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June 7, 2013

Review – The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work

When I picked up Paul Millers book (or rather, opened it on my Kindle), it was like opening a Jack-in-a box and getting instantly punched in my senses by the clowns head. There was no dancing around, there was no jabbing. Just the naked truth in the sentences:

Most work in most organizations is awful. It’s mind-numbing, soul-destroying and depressing. Everyone knows this but virtually noone admits it.

I knew I had the right book for me. That resonated within me, and it was actually somewhat of a relief to see it in writing, from someone else. Because I recognize this as my past experience as well, in a lot of cases.

And if that hadn’t hooked me, I got the next solid punch on the next page:

Study hard, pass your exams, get a good degree, and you too can land the job of your dreams, only to discover… you have arrived at nowhere.

KO. And while I was down there on the floor in dreamland, I had to read on.

This book proved to be influential to me. In the way I think about work, leadership and the business I would like to start myself.

Paul Miller starts off the book by telling about his own experiences as a newly educated reporter in ’79, on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, where the question “Is this it ?” often arises.

As it turns out, Miller believes the problem is physical. He actually compares modern work somewhat to slavery. And makes a pretty good case for his comparison, I must say.

He also argues that work shouldn’t be about where we work, but how we work, and the results we deliver.

You will be taken through a lot of perspectives: Paul Milers world, your own world, leadership, the problem with bricks, and a lot of other subjects relevant to the digital workplace. To me, I had a lot of “yes, that’s true !” moments during the book. But it’s not all hippiehappy times.

The second part of the book, Your World, is a lot about the problems which can arise in virtual workplaces, and what you should be careful with, what you should consider when working this way.

I wrote my final Academy Professon thesis on virtual teams, and a lot of what I read rang true. Both the challenges and what Paul Miller suggest you do about it. I recognized that as well.

The book will take you through a wide range of issues, aspects, examples, and present you with little fact boxes here and there. It’s easy to read, the language is very down to earth. It’s a good mix of stories, facts, real life examples, and thoughts for the future. That’s all I’m going to tell you about the contents. You should do yourself the favour of reading the book yourself, and see what rings true to you. Because as sure as I am, that the content I can confirm definitely seems academically valid, I’m just as sure that your preferences, experiences and choices will be different than mine.

The only thing I will have to warn you about, reading this book, is that you will soon learn that a better worklife is actually attainable. And that’s kind of the biggest danger with this book: It creates a picture within you, a feeling, a motion. It shows you that work can actually be different, better. Work can be about something else, than having to show up at a specific place every day, sitting at the same desk, doing the same thing, for the same boss. Day in. Day out.

As a leader, that may actually be true as well. You COULD end up trying hard to create another work environment for your employees. Just sayin’. Now you’ve been warned 😉 This is as much a refreshing break from traditional workplace thinking, as it is a needed one. And even if you won’t be able to recreate the same type of organization that Paul Miller has created, it’s definitly worth considering if you could focus more on the essentials. Like trust, being evaluated on the value and results you create, and if your workplace could be different. Better. More 2013.

This book is not only great because it’s a good example that workplaces can function differently then your run off the mill company. To me, it’s great because it’s a step towards a more humanized workplace, where a lot of the stuff that doesn’t (or rather, shouldn’t) matter about work, is peeled off – and then the juicy, great tasting layers are exposed. It’s not a “guide to implementing this workmodel, right now in your own organization”. It’s a book which will make you reflect, reevaluate, rethink and should you be so lucky, change your view of what work is in 2013, to some degree.

It gave me a different perspective on “the workplace” as such, even with me having worked with the tools which enable the virtual organization, for a long time. I’ve long wanted to create my own business. And currently I’m in a situation where I have the luxury to seriously entertain that idea. The business I have in mind, should I choose to go that way, will be built on a lot of the principles of this book. At the very least, I will be try to implement these principles in my worklife in general, going forward.

In the end, is there any greater compliment to the validity of someones work, than that ?

Get the book here.

Follow Paul Miller on Twitter here.


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