The Transactional Workplace

Gone are the days of the 3-martini lunch (albeit with good reason).  Enter the days where people work remotely, pull assignments off an electronic task list and upload completed work.  

We seem to be moving further away from a community-based workplace and closer and closer to a transactional workplace.  There’s also a backlash movement in things like team-collaboration and communities of practice.

What would a transactional workplace look like?  Well, you might work from home, log in and get some assignments. Work on them, upload them.  Rinse, repeat. Your social structures would have to exist outside of work because you literally have no coworkers to grab a drink with after work or have a few laughs after work.  You have no one to talk to about work or bounce ideas off. You make friends near your home, play tennis with some local friends, etc. Your work becomes totally separate from your social life.  8+ hours per day spent in social isolation. How different is this from how you live today?

Gosh, there are so many studies now showing how much more effective, happy, and productive people are when they interact with real, live humans.  But then I saw this chart:

This chart is basically saying that if you want to be in-person it’s basically because you are old. I make it just under the wire here as an early Gen-Xer, but along with my fellow Agilists, I evangelize the value of being face-to-face with your co-workers.  I’ve seen the breakout results of pulling remote people together in a room for 3 days.

But is it just a matter of getting transactional interactions over the hurdle where it becomes better than in-person?  

It’s not only in-person vs virtual, it’s also synchronous vs asynchronous communication.  If you deal with time-zone differences you know what I mean. When people in California work with people in India, there’s little or no overlap in work hours.  Most teams either adjust working hours to compensate or document things in excruciatingly clear detail in order to bypass having to talk to each other.

In his book “Team of Teams” Stanley McChrystal solves the military and intelligence communication gap by holding daily, multi-hour calls with hundreds of people.  Although this may seem inefficient, the outcomes far surpassed the results they had been getting. To me, this is the best idea right now, because we haven’t figured out a better idea yet.

We have seen communities develop through transactions, such as the Egyptian revolution of 2011.  People were brought together (in real life) through social media. In fact, social media is exclusively focused on creating community through transactions.

A software developer recently commented to me that they didn’t like all the ‘manual communication’ in Agile.  I asked what he meant by “manual”. He said, “we have to talk to each other!” Yep. You do. I thought he was insane, but in later reflection, I wonder if he’s right?  Do we need to talk quite so much?

What do you think about working remotely or transactionally? Let us know!