Blog Post

What We Learned at Net:Work — It’s About People

Yesterday, we held our inaugural Net:Work conference at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco. We had a wide-ranging conversation that covered the future of work in a highly mobile, post-broadband world, but while we talked about the technology at length, the key takeaway from the discussions (both on stage and off) was that it comes down to people, and how we can connect, communicate and collaborate with each other better. Whether it was Cisco’s (s csco) Debra Chrapaty discussing how using technology helps her to be a radical collaborator and live the lifestyle that she wants to lead, Collaborative Strategies’ David Coleman talking about how companies need to  focus on how people use technology, or Amazon’s (s amzn) Sharon Chiarella noting how technology should allow people to work on their own terms, it seems that we are all looking for ways to be better connected with our colleagues in a very human way.

While we have an incredible set of tools at our disposal now, management styles and even company structures will need to change to allow people to be their most productive and for our companies to flourish. Many of the people-management issues that are present in on-premise teams are exacerbated when team members work remotely — and one of the key issues that needs to be addressed is trust. Managers find it hard to trust workers that they can’t see sitting at their desks day-in and day-out, while remote workers find it hard to trust that employers are making the best decisions when they don’t have in-person contact with them on a regular basis.

One effective way to help build trust is to use some of cloud-based communication tools that we have at our disposal to improve transparency within an organization, as noted by Salesforce’s (s crm) Marc Benioff when he was discussing the use of Chatter within his company:

“If there is no trust between employees and managers, nothing is going to work. Transparency builds trust. To get trust alignments, you have to have massive communication, you have to open up everything and focus on innovation and focus on collaboration and self awareness of an organization to get leadership.”

But tools can only go so far; it may also take a more radical shift in the way that our companies are structured and managed in order to allow remote workers to operate to their fullest potential. I asked LiveOps CEO and chairman Maynard Webb how we can address the trust issue, and Webb said that the employer-employee relationship is fundamentally broken, because companies are too paternalistic. Employees find it hard to trust an employer who judges them and acts as the gatekeeper on their career. Webb thinks that that our organizations need to be more meritocratic; individuals will then feel more in control of their own destiny.

We’ll be investigating the people management issues that companies face when establishing a remote working team in more depth here on WebWorkerDaily.

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3 Responses to “What We Learned at Net:Work — It’s About People”

  1. Barbara Saunders

    Built into the trust issue – unfortunate conventions around how to tell if someone is “working.” Personally, I don’t trust that a person sitting at a desk is necessarily doing productive work because my most productive work schedule looks nothing like that.

    Rather than metaphorical cameras to ensure that at-home workers are sitting at desks, staring at screens, managers and employees need to shift the focus to what actually gets done.

  2. Great point about the trust issue. In the next evolution in employer / employee relations where remote workers need to perceive themselves and behave like small businesses, intrapreneurs, or soloists, even if they are “employees” of a company or other organization. The trust issue will be resolved as employers start to see the gains from remote work in both cost savings and higher output from employees.