What interests me is the area that falls in-between these two ends. I’m not aware of any of our current clients pursuing a purely digital platform strategy – but the advantages of a more liquid, adaptive workforce have not gone unnoticed by many of the companies we work with. How can companies that have largely evolved in the industrial age take advantage of digital-age work solutions?
The emphasis on more immediate but transient workers requires a rethink of the way that knowledge is stored, process is governed and the way communities of knowledge workers are convened. An intranet or enterprise social network that caters only to permanent full-time employees loses a critical opportunity to absorb intelligence and maximize productivity from a significant and growing segment of the company’s workforce.
The risk of shutting out contingent workers from the digital workplace is the erosion of human capital.
The death (and perhaps rebirth) of the intranet?
Owen Thomas of ReadWrite offered an interesting take on the definition of a company in the digital age in a piece where he argued that the intranet is currently in the throes of death:
“A company today is a group of people using devices to log into services so they can access and generate data.”
Thomas’ definition of the intranet is the classical one – a privileged network only accessible “inside” the company. But he asks an important question: what do we really mean by inside? A company’s security perimeter is no longer bound by the physical location of its buildings. Cloud, the mobile workforce and an increasing array of connected devices have forever changed the paradigm. He argues that the firewall has become obsolete and that security and access must rely on more predictive, behavioural measures. By his definition, the intranet is most definitely dead.
The evolution Thomas describes could not come soon enough for the access-deprived contingent workforce.
Microsoft frames the evolution of employment, collaboration and knowledge work in a way that echoes and builds upon Thomas’ definition of a company:
“people will increasingly use networks to form teams of experts on-demand and dynamically “swarm” around projects and then disperse to the next.”
You could argue though that the term “intranet” has long-been appropriated to mean something other than Thomas’ purist definition. For 15 years, the Nielsen Norman Group has awarded the title of Best Intranet to companies that build an internal website and call it “intranet.” In almost every case, when Nonlinear gets a call to work on an intranet, an internally-facing website is what the customer has in-mind. Often, it’s built in the cloud.
Common design patterns for this sort of intranet have most-definitely emerged and the proliferation of intranet-in-a-box solutions have verged on commodity.
But in a world where workers might flow in and out on an as-needed basis as Microsoft describes, does the Nielsen-popularized intranet (for lack of a better name) still make sense?
Moving towards the ideal state for contingent workers might see the intranet shift more towards the Uber-side of the spectrum. Distilling the model to its core elements, evolved systems may need to consider how to:
- Cultivate a talent pool that can be tapped for rapid on-demand help
- Provide immediate and easily digestible context to fresh faces
- Simplify the digital environment so that it is focused on the successful completion of no more than a handful of tasks; the all-you-can-eat smorgasbord that has become the modern intranet no longer applies
- Promote consistent, quality work and customer experiences despite temporary relationships
- Seek ways to rapidly scale work efforts; perhaps capitalizing on network effects
- In some cases, make the digital environment where work gets done also the space where customers are serviced
- Capture data and knowledge from the company/worker/customer relationship so that the service or product may be further improved
What might this look like?
The ultimate solution might differ based on task and industry but here are few examples I’ve found that could embody aspects of the list above.
Axiom: the disruption of law