SANTA CLARA, Calif. —Online chat, information at your fingertips and mobile devices that let you work anywhere are transforming the workplace for the better, but there are caveats, according to a panel of experts meeting at the Churchill Club here Thursday.
Toni Schneider, a venture capitalist who heads R&D at Automattic spoke passionately about the benefits of chat services used internally by the 300-person company whose products include the popular blogging platform WordPress.
“Our whole company is chat-based, we barely talk to each other,” said Schneider. “It works really well for a small team and anyone in the organization can jump in or out (of the conversation) and it’s all indexed.” Automattic employees don’t use email.
But Schneider admits it’s not a good idea to go indefinitely without face- to- face contact. “If a team only uses these kinds of communications tools, you can feel lonely,” he said. Automattic encourages teams that work together regularly to meet in person at least once a year.
Sudhakar Ramakrishna, senior vice president and general manager of the Enterprise and Service Provider Division at Citrix, agreed that chat services can be hugely beneficial, particularly with a geographically dispersed workforce.
“With Millennials, many started chatting before they started talking,” he quipped. He said that having an indexed searchable record of these online conversations can help companies evolve.
“Think about a company’s collective memory, and the way things change at a rapid pace. After about six or seven years the entire workforce is being turned around and there’s no meaningful way to get the context back and so you have the same (mistakes) done over again,” he said.
Stowe Boyd, Research Lead at Gigaom Research and author of the forthcoming "A New Way of Work," said the biggest impact in the workplace in recent years has been the growing adoption of mobile devices.
“We’re now used to the idea of using a dozen apps on phones or tablets because they’re relatively simple to connect with and use. The former desktop apps everyone in the enterprise is coerced into using work reasonably well, but the rise of mobile apps have changed things dramatically.” He said. “People would rather have narrow applications that work very well for what they need to do.”
Boyd later quipped that these days "email is where ideas go to die."
He also noted that social collaboration tools haven’t produced the payoff in increased productivity in the enterprise that vendors have promised.
“It’s been kind of ho- hum, but with the rise of mobile and the Millennial workforce, with roughly 30 percent freelancers, I think we’ll see a different angle and start to take off.” (Millennials are defined as those born between 1980 and 2000).
One of the more controversial points of discussion was the idea that hiring decisions will become more computerized.
Boyd says there are already big data programs from such companies as Cornerstone OnDemand that can analyze the suitability of a job candidate based on surveys of hundreds of thousands of professionals in the field.
He specifically mentioned call center personnel as one example. A questionnaire can be designed to reveal which candidates are most likely to handle the workload and stay on the job longer.
He also said algorithms or artificial intelligence coupled with big data might one day lead to programs that replace human resources personnel.
Betsy Flanagan, an executive coach and CEO of WorkStrengths, said computer programs could have a role in hiring for positions where there is a lot consistency in terms of the responsibilities.
“But going forward, I see big data used more to track what everyone does and to have a greater role in helping to define what’s required to do specific jobs and what makes for a good fit, “ she said