Changes in technical breakthroughs and evolving skill needs are shaping the nature of the workplace of the future. While the pandemic did not fundamentally alter the way people cooperated, it did speed up the pace of change. This resulted in a faster adoption of the concept of remote work.
With the world adjusting to a new life after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, how do we best utilize the tools that we have so that we can continue our levels of productivity even in remote working situations?
In this episode, Alexander McCaig discusses this issue with Phil Simon, a keynote speaker, adviser, and Zoom and Slack educator. He is also the author of eleven non-fiction works, the most recent of which is Reimagining Collaboration: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and the Post-Covid World of Work.
Adjustments in the Workplace
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Americans working remotely more than doubled from around 30 percent to 60 percent in March 2020, and organizations began embracing new collaboration platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom as part of the adjustment process as a result of this increase.
At the start of 2020, few people would be familiar with the names of even one of these tools, much alone all of them. Several of us are now working remotely as a consequence of COVID-19, and Zoom has been so widely used that it has become a verb: to "Zoom" means to communicate using video conferencing technology.
When businesses were forced to close and employees were required to wear masks, just a few businesses were allowed to continue operations as usual. The vast majority of people were entirely unprepared for the enormous changes that were about to take place in their lives. When it came to internal communication, they continued to rely on email as well as on typical corporate processes and attitudes.
A New Age of Productivity
To cope with COVID-19’s repercussions on corporate organizations, employers, human resource managers, and consultants were obliged to think creatively about how they might implement a remote work strategy. Businesses had an urgent need to alter these barriers in dealing with the international economic instability caused by the virus.
If a shift to a new system is the path moving forward, what possible methods can businesses use to better utilize the tools that we currently have in this day and age?
Phil Simon suggests that companies should start embracing the Hub-Spoke model of collaboration. This model is a technique of distribution wherein a centralized "hub" operates. From the hub, products are sent outward to smaller groups known as spokes for further storage and delivery.
With this model, it aims to help firms significantly increase staff productivity, simplify current business procedures, and provide the basis for subsequent machine-learning and artificial intelligence advances.
The hub may be thought of as a meta-organization that functions in parallel to established innovation laboratories. Employees at the innovation-hub can connect informally over the web and work freely on innovation to bolster the firm's performance.
Out with the Old, In the New?
Efficiency should not be dependent on one factor alone. While the hub-spokes model creates a more systematic approach in revamping business models to fit the current situation, it is best to have it hand-in-hand with tried and tested organizational techniques.
By adopting particular initiatives and establishing a culture that supports their virtual workforce, executives may boost their teams' performance output and engagement. They must build and sustain a culture of trust, as well as modernize leadership communication methods and procedures in order to properly educate virtual personnel.
Additionally, team members must be encouraged to share leadership. Finally, executives must establish and conduct frequent alignment checks to ensure that virtual workers adhere to the organization's cultural values, including their commitment to its goals.
All of these procedures begin with the realization that team formation will be significantly different with remote members, demanding the creation of new leadership strategies, communication routines, and tools.
In a world where social distancing and remote work has become the new normal, it is now more important than ever to make good use of the current technologies we have to be just as productive as before the pandemic hit the globe.
In Simon’s concluding statements, he deems it important that for a collaborative system to work, employees must be willing to commit to the shift fully. Problems will surely arise when employees refuse to use certain technologies because they either find it too complicated or too time-consuming to actually learn new things instead of going the more traditional route of working.
The willingness to change is always the first step towards growth. Just as the world has changed, we must also be willing to adapt to this change. Resistance will always be a hindrance to progress, just as the refusal to learn denies a person the chance to be more efficient and productive.
It is part of TARTLE’s vision to create a world where knowledge is shared and problems are solved through a collective and collaborative effort. We believe that teamwork is power, and collaboration is the key to progress. The power is back in your hands.
What’s your data worth?
Alexander McCaig (00:08):
Phil Simon, thank you for joining me today on TARTLE Cast. You wrote quite a fantastic book, Reimagining Collaboration, and one of the major points about this is that remote work was already up on the rise. Disparate teams, disparate systems, and then finding ways to bring those things together, so that we can continue to be just as agile, just as productive within organizations itself.
Alexander McCaig (00:34):
And it's not just COVID that was the spur of this. The fact that it was happening before, but COVID acted as a catalyst allowing people to actually take on those full shifts over into these new systems, and start to bring them together, to adopt them, to make their companies more robust. I think you put together a fantastic narrative, from start to finish, for how we look at the old machines, carry over to the new ones, and then adopt this Hub and Spoke model, which you have designed. Is that pretty much, we're on app, with general narrative for how that occurred?
Phil Simon (01:08):
Yeah. Well, thank you for the kind words, I agree with you, I mean, if you look at remote work people been doing it for a very long time, even before the web or the internet. If you watch an episode Mad Men, Don Draper, I think it was in Season Six or Season Seven, had his secretary Dawn bring over work for him, even though technically he got suspended from the company and blah, blah, blah. So the idea that remote work is new is of course false. But you're right, much like with e-commerce or telemedicine or some of the other nascent trends, the pandemic accentuated them or accelerated them. One of my favorite quotes is from Lennon, "Sometimes weeks happen in decades, sometimes decades happen in weeks." So we saw this happen with remote work. And to your point, I did not see that going back.
Phil Simon (01:54):
If you look at any of the surveys or polls, anywhere from 30 to 50% of employees will quit if they don't get the option to work, if not fully remote than in a hybrid capacity. So I didn't think that we were going back and I wrote the book in part because having written both Slack for Dummies and Zoom for Dummies, it was evident to me that people were just really taking advantage of a small part of the functionality. They were using Zoom as Skype 2.0 or Microsoft Teams or Slack as email 2.0. And when you start to think about the power of those internal collaboration hubs, in and of themselves they're robust. Throw in these third party apps, which you correctly called spokes and you create this gestalt that I think serves a number of different purposes and will transcend whatever return to work plans companies have in place. So I'm pretty proud of it.
Alexander McCaig (02:48):
You say gestalt and gestalt's a German word in certain forms of psychoanalysis. Can you just tell me why you chose that? Because it did stick out to me in the book itself before doing the other aspects, what's with that?
Phil Simon (02:59):
I was just showing off my education, I suppose, but no, I like that word because it represents this holistic entity. And I think one of the issues I've certainly experienced and even I was reading a survey from, I think it was Wall Street Journal, or anyways, an article that 41% of US employees believe that there's too much workplace tech. And I would argue some of that stems from the fact that they're using these tools in a very disparate fashion. And if you've thought of them in a more holistic way, and you thought about it in terms of this gestalt or this cohesive entity, then people would be less overwhelmed. They'd think, "Wow, I don't need to get an email from a document signature service like DocuSign, because we've got Slack and there's a Slack app for that." And I'll get my notification right in that, that doesn't mean that I won't use Microsoft Excel or Word or PowerPoint or Salesforce or Workday, but those elements would all cohere in a way that they currently aren't.
Phil Simon (04:02):
Plus the other benefit is that by writing a conceptual book, unlike Slack for Dummies and Zoom for Dummies, I wasn't as reliant upon the latest release. I'm old enough to remember when companies shipped software updates every couple of years in a box. And now you look at your phone or your app, and there's a red badge, you've got 16 new updates. I mean, Amazon pushes updates, something like two to 3000 times per day.
Alexander McCaig (04:29):
But talking about the updates and stuff like that, the world is becoming decentralized, especially with applications and with these updates and the onset of people adapting their systems with more data to make them more robust. What we found is that everybody's got their own tool. Everyone has their niche nuance, and as it becomes more decentralized, it's funny that we take on a Hub and Spoke model to centralize the internal corporate or organizational effort to collect de-centralized systems and bring them together to create our own bespoke system for specifically what the company needs. And I think the interesting part about that is we're not stuck with, here's my choice, I have Microsoft or I have this Fortran. I'm going way back in the day. Now, and I have tens of thousands of companies, competitors.
Alexander McCaig (05:26):
Yes, they do get adopted and swallowed up. But from APIs, Webbooks and software development kits, I have the ability to actually choose and it's almost like I'm writing the code for my organization and that's how I look at it. So if I know what works best for us, our workflows, our culture, I can adopt that and bring it into our centralized operational hub. And that's how I've been viewing this internal thing. And I put a benchmark on to say, "Okay, let's look at the algorithms, the processing power, the data output of these tools, and their efficiency doesn't align with us. Okay. That checks the box. Let's bring that into our organizational model." And so before I'd even read your book, that's the thing I had adopted. But what I realized that what you're saying is that many other people are also applying that sort of collaboration effort across multiple platforms to create new types of remote organizations.
Phil Simon (06:18):
Yeah. Many people are, but I'd still argue that a very small percentage of organizations think about collaboration the way that I do. Again, they might use slack for this weird development group. And there's the example in the book of a company called OfferUp that was using Slack in pockets. And once they went all in on the Hub-Spoke model, they didn't call it that, but effectively, they said, we're going to eliminate email for internal communication. Let's look at apps and see how we get more out of them. Then yes, they can create something that works for them. But again, having had many difficult discussions with clients and prospects and colleagues, getting them to change their entrenched work habits has not been easy. So to me, this is a holistic book. It's not just about what these things can do.
Phil Simon (07:10):
In part three of the book, I talk about getting this to happen. And it gets a little bit HR-y, which is a strange coming from a guy who has this tech brand. But I actually did work in HR a million years ago. And it's, to me essential that an organization rewards collaborative employees, that it develops a performance management system that makes sense. That you can't just pick and choose, oh, well so-and-so, isn't collaborative and she just used Teams. And he's just quirky with email. No, as you said, there's a network effect that takes place.
Phil Simon (07:42):
I mean, Facebook is infinitely, I shouldn't say that, but much, much more valuable than Twitter because they're just more members. And if only one department in an organization or one group uses Slack teams, Zoom, whatever, then you're not building that comprehensive knowledge base. You're not instilling the culture. You're not consolidating all your data in such a way that people could look for it in one place and find it versus, oh, well he uses Dropbox and he uses Slack and he uses One Drive and he has it as an email attachment, and that employee leaves the company and where the hell did all of that correspondence go?
Alexander McCaig (08:17):
You talked about culture and I know Phil, you did a bunch of work in Eastern Europe with many teams.
Phil Simon (08:23):
Alexander McCaig (08:24):
Latin America, sorry Latin America. Now that's why I was talking about culture. Latin America has an extremely rich culture. When you go there, you feel it, you feel that food, you feel the people, the way they talk, the way they operate. And then you come to the United States or you come to the Western parts of Europe and it's like, we've amalgamized all these things together. And this is how we define our culture. It's very hard to get them to move and shift their ideas. How have you found or what cultural differences between Latin America and the United States?
Alexander McCaig (09:17):
And have you found that adoption of Hub and Spoke models or having a certain subset of flexibility where this culture can look at their own gestalt, as you would call it, and say we're willing to adapt to these new things. Or you can look at more entrenched gestalts that people have created, like in the United States to say, we're going to take a conservative Orthodox approach and it's going to take a lot more data to convince us and everyone in the organization to move over.
Phil Simon (09:48):
Yeah. At the risk of giving Alexander the stock consulting response, it depends. I'm doing some work now with a company in Brazil, around a course that I'm developing, and when I resisted the back and forth over email, I asked if we could use Zoom and woman had said, "Well, we've got Microsoft Teams. Is that okay?" And I said, "That's fine. I just won't do it via email." I guarantee you that Slack's got a decent level of penetration in the tech sector. Because some of it, I think you can cut this by a number of different dimensions. So you've got industry, you've got age, you've got type of job, you've got type of organization. So I haven't seen any data and I wouldn't want to comment without having done a little bit of analysis, but I would imagine that the same forces that resist change exists to different extents all over the globe.
Phil Simon (10:42):
And I would also imagine that if you're a developer in the Ukraine, you just get Slack. You're not going to send email attachments back and forth. You're going to say, "Oh, what does this do?" And in fact you might say, "Wow, this is actually kind of beneath me in a way," because the real techies might say, "Cool, I'll write a little app or bot that does this." Whereas with the Hubs and Spokes, I write in the book, you can take advantage of the integration, if you can click a mouse. Or you can use the connectors, the tissue, like Zapier or Workato or keto. I never pronounce that right. Or some of the other, airSlate's another one, that allow you to effectively create a bridge between, let's say that you use Basecamp for project management and use Zoom for your hub. Well, last time I checked, there was no Basecamp app for Zoom, but there is a zap for that. So effectively with a couple of clicks, you can do the same thing. So if someone responds to your comment or pings you or does whatever in Basecamp, you can get that notification in Zoom as opposed to an email.
Alexander McCaig (11:46):
Right. It's that sort of flexibility, is it just a function of awareness? What is typically the catalyst that gets people to make that change? Do you have to be like, Hey, push and push and push, can you try it? Can you at least try it? Can I show you what the efficiencies are and compare it to how it was in the beginning? How do you show them that line of data to say, this is in fact helping you and your organization.
Phil Simon (12:14):
I can write a book about that question. So let's start with the [inaudible 00:12:22]. There's nothing like forced adoption. When it became evident that we weren't going to be going back to our offices in a couple of weeks, people said, "All right, we can't do this via email. So that's why Zoom users went from 10 million, primarily enterprise folks at the end of 2019, to 200 million primarily consumers in, I think it was March of 2020 and then 300 million in April of 2020. So we had this recognition that we needed something that worked. With regard to Microsoft Teams, Microsoft, as you know, bundles it with Office 365 or Office Live, whatever they're calling it these days so you don't have to pay for it. And you might say, "All right, fine, let's give this a shot." So forced adoption is enormous. But again, Teams, Slack, Zoom had plenty of users, millions, in fact, before the pandemic.
Phil Simon (13:06):
So there were folks that recognize to your point, that there was a better way of working, all the benefits of just Alack and Zoom and Teams by themselves, let alone connecting them to the different spokes. As for the folks in the middle, those are some of the trickiest folks, but at least they're open to it. And you're right, sometimes just showing them, did you know that it's actually pretty easy to learn, because if you are of a certain age, you remember AOL instant messaging tools like AIM or Skype, and you kind of get what the at symbol does, you kind of get what the hashtag does. You use Facebook, you use LinkedIn. So in some of the training that I do, I try to convince folks that it's not like you're learning a new programming language and you haven't coded in 20 years.
Phil Simon (13:48):
Phil Simon (14:31):
So to me, they have more in common, and that's not coincidental. I mean, if you look at the history of technology vendors consistently steal from each other. Whether it's Facebook saying, "Oh yeah, we like Snap Stories," or in the ERP world the different vendors saying, "Oh, what are you guys doing with Windows?" I look at some of the enhancements that they've made with Windows 10, soon to be Windows 11 and they feel very Mac oriented and Apple has also taken things from Android, or iOS. So these things are really converging. That's why I try to make the point in the book that there may be temporary benefits for one hub or one spoke versus another, but unless it's something that's essential, pick a lane and go with it.
Alexander McCaig (15:12):
Yeah. And so then it's not really so much as one individual spoke is more important than the rest. It's really about having your combination of spokes that create the robustness of your hub. And if the hub is robust, then they can all speak to one another efficiently. And you used examples of Slack and we use Slack at TARTLE and we've integrated all of our other workflow applications with it, from server notifications to ticket production, post-production, we have it for our emails, DocuSign, whatever it is [crosstalk 00:15:48].
Phil Simon (15:48):
Where were you a year ago? I would have featured you in the book.
Alexander McCaig (15:50):
No, I know. I know. Well, that's what we've been wondering, we've been around for five years, we've grown to 222 countries, but people are just slow to listen, they're slow to adopt. And I understand that it's a process. And when I read your book, I'm like, I know for a fact that your methodology works, it's 100%, it's absolutely efficient. I'm not doing this to float your ego here, Phil.
Phil Simon (16:16):
Float away, baby.
Alexander McCaig (16:16):
I really mean it. Yeah. Yeah, no, but in all seriousness, it does work. And talking to you, I can share as a testament to the Hub and Spoke model that you speak of, great artists do steal. And if you can combine many things to create something new, there's nothing wrong with doing it, but it creates robust, efficient organizations that can do more quicker. It's frankly, it's a function of communication across different mediums. And it's like, how do we aggregata that communication?
Phil Simon (16:46):
I couldn't agree more and then when I really geek out in Chapter, I think it's 15, think about the future of collaboration and how it's going to look a lot like that movie, Her with Spike Jonze, Spike Jonze movie with Joaquin Phoenix, falling in love with the operating system. Because again, if you're keeping, and I'm no expert on AI and machine learning, but I do know this, all of those things are based on data. So if you get the Hub-Spoke model today and start implementing it, you'll have more data, versus a company that gets it in five years to say, "Fine, we get it."
Phil Simon (17:15):
So I would argue that the time to act is now. And no, it won't be perfect. But the idea that email is urgent because someone put urgent in the subject title is insane. Something could be urgent beyond that. So what makes something urgent? Again, I don't have the answer to that. It's kind of an existential question, but if you've got a bunch of data, then in theory, you could answer that type of question. And just again, if I've got two companies, identical industries, management, profit margins, whatever, Company A has adopted the Hub-Spoke model collaboration, Company B hasn't. With no other information, I'll bet on Company A, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Alexander McCaig (17:53):
Well, listen, I hope you bet on us because we're doing big things and if it wasn't for having all these backend tools brought together, like you speak of, we'd be in a rock and a hard place trying to figure stuff out. And communication, if it works, you guys sing like canaries, but if it doesn't, it kills. It kills collaboration, it kills organizations and it just pretty much kills any workplace you ever tried to do. So, Phil, I really do appreciate you coming on to talk about this. And if there's one thing I'd like to ask, what is it you would like to leave as a final note for our listeners? And this would be lay people across many different countries and also many Fortune 500 executives.
Phil Simon (18:34):
Yeah. Start early. When it comes to building a collaborative culture and embracing Hubs and Spokes, you have this opportunity when you hire folks, and now a lot of people are leaving their jobs for lots of different reasons. I try to explain to folks, if collaboration is so important, then start by getting off of email and invite someone to be a guest in Teams, Slack, whatever. And correspond with that person, so when you're doing the interview, you can ask the person, are you collaborative? Again, that's a bit insane, because who's going to say no, I'm a real so-and-so. But you could observe if the person says, Well, look, I don't use Slack or Teams, or I'm not open to using technology." You still may want to hire that person, but you've got a pretty valuable data point that this person doesn't embrace new tools.
Phil Simon (19:25):
And again, if you're the type of organization that says, "Oh, use whatever tools you want," then that may be okay. But I mean, you're a testament, Alexander, to the benefit of getting everyone internal with using this. I was just corresponding with Darren Murph, not to name drop, he's going to be on my podcast, and he's the head of remote work at GitHub. He's gotten a lot of press lately. I think there's a 14,000 or something page document that he's open-sourced that shows how they do remote work. And when we were going back and forth, I had him sign up for my pod, I sent him a link to my schedule and a link to a Google form in one Google doc. And it was very much self-service. And he came back with, "Dude, you are so far ahead of the game," because it did not take 16 messages back and forth and you forgot to fill out this.
Phil Simon (20:18):
So this notion of self-service, assume, and I love in the company's documentation, assume that someone has asked your question before. You're a new hire, how do I get benefits? How do I get my laptop? Guess what? You're not the only person to have that. So when you think about collaboration, it isn't simply a matter of working with someone to get an answer sooner. Although that's a big part of it. I would argue that there's a qualitative aspect to it. Why do I want to involve you? You say, "Oh, you need to go to this FAQ." Could we communicate better? And then the work that you're actually doing, isn't something that could be automated.
Phil Simon (20:53):
Kevin Roose, who wrote a really good book called Futureproof was on my podcast. And the rule that [inaudible 00:21:01] forget is don't be an end point. So if your job is to be almost the human API, or say you're an Uber driver, you take someone from point A to point B. Well, there's nothing wrong with that. But there are companies, as you know, that are working on autonomous driving. So that in theory, isn't a growth job in the future. So if your job involves doing that type of thing, think about how you could change that. So eventually, and not in my lifetime, you're not going to see AI or machine learning do some of the things that I think people enjoy doing, creating a book or creating a new product.
Alexander McCaig (21:35):
Yeah, no, and I agree. Most of the jobs around the world, it sounds horrendous, 95% of them are for moving information from point A to point B or a physical object from point A to point B and only 5% of the world employed are ones that are actually doing something that effectuates other things, where they're not acting as an end point. They're the ones actually driving the change, creating these autonomous vehicles, things of that nature. And I think we need to be aware of that. And if you don't want your company to be an end point, well, then you should reimagine how you should collaborate. And I think that would be my final cue on that.
Phil Simon (22:18):
I can't say it any better than that. Thanks for having me on, Alex.
Alexander McCaig (22:18):
Thank you, Phil. I appreciate it.
Speaker 3 (22:31):
Thank you for listening to TARTLECAST with your hosts, Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and the source data defines the path. What's your data worth?