Numerous articles have been written over the past several months on the critical role that collaboration and “social” elements will play in helping companies move forward post-recession. The idea that rendering a process or even an entire organization accessible via a public or private network is taking the enterprise community by storm. The premise of bringing people together – especially those who would otherwise not communicate closely with another group – is long overdue. In essence, we’ve gone full circle in how we view collaboration as a business productivity tool.
The very earliest forms of structured organization for the purpose of financial profit consisted of simple business processes – producing a commodity, trading or bartering for another item or service, and a close-knit network of relationships built over years of trust and routine reliability. This is not to say that the earliest forms of incorporation were joyous and peaceful, as the oldest group activity was battle, but each transaction followed a process that was constantly being refined. Business took place face-to-face.
In the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century, we saw the proliferation of technology, specifically for manufacturing and mass production, and the propensity for individuals with a common goal and a variety of skills to pool their resources for potential fame and fortune. It was during this time that businesses began a gradual type of disassociation with collaborative thinking; workers were separate from management, plants were separate from executive offices. International travel was becoming less prohibitive and more efficient, and global operations grew stronger, interpersonal communication got weaker.
Now we’ve voluntarily reversed what seemed to be a permanent fact of business life. We’re talking again. Business and IT departments are starting to collaborate (even if it’s not quite mainstream yet) on business process management initiatives, and solutions like workflow automation are making it possible for employees, who would otherwise be preoccupied with mundane tasks, to join the real human conversation. The communication tools we now have at our disposal – from videoconferencing to social networks to instant messaging – can help us facilitate person-to-person interaction no matter where we are and what we’re doing.
I often hear people express reserve at the idea that our daily activities are becoming so driven by technology that society might eventually feel almost robotic. On the contrary, modern technological solutions are helping us communicate more frequently and more genuinely than ever before. If anything, technology is succeeding in making us more human.