Forget industrial and forget digital – the new workplace culture should be a reflection of nature, says leading workplace consultancy firm

Forget industrial and forget digital

Digital Workplace Group (DWG) emphasises the importance of human feelings, connections, relationships, successes and sometimes failures in its new ‘Nature of Work’ publication

In the past year, the world of work has changed. Alongside their day-to-day responsibilities, employees are dealing with the anxiousness of a global pandemic, the stress of home-schooling, concern about loved ones and the loneliness that comes with not being able to see them.

This has highlighted the need for a new way of working, says Digital Workplace Group (rated by the Financial Times as one of the UK’s leading management consultancies in digital transformation in 2021) – one that holds human feelings, connections and potential at its core, transforming companies from ‘organisations’ into living, breathing, growing ‘organisms’.

Shimrit Janes, Director of Knowledge at DWG, expands on this shift: “For years, decades, centuries even, we have acted as if organisations and work are machines: mechanistic systems that can be programmed down to the last cog or circuit board.” She also explains how, because of this, we have treated the people who work within them as parts of those machines.

Janes continues: “We clock in. We clock out. We leave our feelings at the door. We only switch off when we know we aren’t needed. We’re efficient. We get the job done. But this isn’t the way it should be.”

She goes on to comment on how this has resulted in a very detached workforce. For example, Gallup’s 2019 Employee Engagement Survey, which measured US workers on their engagement with work through questions around enthusiasm and commitment, found that 52% of US workers felt ‘not engaged’ and a worrying 13% fell into the ‘actively disengaged’ category.

“All that we have experienced and had to adjust to in the last year has reminded us how fragile we are,” Shimrit continues. “We think, we feel, we hurt, we play. Together, we are the organisations within which we work – not the other way around.”

Along with DWG’s CEO and Founder Paul Miller, Janes has examined this phenomenon in their newly released book, Nature of Work – The new story of work for a living age. This thought-provoking publication discusses how we are moving on from the industrialisation of work culture inherited from previous generations as well as the online work culture of the digital transformation change-makers to one that fully recognises that it exists due to, and for the benefit of, the people within it.

The book calls for business leaders, senior executives, employees and those simply interested in the subject to reimagine the way they work. It asks readers to view work not “merely as a connection of people surrounded by tools and processes” but as an “ever-changing, emergent web of talented people and their relationships, flows of ideas and knowledge, organisational culture, beliefs, values, intentions and behaviours – and what happens when these are all brought together”.

It states the need for a fresh narrative, a new language to describe this change and a celebration of the dynamism of its people – presenting nature as a solution.

Throughout, the publication draws on inspiration from nature’s 12 elements. For example, it considers how roots keep work grounded and stable as external forces whip around, but how there are also occasions when new roots need to be laid down. It looks at habitats and the key importance of ensuring that these suit each person working within them, as well as considering the role of the life cycles that keep the system constantly evolving across anything from the length of time someone is with an organisation to the longevity of the organisation itself.

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When discussing the new book and its exploration of the workplace, Miller said: “Back in 2009, I popularised the term ‘digital workplace’ – one we are now all too familiar with. But just over a decade later, the term must change again. A workplace that is bound to its location – be that in-person or online – is too restrictive for what is currently all around us. Instead, it must be all-encompassing and entirely human-focused. We have entered the ‘decade of courage’ and, much as in the same way that nature has adapted and thrived, so can we.”

Miller’s previous work, The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. His first book, The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work, was published in 2012.

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