time for the right users.
CMSWire: Where are the key gaps today in the employee experiences organizations provide to their staff? Which factors are companies forgetting to take into account when redesigning employee experiences?
Castagno: Today, employee experience is still very much driven by the concept of “pushing information.” Organizations are still using an old-fashioned approach to internal communications. This is a mistake that has consistently generated low levels of user engagement with typical intranet content.
Internal communications and HR departments know that old-style intranets are broken, yet it is very difficult to change things. This is especially true in large organizations where politics and conflicts are showstoppers of change.
Another key gap is how disconnected intranets are from the collaboration tools where employees spend most of their day. Fortunately, the concept of digital workplace as an expansion of the old intranet term is gaining traction, but there is still a long way to go. We at Beezy have focused our product roadmap in the last two years around this concept of an integrated employee experience.
Finally, there is still very little use of user-centered design practices applied to the digital workplace. Beautiful design is certainly a trend, but real user experience problems are not tackled and remain unsolved. Many redesigns today are only cosmetic makeovers with little impact on employee productivity and engagement.
CMSWire: Where do you currently see organizations struggle in enabling their employees to collaborate effectively with each other?
Castagno: I think one of the biggest struggles with effective collaboration today is related to “The paradox of choice.” This paradox, stated by psychologist Barry Schwartz in 2004, explains why in many situations having too many options is counterproductive.
In enterprise collaboration, employees today have too many tools to do the same job. There is abundance in quantity and, in addition, many corporate tools are overlapping in their core functionality.
Employees nowadays have to constantly be thinking: Which tool do I use for what? For example, in an organization with a Microsoft stack, an employee who needs to share a document and discuss it with some colleagues will need to decide if they use email, Teams, Yammer, etc.
Over time, employees stop thinking and adopt a random behavior when sharing and creating content.
CMSWire: Where do you see organizations currently struggling with enabling effective employee collaboration? What advice do you have for companies who struggle?
Castagno: Too many tools lead to a very ineffective collaboration when you think about scale. Any tool can do the job when you consider the micro-interaction on a day-to-day task. But how likely is it that the content created today will be reused by other employees in the future? Or be used today, but in a distant location?
Imagine what will happen when a new colleague joins a team of 100 people who all have been working on the same topic, but that information is scattered across different tools, which may be siloed.
On the other hand, I’ve witnessed a virtuous cycle that starts by having fewer tools; then deploying them with clear guidance to maximize knowledge management; ensuring that employees adopt the tools with consistency; and finally putting the technology in place to make sure content, knowledge, and expertise resurface and can then be constantly reused and updated.
Here’s a call to action: Let’s have fewer tools, but better ones!
CMSWire: Are there any lessons from the consumer world which organizations can take and then apply to their digital workplaces?
Castagno: To me, technology in the consumer world is a constant source of learnings that can be applied to enterprise software. My favorite one is how much we can learn from advertising techniques to fix the “push vs. pull dilemma” in internal communications.
The problem is very simple: Internal communications (or HR or top management) want to push content, employees want to pull content. Well, advertising has a lot of experience dealing with this problem.
For example, on consumer social networks, advertisers have had to learn to move from always displaying ad banners in the same area of the screen to injecting promoted content within the user’s personalized newsfeed.
Small doses of push intelligently inserted within a context of pull. That’s a smart learning that we at Beezy have embedded in our own newsfeed technology.
CMSWire: Which historical period would you like to have lived in? Is there a specific historical figure or role you’d want to be during that period and why? What lessons from that time might be relevant to today’s digital workplace?
Castagno: I am truly convinced that we are living one of the best moments in history. However, having said that, I am a blue-water sailor in my spare time and I’m also passionate about traditional sailing boats.
So, if I have to select a time-travel destination, I will choose the end of the 15th century. I would like to sail with Columbus, Magellan, or Vasco de Gama into the unknown to discover uncharted territories, new civilizations, and fascinating natural worlds.
The main lesson that explorers teach us is not to be afraid and to dare. They challenged conventional wisdom. I think organizations today have to explore new ways of working, without caring too much about the past and the conventional wisdom that the past carries. The future of work is still uncharted!
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