Friday, March 23, 2012

Riding the Virtual Wave

 I am always sceptical of company sponsored research, especially when the results are extremely supportive of the company's line of business. That having been said, however, sometimes we just need to suspend our scepticism for a while and just look at the results.

Wrike is a social project management platform company that in December of 2011gathered input from 1,074 respondents. They represented organizations of all sizes, and they were asked about their current and expected work practices, particularly around virtual collaboration among remote teams.

Here are some of the main findings:
  • 83 percent said they are already spending at least a few hours a week working outside their office
  • Two thirds said they expect their offices to go fully virtual withi the next few years
  • 43 percent said they now work more virtually than they did just 2 or 3 years ago
  • The higher the position in the company, the more time the person spends working outside the office (Business owners - 30 percent, Executives - 20 hours, Managers - 10 hours)
  • 89 percent rated the opportunity to work remotely as an important fringe benefit. To work remotely respondents would be willing to:
          - forgo free meals offered by employees (78 percent)
          - forgo employer-paid cellphone plans (54 percent)
          - accept a reduction in paid vacation (31 percent)
          - accept a reduction in salary (25 percent)
  • Time savings, increased productivity, and the opportunity to focus on work rather than be distracted by office politics surfaced as the top three benefits of remote collaboration
  • 37 percent said a lack of direct communication is the biggest obstacle to efficient remote collaboration
  • 21 percent said hindered data accessibility was the biggest barrier
  • 19 percent identified poor visibility into colleagues activities as the main barrier
I don't know if all the respondents were US-based. It would be interesting to compare these results with workers in Europe, Asia, and South America.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Death to PowerPoint. Long Live PowerPoint

While reading Frank Frommer’s book How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid, New York: The New Press, 2012, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the main arguments were available on a PowerPoint slide deck in SlideShare.  You see how corrupted I’ve become.

I’m not a great fan of PowerPoint, and for many of the reasons pointed out by Fromer, and earlier in a critique by Edward Tufte in The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.  No technology is neutral, and PowerPoint can encourage:
  • The drive for efficiency (via shortcuts) over effectiveness
  • The view that a meeting means a presentation
  • Showmanship and salesmanship over content and problem-solving
  • The reduction of complexity into default and simplistic bullet points
  • Simplified text
  • Lazy and uncritical thinking
  • Decontextualization of data
  • Sloganeering and use of vague, empty language
I’ve witnessed all of these, and been guilty of some myself.

I was enjoying having my feelings about PowerPoint mirrored back to me, but found myself becoming resistant.  While Frommer’s arguments were compelling, I began to feel they were too strident, too one dimensional.  Not every problem in business or anywhere else needs a high degree of reflection, intense critical analysis, and prolonged debate. The challenge posed by PowerPoint lies as much in the lack of media literacy among managers as it does in the software.  When people find something convenient, they tend to overuse and abuse it, but that doesn’t negate all of its value.  Apart from finding the book overzealous in its condemnation, something else was troubling me.  I was feeling that there was a cultural defensiveness roiling beneath the logical arguments.  How else should we take a statement like this:

“A language of universal communication, the English language thus imposes its constraints and a specific mode of linguistic construction. The omission of some connecting words; the modification of word order, notably the inversion of nouns and adjectives; and morphological changes in some words,  notably words with the suffix – isation that have become relatively in  French, all demonstrate that this Anglo-American contamination is nothing new.” (my bold)
Franck Frommer is a French journalist, and having worked a very great deal with the French, I recognized certain cultural tendencies driving his arguments.

I have no wish to stereotype (a fixed perception with no room for individual variation), but in my experience, a French cultural tendency is to respect intellectual debate. Every problem is treated as being unique, and deserving of its own analysis and solution – anything else is superficial.  I once gave two groups – one French and one Japanese – 10 minutes to come up with 5 questions that they would like to ask the other group (to identify differences in their organizational cultures).  The Japanese group finished in 5 minutes; the French were still debating what precise questions to ask 45 minutes later.  I greatly respect the French cultural tendency to go deeply into issues, but I also respect the American drive for action.  Neither approach is appropriate all of the time.  Both can add value at different times under different circumstances.