The format of the workspace is where nature meets nurture. The way our environment is structured has the ability to maximise our wellbeing through purpose and community, as well as enhancing our output by harnessing the benefits of the collective intelligence. In a brave new world where no man is an island, we explore how the age-old secrets of nature are merging with the visionary technology of the future, to deliver the workspaces of today.
The Wisdom Of The Crowd
When groups of people come together, they create something that is more than the sum of its parts. Collaboration is what underpins the collective intelligence. The animal kingdom abounds with examples of groups functioning as a single whole, from schools of fish, to flocks of birds, herds of animals, and ant and bee colonies working as a single organism. On an even larger scale, the Gaia Hypothesis proposes that the planet itself shares this emergent, holistic phenomena.
Technology is playing an increasingly prominent role in facilitating the collective intelligence. Whereas many political regimes and centralised power structures can occasionally be a bureaucratic hindrance, technology provides a platform for people to come together and directly exchange information. This has a multitude of applications including opinion aggregation, idea collection, and effects on estimates, judgements and predictions.
Group intelligence is a subjective assessment of information. The ‘trustworthiness’ of the group depends on its history, members and sources of information. Individuals are more likely to trust information from people they know (pre-vetted sources), as well as what is in-line with what they already believe to be true (confirmation bias).
How we define the concept of ‘intelligence’ helps us to understand the meaning of what it is to be human. Realising that intelligence is primarily a collective phenomenon helps us to understand how we actively collaborate and co-create – by making decisions under an inherent state of uncertainty. This helps us to better appreciate what it means to live in society as a whole.
Technology And The Hive Mind
Multiple people weighing in on a problem might intuitively seem to lead to a better outcome, but as any manager will tell you, keeping a large team on task is not easy. This is where man has created technology and AI to be the cohesive residue holding its constituents together.
The hybrid model seeks to unify the best of all polarities: man and technology, nature and nurture, individualism and collectivism, and organised and responsive decentralisation. The ways in which AI can foster greater cohesiveness and co-ordination in organisational behaviour include fostering communication among different components, sending reminders, being a repository of information and co-ordinating decision making.
Nature does this in the form of real-time systems, where groups interact all at once together with feedback loops. This creates a pushing and pulling within a system which allows for convergence on a certain combination of knowledge, wisdom, insight and intuition based on a given context or circumstance. If nature is setting the thermostat and providing the homeostasis between systems, AI is enabling the larger set of data points.
Harnessing The Hybrid Workspace
In many ways, man-made cities function like biological cells – with different components interacting with each-other using energy, to create a complex adaptive system with emergent properties. With AI facilitating the communicative signalling molecules between greater sets of cells (fascia), and nature providing the feedback loops to keep these systems in check, the hybrid workplace is the structure of the organelles that shape the formation of the signalling molecules, instigating the changes yet to come.
Leveraging the workspace of the future is all about maximising collaborative efforts in increasingly horizontal, transparent, distributed and autonomous ways. Such structures are inherently more resilient, non-hierarchal, and flexible, meaning they can better adapt to changes in the environment, while fostering greater workplace wellbeing and unique creative efforts.
COVID has been nature’s catalyst into the new normal, instigating paradigm shifts in the collective intelligence and wisdom of the crowd that should produce more sustainable and holistic results. The move towards the remote and hybrid workplace is the bridge that will help us get there. Spaces such as x+why provide the resources to unite, inspire and amplify purpose-driven businesses that are implementing more socially responsible models of capitalism.
With Friedman’s model of profit production at all costs no longer being sustainable to either people or planet, there has never been a better time to experiment with new ways of working. Accessibility to remote work has long been on the table, however managers have previously been hesitant to explore the ramification of testing something novel.
The results of lockdown are constantly undergoing a process of refinement, and moving into the world of more remote work is little different. Arguably the most popular roadmap into the new normal so far, leverages the face-to-face interaction of the office, but replaces the hierarchy and politics with the autonomy, choice and flexibility provided by the increasingly remote model.
Many employees have enjoyed having their own schedule, making more time for family, and being able to choose where to work. However they have often missed colleagues and the separation of work-home life provided by the office. The hybrid model adopted by satellite offices allows employees the choice of commuting to larger central HQs, predominantly for more important meetings, with the flexibility of being able to work closer to home, either in the format of a co-working space or branching out into other networks.
Employers are equally finding that collaborative efforts are maximised through implementing the appropriate technology, alongside the spontaneous interactions that can only be fostered by the water-cooler. Man is not machine, and the human-side of work has proven irreplaceable. Hybrid models therefore synergise this connection between the smart office and the social office.
The implications of this on businesses are also economical. Many residents find that by employing more malleable and distributed models, they are able to reduce space waste by changing size, shape and location, thereby keeping their overheads lower. The challenges of scaling including the associated bureaucracy become far more manageable, with everything kept under one flexible monthly rolling package.
If what goes up, must come down, then going horizontal could be the most sustainable way to propel ourselves into the future, more laterally. Moving in a different direction by employing horizontal management is about working collaboratively across organisation boundaries. There are no hard and fast rules to this change, and it is as much an art as a science.
Horizontal models of work enable industry cross-collaboration, the lack of which is one of the biggest barriers to advancement to date. With a historical focus on increasing levels of vertical ascension and specialisation, signalling once again needs to direct its focus to allowing expert knowledge to cross-communicate and corroborate its findings.
Self-organisation is part of human nature. Although considered relatively novel, many of the shifts taking place in the move towards the new normal still feel familiar. These are innate practices that have ironically been eroded by traditional organisational structures and cultures, but they are practices that are rekindling and growing in the continuous evolution towards doing better business.