Blogs & Thoughts

Whisper it, technology is giving some a louder voice

One of the interesting things during lockdown has been the coining of new phrases that respond to some of the new challenges and opportunities we’re experiencing.

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  • Author Chris Carr
  • Date 10 December 2020
  • Read Time 3 minutes

One such phrase is “democratisation of information.”

A few years ago, I was ushered into the boardroom of a very august organisation along with my boss, and we were seated at one end of a rather large, elongated meeting table. Senior members of the client team then joined us, taking their seats down either side, purposely leaving one seat empty at the head of the table. That was the boss’ seat and for the next hour or so, he was the focal point of all discussions whether they were being directed at him or not. He didn’t have a louder voice, but it was very clear that his opinion carried significantly more weight than those of the other equally senior figures.

With Zoom or Teams there is no location hierarchy. You appear on screen at random and if there are enough of you present in the meeting, it can take a second to spot where the voice is coming from. There is no preferred view, or boss’s seat in the virtual boardroom (not yet anyway). Every view is the same, every talking head the same size.

It would be very naïve to think that there is no longer a pecking order in such a meeting, but virtual collaboration can offer a louder voice to those who might otherwise have struggled to get themselves heard in a physical environment (where extroverts often battle it out for the Alpha Male – or Female – title). Virtual meetings need a strong host however, or a couple of loudmouths can turn the session into their very own Presidential Debate.

When we return to some form of normality, there might be a knee jerk reaction to jettison these virtual meetings, but if they are proven to be a good way of getting input from those who might be more towards the introverted end of the spectrum, then we need to ensure that there are other feedback avenues available that they are comfortable with.

The other area where virtual technology is proving to be a welcome change in the partial breaking down of organisational silos. If you work for a multinational or even like SPACE, have studios dotted across the country, you were effectively working remotely pre-lockdown with colleagues involved in the same project who may have been on the other side of the country or perhaps even on the other side of the world.

Now we’re pretty much all remote from each other. Pre-lockdown you might have simply lent over the desk divider and asked a question of a nearby colleague, hoping that they would know the answer or could point you to an appropriate source (e.g. person, webpage or reference manual).

You would have received an answer, but you might have received a better answer if you’d lifted up the phone to ask a colleague in another office or sent an e-mail. Now that your nearest office neighbour is as remote as your colleague based, say 150 miles away, there is now every opportunity to get the best answer first.

In doing this, you’re not only expanding your internal network within your organisation, but you can then pass on this new-found (and more accurate) information to your close-by colleagues.

Workplace buzzwords and buzzphrases; some are gibberish, and some are genius. For every “deep dive” there’s a “democratisation of information.”

Chris Carr, Associate Workplace Consultant

Chris arrived in workplace consultancy following stints as a scientist in the USA and a tour guide in Greece. He is passionate about the interaction between people and the workspaces they inhabit. Over the past six years, he has worked with numerous clients to help them envisage more effective and engaging spaces.