In the film witness, our fugitive hero harrison ford lures a baddy into a grain silo before triggering a torrent of cereal that drowns him in seconds.
I was reminded of the scene when i heard executives excitedly extolling the benefits of the many collaboration tools that aid remote working: webex, skype and the ubiquitous zoom for video conferencing; slack for messaging; box for document sharing; mural for visual collaboration; facebooks workplace and microsofts teams. the list went on.
All these things will converge into one complete worker, workplace and work silo, sandeep dadlani, chief digital officer at confectioner mars, enthused at a recent financial times future of work conference. this is not a silo where i would want to be trapped, suffocated under tonnes of different apps.
Asana, which has just conducted a successful public offering and has a market capitalisation of more than $4bn, aims to help humanity thrive by enabling the worlds teams to work together effortlessly. it already offers integration of other apps. this year, slack announced slack connect, which promises, ambitiously, to build a secure connection across organisational boundaries.
All these toolmakers illustrate their offerings with pictures of happy and diverse groups of co-workers merrily co-operating and co-creating. yet it is the human factor that is lacking, or at least lagging.
At the second ft future of work conference last week, vaughan klein, ciscos director of collaboration, envisaged a hyperconnected future. the technology group is already developing heat maps, powered by artificial intelligence, that highlight those staff who are the fulcrum, the pivotal point that people go to for information and answers (and presumably tags those who are useless time-servers, too).
Collaboration apps were already promising to reveal the unsung office connectors in 2012, when i visited asana then a small start-up, operating from a gloomy ground floor in san franciscos mission district and the idea of internal business social networks was hot.
The organisation of tasks and projects into channels has turned out to be the more potent attraction. users have bought into the promise of frictionless work. that is why, eight years since my sceptical assessment of his idea, dustin moskovitz, asanas co-founder and an early facebook employee, is wondering how to distribute his second fortune, while i am still a wage slave, doing the same thing for the same employer.
Even so, the problem he sought to solve persists. mr moskovitz pointed out recently that people face a fire hose of information [and] lack clarity about where they should focus their attention.
His suggestion is that the tools will help provide that focus. mine is that the next phase of hybrid work will also require a different kind of manager.
The market for collaboration apps may well continue to grow at an annual compound rate of 25 per cent, as analysts at international data corporation recently predicted. but idc also observes that not everyone is experienced at collaboration. to learn how to do it, people need facilitators, coaches, mentors, or sherpas, not just a tech platform.
The essential skills of human interaction are not being taught, as mental health advocate poppy jaman warned last week.
This has become all too obvious in lockdown. zoom completed the fastest transition from brand-name to verb since to google gatecrashed our vocabulary in part because involuntary homeworkers craved connection. while they were excluded from the office or factory, videocalls seemed the next best thing.
But for collaboration toolmakers simply to offer another sterile online channel replicating in-person brainstorms and huddles is like the proverbial hammer owner identifying every problem as a nail.
Instead, businesses should redeploy the hidden networkers they identify with their ai-powered heat maps. those staff could teach and refine the art of collaboration among colleagues. they could give a human touch to online wellbeing initiatives, which sometimes put scale above empathy. they could organise the sorts of small-scale face-to-face encounters between team members that apps can only mimic.
One day, the covid threat will lift. by then, who knows, mr moskovitz could be giving away a third fortune, collaboration software may have advanced to the point of eliminating all the humdrum friction of work and we can finally drop our phones and tablets, step away from our screens, and interact freely in person. that will be hard if those skills have atrophied while we were busy updating our apps.