In my lifetime, I’ve seen three tidal waves of organizational change.
The first wave was driven by computers. Whether you worked in a newspaper, a bank or a bakery, computers enabled you to work more efficiently. Because of computers, our work processes became more efficient – more measurable, more repeatable and more standardized. Office buildings themselves became symbols of this wave, with their standardized cubicles, streamlined use of space, and impersonal facades.
In the second wave, people realized that efficiency wasn’t enough. In the second wave, the focus was on how people could work more effectively together. The idea of the “learning organization” took hold. There was a new focus on teams, on collaboration, on building trust and assuring psychological safety, on engagement. Managers were taught not only how to measure results, but how to inspire and motivate people. Architects and space designers shifted their focus to creating warm, engaging spaces with inviting places to collaborate and brainstorm.
The third wave was triggered by the great pandemic of 2020. Suddenly people were forced to disband, to return home, to work remotely. The office space lost all meaning. Suddenly, we were all in our own spaces, our personal lives comingled with our professional lives. New tools for telework spread as quickly as the virus itself. And a new type of organization emerged: The non-space based organization. It wasn’t virtual, which implies it exists only in digital space. It wasn’t a hybrid, a combination of things that came before. It was a brand new, fully flexible organization where people worked wherever and whenever they liked.
This third wave is where we are now. We are still in its early phases. Over the next several months, we will be sharing articles and tools about how to create a successful third wave organization. What skills do managers need? What skills do employees need? What tools are essential? What pathways of communication need to be established? We want to look at third wave organizations from a variety of perspectives, and through that inform you and ourselves.