Digital Inclusion is as important as any other type of inclusion. We live in a hybrid world where off- and online seamlessly cross over. The digital layer, also called the infosphere, has to be accessible. I spoke about this topic at a conference organized by Prysmian, a global leader in cable systems. This is a follow-up to that conference. Enjoy the reading.
In Prysmian Group the third week of May was fully dedicated to Diversity & Inclusion, where Kristian Esser spoke about Innovation as a Driver for Inclusion.
We have been working in the North Europe region with Kristian since 2020, and he has been challenging us to think and work differently and thanks to Kristian, we can see already the change in our mindset. We are already included in something big, in something bigger than us - A diverse and Inclusive Universe!
Tell us Kristian, what advice could you give to leaders designing digital processes in Prysmian, and what is your opinion on work procedures for the new way of working?
You mention the word design, and that is precisely the right one to use. We are now on the verge where experiences build in the past meet new possibilities for the future, and to do so, we need to maintain a constant dialogue between these two to feed the new way we want to design our work. We need to challenge ourselves and have the courage to do things in new and different ways. And this is not easy. People don't like to change. They feel comfortable doing things like they always did.
We could decide not to do so, but then, we expose our companies to the danger of becoming a slow and unadapted system, losing market fit.
New digital processes create an enormous number of chances when used in collaboration processes with our colleagues, clients, and suppliers. The efficiency we gain has a significant impact on our budgets, e.g. travel expenses reduction to limit the spread of the infections.
This is barely gained translating an old way of working to a digital equivalent. Videoconference all day long. There is much more to improve.
More innovative processes, designed on the dynamics online communities have, reshape how we interact and collaborate. The technology is out there and will keep evolving. We only have to redesign the way we want to work. And that is a collective effort. It's about culture, it's about attitude, and a bit about skills.
What do you think about the new leadership model (Drive, Trust, and Simplicity) arising in the digital workspace?
As mentioned, the online community's dynamic tells us that groups committed to the same goal can organize themselves on a digital platform. They manage to solve problems by trusting in each other. The leader's role is much more oriented in helping the process and make sure that all team members can do what they do at the best they can. Like an orchestral director, leaders can't control the performance but are needed to align everybody on the same page.
A digital space like a community has a few crucial aspects that enhance a new leadership model.
At first, it's a transparent space, where people are informed on the whole process. As anyone can access the information, we increase the possibility of colleagues reaching out for help. This attitude is vital for agile work and self-organized systems with a precise dive.
Working on distance is another crucial aspect. We have to trust people doing their job. And in the best scenario, they will do it at the best moment. The moment that fits the best in their schedule unless there is an imminent problem to fix. Digital instant communication will ensure that when issues arise, they will be solved as soon as possible.
Simplicity is something difficult to explain to people not used to work in communities. The simplicity might not show at first sight because a new way of thinking and communicating is required. But after a while, the energy asked in the first place pays back in much more fluid and natural processes.
With working remotely, we have been advising our employees to turn on their web cameras to be in the same digital space despite the distances.
Are there any suggestions on balancing being always on the screen and visible? Are we inclusive when we consider people who do not put their cameras on?
Working in a digital space might feel unpleasant for some of us. Think about a friend that urgently feels the need to hug you any time you meet. At the same time, there might also be people feeling a bit uncomfortable being on camera. Although technology is working very hard to emulate human beings, we, as humans, still have more advanced sensors. When working together in a physical space, all our senses are activated and give feedback to feed our reactions.
Since work can be categorized as a dynamic state that is constantly changing, we do need all possible feedback to perform.
Visual feedback during video conferences is, like audio, essential to understand and perceive feedback. Turning your video off is similar to deliberately omitting the information needed for a colleague to perform.
But there is also another scenario. That's the one where a long meeting with many people could not be relevant for everybody, all the time. In this case, switching off the camera can be accepted. My suggestion is to tell this 'rule' to all participants.
Digital Innovation needs inclusion and equity to work and not to create disequality. There is probably no possibility for people to be not included in this Digital new world if they want to work, socialize and be part of the world.
Does this mean that we need to force ourselves to be more digitally connected and reduce our time to other things to follow our digital lives (work, socials, etc.)?
This is an interesting question. The assumption here is that there are two ways of working and we have to choose where to allocate our time. In fact, there is one way of working, and that's the hybrid one. There is one time, and we will balance it between on- and offline. I think we will spend more time on digital because of working on distance, and even when some colleagues work in the same physical space, they will still work digitally to include the whole team, not being there at that moment.
Technology will develop so that our physical actions will be detected and digitalized automatically and put into our digital space. By doing so, we will not spend extra energy digitalizing our physical performances.
One of the comments we received during the event was that Innovation is required to survive for business in our days. Innovations require inclusion. Inclusion boosts innovations.
It is all related. We have no way to go out. Is there a way out, or is everything at the end inevitable?
Innovation in this era is not driven by being able to invent new things but to redesign our business. This means we need to process a lot and different information for making the right decisions. Inclusion is essential in this and therefore it feeds innovation. If our information is not objective we develop biases that may add a lot of danger.
So, inclusion is essential, and referring to the previous answers, it looks pretty improbable that we will shut down our digital channels.
I don't want to compare this with natural evolution, but the digital infosphere is becoming part of a system in which we live.
You said in meetings we should not reflect on the past anymore. However, when I think about how many different things every member of a team is doing, even if we have a digital space, I don't see everyone in the team having the time to also monitor and dive into the work and contributions of the colleagues, so even with the transparency of the digital workspace, we still need to find a way to track the work.
Could AI help here?
Before I give an answer to the AI question, here a reflection on meetings.
Some meetings in offline processes are meant to gather people working on a project and give updates about the work done. This is because most of the work is done in different places, in various locations.
Working together in a digital space, store all the information in the same place. This means that reporting is less critical since everybody can access the work done. This does not mean that every team member has to read every post, but working in a digital space somehow involves the whole team. It also eases the way we ask for support. One @mention in a sentence placed in the precise context is much more effective than sending a mail for just one question and increases collaboration. A lot of those questions can now be skipped during the meetings.
Having said this, AI might somehow help this process. Considering that language is a very convenient domain for artificial intelligence, we might invent new ways to find, categorize and analyze the information we produce. As presented in the keynote, Replika.ai is a chatbot that learns from the person using it, which means that a similar system could also learn from us as a group. It's not improbable that we could add to our project a digital assistant in the community that can help us during the whole process. Whatever the question is, you will get an answer.
But even more interesting could be to create an AI engine that helps in making decisions.
With different digital solutions, it is possible to contact every person within the company via Teams or Zoom, but people do not have time and do not even get back to you. In the end, the result is not much better than it was before.
How can we ensure that our connections and questions will not be lost in space?
This is a cultural and governance challenge. I have the feeling that the speed of technology is invading people's space. Things are so easy and accessible to do in a digital way that the time we save is used to add more work. Understandable from a profit perspective but not from a human one. Working online is very demanding, and the saved time should be used to improve the quality of work. Companies must reflect on digital governance and create the conditions needed to ensure that the employees perform at their best. The company is our concert hall :)
Thank You very much Kristian for Your insights and responses! In Prysmian Group we will work on the digital transformation and find new ways to be more innovative. Even if it may sound a cliché, we will never work as we used to. Therefore changing our mindset and taking the digital changes as a natural step forward is key. As Kristian once said: “With our generation, we are like digital immigrants, but the generations next to us are already digital natives.”
A special thanks to Olivia Normark and Kärt Kairo and Simone Benigni for inviting me to speak at this great online conference.
More about the conference in this link.
More about Mr.Harder’s community called Local Minds in this link.