About ten years ago, businesses found themselves on the cusp of a significant change that, for most, appeared to happen without planning or strategic intent. It was the point at which the networked diary became the norm.
Electronic diary systems connecting organisations had been around since the mid-90s with the release of tools like Microsoft’s Schedule+. They started to become more commonly used in businesses with the advent of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) – the Psion Organiser, the Palm Pilot and so on. But the PDA users were viewed as a little eccentric, nerdy even, for the most part. But then a decade ago we started to see the mobile revolution begin, with both smart devices like the BlackBerry (and then iPhone) enable diary access and synchronisation on the move, along with increasing adoption of WiFi within organisations meaning the laptop was no longer tethered to the network cable.
Now, in most organisations of any size, diarying is a networked, “social” activity. The pocket paper diary is a thing of the past.
But has that made time management in organisations any better? I’d contend, for the most part, not. With online calendars (and phone or web conferencing) it’s now easier than ever to organise pointless meetings with too many attendees. Many office workers spend their day half-listening on a headset to badly organised sessions that no-one quite understands the purpose of. In the land of the network diary, the worker with a personal assistant is reigns supreme.
And, even worse, many now find themselves enslaved to their online diary, rather than it being a tool to enable them to manage their time more effectively. We have complex tools, but how we approach managing our time has evolved without much purposeful intervention in the decade between then and now.
It feels today as if we are on the cusp of another such change, this time linked to the business use of social networks. Everyone has access, but today participation is relatively low. People have accounts, but may not actively use them (and that goes for closed internal social networks as well as the public ones). People who extensively use them today are regarded by others as either rather nerdy, or “young things who get that kind of thing”. Senior people delegate their social networking away to others, and at a corporate level it’s probably “owned” by marketing in the same way that diaries were “owned” by IT.
I don’t think it’s going to take a decade for this wave to cross business. I wonder if we will see similar unplanned adoption leading to questionable impact, though. Now appears to be a good time to take control, at both a corporate and individual level, shaping how these tools make a positive impact on our businesses and our own work lives.
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