Deciphering a Digital Paradox: The Relationship Between Connectivity and Agility at Work
February 2, 2022
Alex Gruhin and Wendy Wollenberg
The ability of an organization to shift on a moment’s notice is essential to its success, especially in today’s rapidly transforming marketplace. Organizational agility is the lifeblood of a company because business moves at lightning speed. This level of dexterity requires a team possessing clarity on the common goal, moving in unison, and applying both hard and soft skill sets to enhance innovation and ensure relevance.
This is easier said than done. Especially in the midst of a pandemic that is upending where — and how — we work together to achieve common goals.
Is agility even possible amid constant disruption?
The story around collaboration and remote work seems confusing at first blush. A massive case study of more than 60,000 Microsoft employees published in September 2021 showed that hyper connective remote work over the last two years caused their collaboration networks to become increasingly stagnant and more fractured than ever before, with fewer ties that crossed formal business units. The Microsoft research also revealed that cross-functional collaboration decreased by 25% during the pandemic.
This implies a digital paradox. Employees are more connected than ever before, with the capacity to reach through time and space to actively engage with anyone around the world, in any country and any time zone … meanwhile it seems that the perceived fluidity of a connected world is actually anything but. Wires are crossed, and connection is more like a chaotic mosh pit at a concert with everyone angling for their own space than an elegantly designed network of constituent parts working in cohesion.
Despite our connectivity, organizational agility remains a tall order. To that end, it is clear that an intentional shift needs to happen that rebuilds solidarity and gives all employees a chance to strive and thrive as a collective whole. The question is…
What solutions are available right now for organizations to regain their equilibrium and competitive edge?
This perceived paradox is a byproduct of mistakenly conflating connectivity and agility. Systems, technologies, and processes must be put in place that enable greater understanding of each other’s respective contexts as quickly as possible, separate and beyond the levers that are pulled to enable surface-level connectivity. Just because we all exist in the same virtual space does not mean that we are all effectively working together in service of a common goal.
This notion is supported by research. Deloitte Insight’s 2021 Global Resilience Report indicates that organizations that had already made strategic workforce technology investments to build capabilities that enhance resilience (such as leadership development, design thinking, digital transformation, and functional upskilling) outperformed their competition during the pandemic. In fact, 79% of leaders who had invested in these types of technologies prior to 2020 also said their organizations were well positioned to quickly adapt and pivot in response to disruptive events.
Ultimately, we believe that connective technologies that supercharge collaboration and light the spark to create human connection that will not only instigate connectivity, but also bring individuals together for the betterment of their teams and organizations. This idea, too, is underscored by research. McKinsey found that those rare, remote, resilient organizations that increased performance during the pandemic had also increased their reliance on cross-functional teams by 61% – more than DOUBLE that of organizations that decreased performance during the pandemic. So technology certainly plays a role, but connective technology focused on cross-functional collaboration will separate the pioneers from the pack.
As the future of work is collectively conceived by the world’s top organizations, their leaders, and their teams in real time, an emphasis on resilience and agility will be fueled by savvy tech investments in these types of connective technologies. Social, cohort-based learning technologies can help participants develop capabilities that fuse teams and organizations in these turbulent times, and not merely facilitate individual connections. It makes the case that intentionally growing one’s people could be the best way forward for developing an agile and resilient organization in the vanguard of the future of work.
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