A whole new genre of business theory has emerged in recent years assessing the impact of new technologies on what we do and how we do it: our inboxes, our work-life balance, and even our mental health. Books like Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind and Rolf Dobelli’s The Art of Thinking Clearly offer excellent analyses and constructive advice on working in today’s always-on environment.
One thing most workplace analysts agree on is the danger that electronic communication replaces face-to-face conversation, and therefore the time and conditions available for unconstrained creative exchange is lost. Steve Jobs’ specification for the Pixar HQ is now famous:
“We designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see… Steve realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.”
Reflecting on last week’s Tech City UK off-site strategy day I concluded it’s even more important for small teams to remember to close the laptop, pocket the smartphone, and spend the day talking to each other about the overall mission. It’s just too easy to lose the art of conversation given the constant notifications across Twitter, Gmail, Skype, Slack and others.
It’s also easy to assume that sharing the same small space in close physical proximity equates to perfect information-sharing, unity of purpose and yes, bonding. It helps, of course, and large companies based on multiple sites do have to work harder at internal comms to compensate for the absence of the coffee machine and shared sandwich breaks. Startups and micro teams shouldn’t underestimate the value of regular opportunities to rise out of the inbox and daily tasks, reminding themselves of the ultimate goal, and sharing ideas.
Tech City UK exists to create the optimum conditions for UK digital businesses to grow and succeed. We operate at the intersection of entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, consumers, and citizens. The environment is changing at speed and the to-do list can be overwhelming. Our only option is to prioritise: our partnerships, programmes, and policy perspectives.
Last week we threw out all the rules, sought inspiration from the greats, heard from brilliant speakers from the business world and Think Tanks, and did some future-gazing, short and long-term. We set ambitious goals for new and existing programmes such as the Digital Business Academy, Future Fifty, Tech Nation, Tech North, and HQ-UK. I even managed to find out one or two new things about some of my team members, despite sitting next to them at the office every day.
It was a pleasure to engage off-site and make eye contact, making things happen.