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Will new communication tools democratise the enterprise?

Those familiar with Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy film ‘Office Space’ will remember the shockwaves created when the hapless Peter Gibbons becomes confident enough overnight to address his superiors about the issues that he has been facing in his workplace. Relieved of any fear of losing his job, Gibbons flatly lists his complaints about the organisation to a team of consultants and is richly rewarded with a pay rise and a promotion.

Although it is obviously exaggerated for comic effect, the film is (indirectly) making an important point about the structure of the modern workplace: sometimes the decision-makers in an organisation don’t have access to the information they need.

Imagine, however, a company where every employee had equal access to every other member of their organisation and could communicate directly with the higher-ups about their concerns. Perhaps if new communication tools such as Jive have their way, this could be a key component of the workplace of the future.

Jive’s platform is by its nature democratic, as all members of the organisation are on the platform and it is possible to directly message any of them. In other words, the CEO is no longer a remote figure hidden behind the doors of a boardroom, they are right there on your screen.

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As Elisa Steele, Jive CEO, comments, something as simple as the way we communicate can have an impact on the power structure of the organisation.

"I think it does change the way people interact," says Steele. It’s not level-oriented, it’s about content and it’s about what’s important. My approach, and what I believe – and I think a lot of our customers are aligned with this – is that empowerment is the power."

She adds: "Empowering your teams to be able to make those decisions and make their stories transparent, make their challenges when they want to ask for help ok to say, creates a lot of power in the organisation from the fact that nobody is looking for somebody else to make the decision.

"Although the structure feels very different from yesterday’s model of the CEO and different levels, it certainly feels like it has a lot more power across the board versus containment of power within a limited use which is not necessarily fully informed."

An organisation that has combined adopting a democratic communication process with adopting a more democratic model is Grant Thornton. The accountancy firm uses its own instance of Jive called Jam. It also recently announced that it was moving to a shared ownership model, similar to that of John Lewis, where the workers own shares in the company.

However, questions of causation will remain. Do companies that move in this direction do so because of an existing mindset, or does the technology drive that mindset? Greg Swift, UK CIO of the firm, argues that the culture existed already at Grant Thornton, but the communication tool is a key facilitator.

"I think they very much are hand-in-hand…I think the culture of our firm has been first-name. I know some other firms it’s still Mr, Miss, Ms. Our culture has been that way and this is really all helping support it."
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