The future work OS

For quite some time I have been thinking about how the new hybrid work culture requires a new operating system facilitating getting work done through collaboration and efficiency.

I fully realize that there are a plethora of legacy systems for all parts of the journey out there, but on the other hand, I believe the opportunity is so fundamental that it warrants thinking about in OS terms. With all the different takes on how this is done through stitching things together, I think there is a need for a more hardwired system.

If that is true, the big question of course becomes, what the key components of such an OS could and should be. I have been thinking about that too, and the following is nothing more than a list of four different key components that I would personally love to see in such an OS. That’s by no means the same as somebody ever doing it, but bear with me and allow me to hope.

Fundamental to any work OS is the ability for me as a user to control how I can get distracted, when I am doing work. One of the big challenges to collaboration is the reality that you’re essentially always adapting your work to somebody else’s agenda, and I just think there is a huge loss of productivity in that.

I would even argue that the control of distractions would be as essential a component to a work OS, as privacy controls are in many other types of software. I need to be put in charge of defining what’s needed for me to be most productive, and the OS just seamlessly need to comply with that, once I have configured it. Putting some ML on top could allow to suggest adjustments to my configurations based on how I actual work, but that would be about it.

While unrivaled distraction controls should be a cornerstone, the OS should also be adaptable to different types of work cultures. That’s the second component of the five, I would love to see in a work OS.

Think of adaptable work cultures as essentially an extension of a role based user interface, where I get the experience, flow and features that’s essential based on how I work and how we work together as a team. That’s the cultural adaptability.

It’s an important component of a work OS, as there are significant differences in how different organisations like to work together. Some have a more conservative approach with a ‘command and control’ set of values, where others on the other side of the spectrum have more of a ‘we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out’-approach.

The point I am trying to make is that the work OS should be born with a rich set of templates based on research and market insights that allows you to configure the OS for your culture with a few clicks max. That would be really powerful, and done right it could serve as an important digital custodian of company values and ways-of-working.

With both distraction controls and an adaptable work culture facilitated directly by the OS in place, we can focus our attention of actually getting meaningful work done. This is the third key component of my ideal work OS.

How does meaningful work get done? In many ways but one of them is by making it easy, fast and efficient to not only make business critical decisions but also to execute on them. Like a startup, I met lately put it, it is all about creating ‘the path of least resistance’. I really like that way of looking at it.

There are many approaches towards getting work done in an efficient matter and a lot of frameworks and tools that support those in various ways. I think the important part here is that the method applied resonates with the adapted work culture as mentioned above, so that decisions and execution are as closely aligned with the individuals and the teams preferences for getting things done as possible. The less we need to think about it, the better and more efficient it is.

Getting things done efficiently also includes tying things together in logical ways ensuring that conversations are transparent, and that meetings called have meaningful agendas and outcomes, and there is a process for follow-up that ensures that things actually get done and nothing gets lost between different chairs. A lot of those things can be automated through flows, and I think it should be a core part of the work culture templates with the opportunity to optimize the configurations as needed.

While process is important for getting things done and make efficient decisions, it is equally important to have the context for the decision present and ready. Thus a significant part of being able to have an efficient work OS is to have the data supporting decision making ready and available at any time.

Thus doing the mundane work of ensuring that the work OS can integrate towards any type of data and platforms that your organisation uses for storage and work will be crucial. There are already a lot of precedent in how to do these types of integrations, and there are several providers, who already provide a federated view from one interface into countless different tools and platforms. So it can definitely be done.

The more the data you already have gets integrated into the work OS, the more supercharged it will be. People tend to live their work lives digitally wherever their data is stored and available, so it will probably be one of the key drivers to easing the adoption of the work OS.

The goal with a work OS should be everybody in the organisation becomes part of it. Why? Because it’s the cornerstone of the fourth and potentially most critical component to why a work OS could be a cornerstone of the future of work both on premise and in a hybrid mode:

Programming and automating the ways-of-working policy of the organisation.

Ways-of-working will be increasingly important as the means of turning a set of values and policies into a modus operandi for how the organisation and the people within it work and behave with and towards each other as well as externally.

As organisations become even more hybrid, and most of the people in it will in periods of time be working remotely, having a firm set of values and policies will only increase in importance. It will be the glue that keeps the organisation together. But it won’t happen by itself. It will need help. By a set of configured and carefully calibrated and adapted rules and policies for the individual organisation that sets seamless boundaries for what’s good and productive behaviour and what’s not.

Most of us working with software in our daily work lives are used to systems setting up rules for us or at the very least having the capability of creating our own. But they are perhaps to disparate across different systems and in some ways also too much in flux all the time to be truly efficient. Ensuring a broad, common adoption and custodianship of the set of rules of the entire organisation will perhaps be the one point where the work OS will really be able to make a foundational difference.

In summary there should be more than enough opportunity in this space for someone to have a go at creating a true work OS; something that could be foundational to powering the way we work efficiently in ways that resemble the original PC OSs. Yes, that’s how big this opportunity is. Question is whether someone has the audacity to go after it in a way that is bold enough?

(Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash)

Tactital vs strategic use of data

There is no doubt that data forms a really solid basis for making business critical decisions not only in large organizations but also in startups. That especially holds true when ressources are tight, and the ambitions are grand; you need to really ensure that what you’re spending your time and money on truly works towards keeping the momentum high.

In reality it might not always be so easy to work with data in the most impactful way. Because it’s not only about looking into the numbers and keeping track of incremental improvements. It’s more about knowing where you want to go with your startup, figuring out which metrics make sense in order to report on your progress and then setting yourself up with data sources that enables you to keep track and optimize the operation, so you end up meeting or exceeding whatever goal you might have.

Doing this the right way takes dedication and a fundamental feel for and understanding of the underlying business dynamics, your products or services and – not least – your customers and their needs and expectations. In other words, in order to be able to use data in the most efficient strategic way, there is a lot of prep work you need to do beforehand, which doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with data in itself.

And this is precisely where I often see warning signs when I look at especially early stage startups and the way they try to work with data in order to grow and scale their business. Many of these don’t have as much of a strategic view of how to enable their business to run on data as they have a more tactical view on using data.

So what is a tactical view on looking at data?

An example could be that you’re trying to grow engagement of your app. You want to get users to spend more time in the app and engage more by liking or sharing things. You could pretty easily define a couple of more or less standard metrics, and you could also quickly find a ton of tutorials online that will help you optimize for those more or less generic metrics (let’s just choose Daily Active Users or DAU as an example to make it concrete).

It would indeed be possible to apply well-recognized best practice ‘hacks’ towards optimizing for those metrics, and there would probably also be some improvements to show for it. But the trouble is that not only is this a very mechanical, one-size-fits-all approach towards working with data. It is also short term and has no real bearing on either the quality of the product or service, you’re offering, let alone the needs and aspirations of your customers.

Thus, in essence, by applying this generic tactical approach towards working with data in your startup operations, you end up optimizing for…what exactly?

This is precisely the reason why it’s so important that any effort working with data to improve the prospects of your startup and meet the goals, you have set up, needs to be strategic in nature. So what does that mean?

First of all it means having a general direction of travel, you want to take your startup on.

Second, it’s about validating with customers and market research that the direction is the right one and – if executed in the best way – will actually bring the wanted results to your startups prospects for success.

And third it’s about figuring out what that direction in tandem with the validation from the market and customers means in terms of defining custom metrics that both prove to be valid indicators of success and which are also possible for you keep track on.

Once you have those metrics in place to represent desired strategic outcomes for your startup, you can start doing the setup of your data and analytics to support keeping track of it all. The first time you go through that exercise it will probably feel like a lot of work, but just like plumbing for your home, if will not be something you need to do more than once. Once you have it settled, the systems are in place, and data is flowing like you want to, you’re set.

And then – and only then – are data set to work efficiently for you and your startup.

(Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash)

Dealing with lost outcome

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of helping an interesting startup in the data management and analytics space get off the ground.

Part of that was to help them pitch to early angel investors in order to get the first funding. And one of the international investors we talked to had a point that stayed with me:

“To me this just looks like data porn”.

What he meant was: A lot of numbers and statistics but very little real actionable insights that made sense to him. And which he thus doubted would ever make sense to future customers.

His point came back to haunt me when I read a statistic claiming that 80% or so of SMEs really don’t know how to capitalize on their data, while reading another place that 90% of the companies providing the data management and analytics tools at the same time think they are delivering a killer user experience that just unlocks value at the click of a button.

There is something that is disconnected here. And I have a hunch what it might be:

The ability for SMEs to identify the outcomes they’re looking for – put them into words – coupled with an inability of the providers to think in terms of outcomes rather than inputs and analytics, when they design products.

It’s like one party is from Mars, the other is from Venus. And somehow they just can’t find each other.

In all fairness, I don’t think this is only true with data management and analytics. I think it’s a more generic point across B2B products and services; that startups and vendors are so focused on developing great products based on their own merits rather than developing great products that helps future customers get to the outcomes they are looking for in the easiest and most painless way possible.

So what could a remedy for all this be?

Communication. Built-in communication. A built-in communication and story telling strategy so to say that informs how the products are structured, the user experience defined and the value being delivered to the customer in such a way that they will not for a second doubt they have chosen the right product to help them get the outcome they have set for themselves.

A lot of things are happening in parallel in product development today, and many of them are good. But I think they lack the glue of the overarching story; the keeping track of the ‘Why?’ of it all when it comes to delivering value and outcomes including all the bigger and smaller sanity checks, you should include along the way.

Great communication could be that glue.

Great communication could tie prioritization of the roadmap with the user experience, the optimized flows and how you present the product and it’s core features to products. Great communication should be the rocket fuel of the growth story as well and dictate how the product is communicated, being sold and serviced afterwards.

Because communication is not only about PR, press releases and coming up with the creatives for the next campaign. Communication should be a key component of both product, sales and company strategy.

So people like the business angel from above and the customers, he was thinking of, instinctively ‘get it’ because the story points directly towards achieving a highly valuable and desired outcome.

(Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash)

Data is subscription gold

Lars K. Jensen from Willmore does an excellent newsletter on innovation within digital media called ‘Products in Publishing’.

If you haven’t signed up for it yet, I suggest that you go and do it – even if you’re not in media. Because the way that he uses data and analysis to inform his thinking is inspirational.

His latest take is on digital news subscriptions, and why it’s probably not the news that are driving conversions from freeloaders to subscribers. You can argue that it’s quite obvious, since very few if any have had real success with digital news subscriptions. But that’s not the point.

The point is how he uses data. Because analyzing different use cases for content, how much content is published in each of them and how they convert, he’s able to do a pretty spot on analysis of what it is that drives value for digital news media subscribers.

And here’s the kicker:

Even though Lars is good, he hasn’t done anything that any media company with a decent analytics department – and yes, they all have one – couldn’t and shouldn’t have done a long, long time ago.

The data has been there for everybody who cared to see it and get to the same conclusions.

Why haven’t they made this analysis years ago? There’s obviously subscription gold in the data.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Doing your homework

What does it mean for a business, a startup or you to ‘do your homework’?

Does it mean being out there, staying curious about the problem you’re looking to solve trying to figure out what potential avenues towards solving it might be.

Does it mean diving into existing research to be able to say and tell others that you know what is already out there, and that is what you’re building from?

I am not really sure, although I do think the latter resembles more of an exam, where – let’s face it – the only objective is to pass in more or less flying colors and then move on.

The problem with homework is much the same as with communication: The effectiveness and value of it often rests not with the creator but the receiver.

Thus, is the receiver has a misconception of what doing your homework really is, you run the risk of putting in the wrong sort of work for the job while still being able to claim that you have essentially done nothing wrong.

See the problem? Or paradox, even.

The sense of having done your homework needs to rest deeply within you. You need to have a feel for what you need to know, what you need to challenge and the questions you need to ask to get the answers you need.

When you have that, you can think of yourself as having done the homework. But not before.

Homework is an extension of determination. If you’re determined to get something done, succeed with a pitch or with a business or anything else you put your mind towards, you will make damn sure you do your homework. And it will be yours to define and own. Also the results.

Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Your idea is not about you

One of the hardest things to do when you’re trying out an idea for a new venture is to separate your own feelings from the data.

After all, you probably came up with the idea because you thought it was great – perhaps even the greatest since sliced bread. And now you’re bringing it doubt and jeopardy by subjecting it to some sort of validation in the actual real world.

Frightening.

But fear not. Because chances are that not everything is wasted.

Your idea might still be great. But the present application of it is not the optimal one. Wouldn’t it then be rather nice to get that insight through data, so you can change the application and move towards the iteration that gives both you and your future customers most ‘bang for the buck’?

Of course it would.

But still; the idea of finding out that your initial idea wasn’t the optimal solution for your customers can hurt and sting. Just make sure you realize that that’s ok; it is all part of the plan.

After all it is about the application of the idea – not you as a person.

If you think it’s too much to deal with, and – more importantly – you’re in danger of closing your eyes to the data and just venture on with what you originally had in mind, consider getting some sort of outside help or perspective. Someone with a clean slate and a fresh pair of eyes, who can help put it to you more gently – but nonetheless put it to you.

It might prove to be one of the best investments, you can make.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The ‘naked’ online presence

More than 10 years ago when I was dating, I made it a habit to always Google my date ahead of our first meeting in person. Given what I was doing on an everyday basis at work it just felt natural to try to get a bit of insight beforehand and satisfy part of my curiosity.

It was fun.

Until they started doing the same with me.

Then all of a sudden I learned what it actually means to be visible online and to never have shied away from putting your ideas and comments out there in this vast digital space.

Because there were a ton of things you could find out back then with very little effort. And there’s exponentially more today.

Which to some extend makes it such an intriguing opportunity to organize.

I was reminded about this when I encountered SpoonBill; a service that allows you to get insights on the updates, your Twitter contacts have been making to fx their bio over the years.

Digging into those is a fascinating thing, and if you allow yourself a bit of time to do it, it is actually quite revealing about peoples personalities.

Some may call this snooping, and to some extend it is. But it’s still information people have put out there themselves. Actively. It is there own words. How they like to see themselves at any given moment in time. It is not something that is collected behind the scenes.

The ability to get an overview of how people change their self-image or perhaps even identity over time is a perfect complement to the long-seen practice of trying to perfect the image, you convey using various social media platforms.

And Twitter is a great tool to start the forensic analysis with given that it is a platform where professional and personal interests collide in one big hodge-podge of things.

For that reason I also think that SpoonBill is at the aventgarde of a plethora of tools and services, we’re going to see going forward that tried to address the same issue; getting a sense of who people really are behind the smoke and mirrors of SoMe and personal branding.

Getting behind the scenes and to the core of people is a fundamental human need on which all kinds of trust and enduring relationships are built.

Thus, my best guess is that getting this right is going to be a huge business opportunity for those, who want to engage.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Election learning

Without saying anything in particular about the US presidential election, it seems like it once again is a good opportunity to question the value of assumptions as substitutes for fact.

In essence an opinion poll is an assumption. Perhaps even more so in the US, where the first challenge of validation your assumption is to just get those you surveyed to actually go and vote.

What the election should (again) teach us is that the only data and insights that matter are actual data and insights, i.e. facts. In this context? The votes actually cast.

Everything else is inherently fake.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)