A clearer picture is now emerging of how offices will function in the future: staff access will likely be phased, employees will practice social distancing measures in the office, water cooler gatherings and staff catering services will be off-limits and sadly, many employees will have lost their jobs. The focus with distributed working so far has been on optimizing communications among virtual team members and with corporate functions, which of course are also largely distributed.
One thing is missing. Oxygen! A ground-breaking report on information risk released by PWC and archive management company Iron Mountain in 2015 (but seemingly no longer available) included this wise statement: “Information is the oxygen of business. It is essential and it is everywhere. It includes knowledge and learning, system-generated data, product and customer information, day-to-day communications, archived paper documentation, as well as corporate intellectual property. The growing volume and variety of business information creates increased risks — risks that are wide-ranging and if not properly managed and or mitigated can have a critical and damaging impact on businesses of all sizes.”
C3I: Command, Control, Communications and Information
Military operations pay considerable attention to C3I, which in the US stands for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence and in the UK replaces Intelligence with Information. At present a great deal of noise is being made about Command, Control and Communications (as though distributed working is a novel concept), but nothing about Information. As we move towards a mixed at home / office environment, the information and knowledge management challenges are going to be very difficult to address.
New Roles, New Responsibilities and New Decisions
As the workforce shrinks, everyone will be taking on new or at least expanded roles. This will likely especially be the case with the shift-work scenario for offices. The return of the daily commute into the office will also have an impact, both on the duration of the working day and on "productivity." It also means at-home employees will never be quite sure who is in the office, a situation that might change on a day-to-day basis.
Everyone will have to make decisions in entirely new areas, with no linear extension from the past. As an example, supply chains will require a complete reappraisal. This is where enterprise-wide search will be of crucial value as employees scout around for the best available information, much of which (in terms of logistics and product planning) is unlikely to be in Office 365. Another element of search that will need immediate attention is the personalized delivery of information, as everyone will be changing their profiles, and that means retraining AI/ML applications all over again.
Related Article: The Sudden Move to Remote Work Unearthed Years of Bad Tech Decisions
New Roles and Responsibilities Mean New Security
The new roles, responsibilities and solutions being rolled out will require a high-level review of access permissions. Some staff may require retrospective access to information that was previously off-limits to them, information that they wouldn't know to ask for.
Intranets and social networks of course play an important part in keeping communications flowing. In the case of the enterprise social network (ESN), key contributors may either have left the organization or just do not have the time to contribute regularly.
When you do post on your ESNs, to what extent will your networks still be in place?
The structural changes in an organization will likely also require a change in the information architecture and content scope of an intranet. For example, the local area information in an intranet (e.g., local coffee shops, etc.) for the in-office employees will probably change on a day-to-day basis. Corporate policies will need to be rewritten and published. In my view, a complete revision of user requirements will be needed to accommodate what is in effect a two-speed organization.
Looking back, we can undoubtedly recall many serendipitous connections and conversations which had a positive impact on decision development. How can the future workplace support these? "Water cooler" moments will be a thing of the past and even walking upstairs to a different floor might be impossible. Researchers have spent substantial time and effort examining the way in which serendipity occurs. This needs to be an important component in accelerating business innovation.
Understanding the expertise of someone resigning with the usual (in the UK) four weeks’ notice is difficult enough. When they are made redundant, there is no Plan B. Expertise essential to the future of the organization may (to quote Frazier) have left the building and the corporate networks.
Oxygen makes up only 21% of the air we breathe, yet we couldn't survive without it. Information plays a similar role in an organization's ongoing health. Manage information with care, and your organization will thrive. Ignore information management and you put your organization's long-term future in jeopardy.