Joining the dots of the Digital Work Disruption conference

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This post is a departure from our usual Future of Work series. As well as our own views, framework and opinions we want to understand what others are seeing and saying around the topic, and with that in mind we aim to participate in, and report on, FoW events where we can. So here below is an event report where we were involved, and our Bloor Research position was one of over a dozen viewpoints influencing the output of the day.

Last Wednesday, 26 August, I had the privilege of co-hosting Kongress Media GmbH‘s Digital Work Disruption virtual conference with Bjoern Negelmann who put together a fantastic agenda with a superb set of speakers from the enterprise collaboration, enterprise 2.0, organisation design, knowledge management and community management overlapping ecosystems. As well as co-hosting I was involved in the first panel discussion, and then I had the last presentation slot of the day and tried to pull all the threads together – to join up the dots, and suggest what we do next. It was challenging, invigorating, and one hell of a lot of fun.

The CORONA virus has been a game-changer on the journey to digital enabled remote work. Suddenly it stopped being a question of why and whether the organisation should move towards a new culture of remote working with digital tools, and became a scramble to get the entire workforce working from home in virtual meetings by the end of the week! Bjoern describes “Digital Work Disruption” as a community initiative to define and promote the founding ideas of a more Humane Organization and the Post-2020 Digital Work Imperative. The key message – learn from the skills and experience we’ve built up over the last 15 years of enterprise collaboration and enterprise social networks to help frame a new “business as usual”.

Luis Suarez opened the event reminding us that instead of talking future of work, the future is now and we really mean the present of work. He talked about Zoom fatigue and the things we got wrong at the start off lockdown, but guided us to think of more asynchronous communication, using our networks, with more distributed leadership. He coined the hashtag #ADNLeadership to start the conversations.

Céline Schillinger suggested that maybe we have obsolete leadership because it hasn’t adapted to the evolution of society. She talked about different hierarchies, different collectives, different value creation and quoted Esko Kilpi – “Work is increasingly understood as ‘interaction’ rather than ‘job’ or ‘organizational activity’ – even leadership is contextual and relational”. She suggested we need digital diversity, systematic leadership and to focus on the quality of presence for real community engagement.

Sharon O’Dea talked about plotting the course from crisis mode to a future of distributed work. She showed data about our changing behaviours during lockdown. She told us we need to make new spaces for creativity and serendipity, and asked why reach for normal, when you can reach for better?

Ana Neves and Jaap Linssen talked about maximising the value from social technologies. They talked about their social collaboration maturity model with its three stages of reaching people, becoming smarter, and then becoming faster and more agile. They had some great data from their scan of 34 organisations in 13 countries. They talked about a timeline of surviving working from home as surviving, working online, sustaining engagement and then embracing it. They suggested goals for your collaboration platform should be directly linked to your companies strategy and narrative. You should definitely go download their survey.

Simon Thompson talked about supporting a continuous learning journey within the digital workplace. He quoted Charles Eames on the importance of more found education, and talked about IBM’s egg at the 1964 World’s Fair. He told us that Satya Nadella has emphasised how essential it is for all of us to be moving from a “know-it-all culture” to a “learn-it-all” culture.

Isabel De Clercq suggested that If the digital workplace is your dance floor, then asynchronous is your beat! She also talked about how the crisis is leading to a breakthrough. She suggested that the digital workplace should not replace the office, and shouldn’t be in competition with the office. They both have their place and their advantages. She talked about maximising the effect of meetings, the magic of deep work, the power of asynchronous activities, and suggested ‘let’s get physical!’. Instead of getting things done, how about making an impact!

Lee Bryant suggested the greatest challenge for today’s leaders is how to upgrade their organisation’s operating system. He talked about digital transformation being about all types of technology from social media to robotic process automation. He suggested there isn’t one target approach, but that change is constant, and we need to prepare for that. He referenced examples companies like Buurtzorg and Haier. He suggested the use of the term operating system, with its roots in software, is intentional and discussed the idea of the organisation as a platform.

Rachel Happe discussed how communities reveal the future of work. She talked about our current reality and how we are drowning. She talked about how we need a mindset shift, and how we should design for loss of control. She talked self organising teams and learning by doing. She talked shared values, self-management and shared responsibility. Backed up by her historical, Community Roundtable data she explained how communities deliver strategic, operational and individual value, and talked purpose, networks, empowering, experimentation and transparency.

Dion Hinchcliffe explained his vision towards a post-pandemic, post-2020. He suggested maybe only 25% of workers will go back to the office. He talked through his post-pandemic playbook, yesterday’s mostly accidental digital employee experience, and how we need to reframe it for the next stage. He suggests this is a historic opportunity to change work for the better, and we better not miss it!

John Hovell, PMP, CKM talked about innovative approaches for sustainable change toward digital work.

Jon Husband talked about the way technology has developed at such a rapid pace during the start of this century, and reminded us that he first had the idea of the wirearchy 20 years ago. Jon’s concept explains the way traditional hierarchies and command and control has shifted to a more distributed and networked approach. Wirearchy is about the power and effectiveness of people working together through connection and collaboration. It’s about each of us taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status.

Catherine Shinners talked about mastering digital leadership. She explained the importance of showing up, being a connector and an influencer. She talked about each of our digital homes being a sustained and sheared experience. Before you send the next email, rethinking and think about the better ways you could publish and share that information. She talked communities of practice, and a new style of leadership navigating and cultivating networks.

Louis-Pierre Guillaume talked about facilitating innovation management in a distributed world of working. He talked about how communities are everywhere, but worried that our organisations create silos. The “not invented here” syndrome gets in the way of sharing best practices. He talked through case studies, and suggested we should rethink the organisation culture to promote cross functional interaction, create and lead virtual communities of practice, and shift to using modern social collaborative tools.

Erika Jacobi, Ph.D. talked organisation design, with a discussion around identity agility in adaptive organisations.

And then I came on last. My job was to join up the dots and try and bring the messages of the day together. In the fourth industrial revolution we’ve moved from complicated to complex, when a small change can have massive consequences – COVID-19 has changed 2020 for every person, team, organisation and country on the planet. We need a different kind of thinking from linear and business as usual to exponential, agile and adaptable. I referenced Mutable Business™ and needing a mindset of being in a permanent state of reinvention. I suggested we must make use of the knowledge and experience the enterprise collaboration community has built up over the last 15 years, how we need to rethink our leadership, focus on our purpose, and get better at telling our stories. I finished with a Chinese proverb:

When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.”


We all covered so much ground. Bjoern Negelmann put together a great agenda with a diverse set of speakers who were all so passionate about their window in to the topic. Invigorating, challenging, and let’s keep the momentum going with what we do next.

This post is part of our Future of Work series. You can read the previous post or find them all in our Future of Work section. If you’d like to discuss how we can help get you prepared for the way work and business is changing, then please contact us.