In a technologically advanced society, what will tomorrow's organisations look like? Recently, Microsoft teamed with institutions including the UK's Institute of Directors to study the company of tomorrow, and emerged with the concept of the hybrid organisation. The qualitative research resulted in a video programme outlining some of its findings. It concluded that organisations would be most successful if they married together three areas: technology, people, and buildings.
The hybrid organisation takes into account peoples' home lives, in addition to their working lives, said Microsoft spokespeople. Experts participating in the study, such as Prof Michael Hulme, an associate fellow at Lancaster University's Institute of Advanced Studies, sees it as a redefinition of what it will mean to be an organisation in the 21st century, and an individual working in one.
Organisations will question the rules of work as they stand today, suggests the study, arguing that a democratic approach to strategy is necessary. Instead of relying purely on top-down thinking, which has been a mainstay organisational habit in the past, organisations should encourage a participatory culture, said experts. In this new approach, employees should be able to contribute to strategy development by feeding back ideas to organisational leaders. People must also be empowered by technology, enabling them to be more autonomous in the way that they work and think within a company.
On the face of it, this sounds like the same rhetoric that we have been hearing since at least the early 90s. Vendors responsible for selling information systems have been producing studies for years looking at the future of companies and the way that they work. But how might things be different today, and how can we use technologies that have only recently matured to affect how organisations function in ways that were not possible before?
Organisations should take a more open view of social networking, according to the study. Many organisations refuse employees access to services such as Twitter, for example, viewing them as a drain on productivity. However, correctly used, these tools can be crucial in informing individuals within a company and their customers about important events and trends. The idea of integrating personal online applications with those used for work can potentially produce powerful results. Being able to merge a company scheduling system with a personal online calendar might enable individuals to achieve better work/life balance, and to make their working communities more productive by automatically enabling them to schedule work and personal events around each other.
One recommendation of the study is that people working at a company can be best served if the building that they work in and the IT infrasructure that they rely on are viewed as one thing. Buildings are living, breathing spaces that intimately inform the working patterns of the people that use them.
One prediction made by experts participating in the study was that, in the same way that the death of the desk phone has been predicted over time, we may begin to see the death of the desk. Hot desking is not a new concept. However, the ability to share information using open standards at all levels of the stack -- from the IP data communication layer through to open XML-based application programming interfaces -- make it possible to produce collaborative working environments that are flexible enough to free employees from their desks for large amounts of the time.
One potential development among companies willing to embrace these concepts is the mobile working space (what in the past has been called the 'telecottage'). This is a shared working environment in which employees from multiple companies can come together and take advantage of office resources. Instead of all employees travelling to a central office owned by a company, we may instead find people travelling to the mobile working space closest to them, depending on where they are on any given day. Conversations around the water cooler in these environments would be markedly different, as employees from different companies got to know each other and exchanged ideas.
As the pace of technological change accelerates, and we find ourselves able to unlock information more easily within corporate applications, we may find elements of the hybrid organisation becoming more ubiquitous over time. The astute CIO will be ready to embrace those organisational needs by putting in place technology platforms that not only allow, but encourage, more flexible, dynamic working practices among employees.