This continues a series of columns from practitioners I respect. The category "Real Deal" describes them well.
This time it is repeat contributor, Ben Pring who co-leads Cognizant's Future of Work Center, a global think tank that researches and advises organizations worldwide on the promise and challenge of digital business transformation. He is also the co-author of Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business. Ben joined Cognizant in 2011 after spending 15 years with Gartner as a senior industry analyst researching and advising on areas such as cloud computing and global sourcing.
This time he writes about the continued need for physical presence in our virtual world.
As someone who’s worked remotely for the last 17 years at companies leveraging “flat world” principles it may surprise you that I’m about to extol the virtues of the “face to face”; but here goes!
There are a ton of elements of most jobs that can be done anywhere; if you write code to a spec you can do it in the office, in your bedroom, in Starbucks, in the bath. Nowadays, nobody really cares. As long as it’s good and on time, anything goes. If you handle customer service calls you can do it on the massive floor of a call center or at your kitchen table in Lebanon, Kansas, as long as your turn-around times and customers’ satisfaction ratings are up to snuff. If, like me, your job mainly consists of the three R’s – reading, ‘riting, and ruminatin’ – a “clean, well-lighted place” is about all you need.
Except … when you need the heat, and energy, and frustration, and excitement, and drama, of intellectual hand-to-hand combat to find, build – and win – the future of your work. Then there is no substitute – still no substitute – for being in the room.
The phone, Skype, email, Slack, video conferences, Jabber, FaceTime, Hangouts, are all great and serve their purposes well, but when you want a group of people to come together to really talk, really focus, really energize each other, really be creative and innovative, really sell ideas to each other, and really dig deep, then being in the same physical space at the same time really still takes some beating.
In our Collaboratory in midtown Manhattan we see the truth of this every day. Our customers are energized by being in the room with their peers (some of whom they hardly ever see in person), and our consultants, and engineers, and designers, and strategists. Building off the vibe and energy of the world’s ultimate 24-hour city and a WeWork building full of entrepreneurs and creative millennials (“is one of these guys the next Zuckerberg?” you catch yourself thinking in the elevator), they step outside of their Q by Q, day by day, minute by minute concerns and give themselves the time and the space to think differently about what comes next, and what they should do about it. As we develop more Collaboratorys around the world (in Amsterdam and London already, coming soon to Australia and Singapore as well as India and California), we’re finding a new “hybrid” model emerging in which we meld the still amazing upsides of working wherever and whenever with the catalytic heat that “the room” generates.
In 2016 the world is flatter than ever but, paradoxically because of that, the “room” matters more than ever, too.