April 7, 2019

Edge Collaboration is the Future of Work

Meet your newest employee, Jennifer. She woke up Monday morning amped, ready to start her third week as a software engineer at your company. Finally, orientation is over. It’s time for her to start on her first project writing code.

Jennifer sits down for a review. But low and behold, it’s not exactly clear what the team is doing. So, instead of coding, she spends the first two hours of her day not-so-amped, in a meeting where the senior leaders and project managers are discussing goals and objectives. Two days later, the bosses make the decisions. Jennifer finally gets the specs she needs — only to find that she doesn’t understand the data.

Poor Jennifer emails the manager of the team that created the data. He sets up a meeting. It takes four days to get everyone’s schedules to align. Finally, a week after that, her team has a prototype ready. But then they’ve got to wait on the senior leader to give them feedback. Because Jennifer and her crew still aren’t totally sure what they need to do. That’s going to be another week.

Jennifer’s frustrated. Why does this take so long? Why did she take this job? Should she have majored in marine biology like she really wanted to? It’s taken nearly a month to get approval on something that should have taken six days.

If only Jennifer’s bosses let her work on the edge.

Edge collaboration

Unfortunately, edge collaboration does not take its inspiration from the amazingmovie. Instead, edge collaboration is a concept I’ve borrowed from something that’s silently a part of a lot of our lives: edge computing.

Edge computing is the ability for computers at the edge of a network, right where the data is being collected, to make decisions without having to send data back into the cloud. It’s something your smartphone does all the time. Instead of transmitting data to a massive server warehouse — where the data is crunched and sent back — your phone can crunch the data using its own processors. This makes the apps on your phone work quicker, and the same principle is also used in autonomous cars. Imagine a close call on the highway in an autonomous car. The various lags between your car, its sensor and the server could result in catastrophe.

This is what edge collaboration is: eliminating the lag and the proverbial data transmissions back-and-forth between departments. People like Jennifer need to be empowered to make the agile decisions I see so many LinkedIn articles about.

But there’s something standing in her way: her company.

Rebuild your infrastructure

If you want to embrace edge collaboration, you need to think about how you can reduce the barriers to collaboration for your employees. To do this, you need to take a good hard look at your infrastructure.

In too many organizations, it’s enormously difficult to connect with the right person who can help you with a job — and the larger an organization gets, the more difficult it is. To truly have edge collaboration, organizations need to rethink the tools employees use to communicate and connect. Organizations need a better phone book that allows employees to use digital communication with the efficiency we’ve come to expect in our personal lives.

But it’s not enough just to change your digital infrastructure. Your cultural infrastructure is going to need to be completely overhauled as well. Too many organizations require permission just to speak with someone. Let’s think back to Jennifer for a bit. In her search for clarity on her data, she wasn’t able to go to the engineers directly. She had to talk to the director of the data warehouse, who connected her with the right people.

This doesn’t sound very agile, if you ask me.

Yes, managers have their purpose. But the antiquated attitude of seeking a manager first is holding your organization back. Because it’s not enough to deploy a new phone book. To truly be agile, you need to change how you even envision communication. Make it easy for your employees, so they don’t have to face the killer bear that is bureaucracy.

Get radical, dude

As much as Jennifer might want to be on the edge, she will not be able to get there without management changing the way it approaches projects.

Edge collaboration requires giving your employees the responsibility and autonomy they need to make quick decisions. Adopt a philosophy of radical clarity. With each project, make sure you have clearly defined goals and benchmarks. Think ahead to the decision points that may arise, and make sure teams know who they will need to communicate with when problems come up.

This radical clarity will let everyone know what success looks like from the very beginning — so that you can find success with your latest project without the headache of wondering if Jennifer’s so burnt out she’s already going back to LinkedIn.

That’s life on the edge.

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