23 May 2014

The changing nature of the workplace

Have you heard of the Responsive Organisation?

‘The Responsive Organisation is a movement’ – a phrase often repeated at their first unconference and networking event, run all day on a Saturday earlier this month.

Its purpose? To support and be the catalyst for ‘shifts’ already coming into place over decades of development and societal shifts in organisations.

An aim paraphrased by event organiser and co-creator of the #ResponsiveOrg movement, Matthew Partovi, who when commenting on their first event said:

“Saturday’s stories brought to life that the shifts are already underway. The Responsive Org movement is helping by shining a light on these successes so we can all learn how to help our own organizations evolve.”

So, how are organisations changing?

To name some changes outlined by Responsive Org (described as ‘shifts’) these include companies moving from hierarchical structures to building networks, from controlling structures to empowering employees, from standard offices and office hours to staff working ‘anywhere and anytime’ and from efficiency to responsiveness.


Ultimately, organisations are becoming (and need to be) collaborative and flexible – as one of Sequel’s Directors described it: ‘No one of us is smarter than all of us’.

That the workplace is changing isn’t new – who remembers the days where print ruled the roost? However the ‘shifts’ Responsive Org highlights are very exciting and bring new, interesting challenges for communicators.

Then, of course there are the changing channels

A typical case of the chicken versus the egg scenario – are these ‘responsive’ changes occurring because new channels make it possible for them to, or are these new channels developing and appearing because the shifts were occurring in the workplace, creating the demand in the first place? Either way the changing nature of the workplace is intrinsically tied to the communication channels organisations has access to, and are using effectively.

Rather than just looking at the channels we have available at the moment, we need to be looking at where these channels need to be in the future and what new channels could be brought in to work with existing ones.

Adventure, change and risk

chamelionOf course, change comes with a certain amount of risk and uncertainty – a topic that came up throughout the day. There is adventure in the unknown, but at the same time how can a CEO stand up in front of their employees and, essentially, say he or she isn’t sure, that they don’t have a complete plan and that it isn’t possible to predict whether the risks will pay off?

In situations like this it comes down to two points:

1. Trust. Senior managers need to trust and rely on their employees and employees need to be able to trust management to steer effectively. Standing up and saying ‘I don’t know’ will be difficult and risky, however employees will feel more comfortable if they know as many details as possible and can trust the senior leaders.

2. What are the lost opportunity costs? A point often overlooked, change you make by choice isn’t always as risky as choosing to standstill and let the world move around, and eventually beyond, you.

A few points to help with setting changes in motion

  • Pin down what is possible – changes of this nature take time and you need to be realistic.
  • Find your advocates – at the #ResponsiveOrg event these were discussed as red dots (the blockers), yellow dots (on the fence) and green dots (advocates). Who are the green dots of your organisation and how can they help you?
  • Control the change and the risks that change bring by preparing and being flexible enough.
  • Pretend you are starting from scratch – a point made at the unconference was that start-ups seem to push for innovation as they have less to lose, compared to larger corporations. Consider your company from this point of view to assess what changes should be made.
  • Look at your channels – are they helping you to be responsive, and what comes next?

Here is a Storify from Matthew – #ResponsiveOrg UK Unconference 10 May 2014 and followup actions