We spend a lot of time designing customer experiences, but precious little creating engaging, useful, or productive work environments. There is no better example of this than the dysfunctional approach most organizations take to collaboration. Despite the proliferation of “collaboration tools” many organizations routinely run on e-mail rather than the more sophisticated tools at their disposal. Why? Because those “collaboration tools” force information workers to pre-think their work so that it aligns with the way the tools work. As frustration levels rise from document management systems, wikis, blogs, discussion forums, and collaboration tool features, people turn to e-mail as the most friction-free alternative.
But e-mail is far from effective as a collaboration tool. Despite its ability to quickly disseminate information, e-mail also creates corporate spam, fragments work, and creates a closed history. And most other collaboration tools offer only complementary or supplementary features without offering a clear alternative to e-mail.
If organizations designed collaborative work experiences, they would most certainly not look like e-mail.
But what would such a post-e-mail collaboration environment look like? In the paper, The Universal Post: Collaboration Designed For a Post e-Mail World, I offer a design for a new approach to collaboration based on concepts articulated in my book Management by Design. A Universal Post is an adaptive information object that can range from personal or public communication to shared-authored document, and can transform between states as authorized by its owner or owners.
Imagine that you post an idea that is open to comment among a team or group of collaborators. As it becomes clear that people are engaged in a meaningful discussion, the author of the original post can open up his or her idea so that others can directly edit that original idea.
Imagine the same object as home to blog-like posts, to shared-authoring environments, as content in a repository, as the product of collaborative workflows. Imagine a personal information system that can filter and sort on type of object, but still provide a wealth of information to the system’s users, all tailored to the moment and the need of the user interacting with the activity stream.
The Universal Post frees people from considering what tool to use when—from deciding ahead of time the intent of an object for all time. As the individual and the community learn and recognize a need to adapt, the Universal Post can keep pace with their evolution, changing state to meet the needs of its users, without losing its history or its context.
We have for too long been pinned to tools and to expectations that were created for us by people who never designed their tools to be used in the way we use them. We have accepted suboptimal experiences and models of work. Software is the most malleable of human inventions. It is time that collaboration vendors recognize that simplicity trumps features, that equitability and access drive adoption, and that flexibility opens up new possibilities. The Universal Post eliminates the deficiencies of e-mail, while consolidating and simplifying the complementary tools that have evolved to counter those deficiencies.
Although this post is being delivered in a blog, I hope that soon a Universal Post will house these types of comments so that I can expand my community with a click, open up ideas to collaborators more easily, and move from commentary to collaborative thought by transforming a post from assertion to a canvas of exploration.