Digital to analog?
We typically see our world as relentlessly moving toward the digital, and assume that the analog represents an archaic and increasingly lonely resistance to this movement. We cite the changes in society, advances in technology like VR and data visualization, the more than 50% of the workforce made up of digitally-savvy millennials, and other observations about our world to verify the emerging digitization of the universe and validate our direction.
We then expect that this digitization of work means profound impacts on the way we program and design. We imagine a paperless workspace, a free-address workplace, a location-agnostic organization, etc. Walls become digital display surfaces. The only horizontal plane is the floor. Everybody wears headsets.
There are two places where I/we are engaged where these underlying assumptions are playing out in a relatively cluttered way.
We are designing a new headquarters building for a construction company where we have found the lie in the paradigm of generational difference. Although the company's younger staff members assert digital preferences, most of them have a workspace indistinguishable from those of an older generation where paper is the preferred and tenaciously-held working medium. With a more nuanced analysis, I think we’ve found that those who work with spreadsheets use digital tools (estimators), but those who work with drawings and specs (PMs, PEs) appreciate the rapid access to the binder or roll of drawings over the inadequate search and visualization tools of the digital environment.
We are also transforming an existing building into a workplace for people doing product development work. We see almost all of their work work being done digitally, but most of the design/engineering review and approval process being done on paper. Even though engineers sit in shrouded workstations doing their design work, they paper the walls of the “obeya” rooms with large scale plots of parts and printouts of project process diagrams and schedules. They use big post-it clad boards for task management, and use whiteboards as the principal meeting medium. Parts in development are everywhere.
In each location, as at so many others, the IT department is seen as the most significant barrier to digital advancement. People talk about the great tools they’ve pirated into the workplace that work so much better than the tools provided by IT. (Despite their proven advantage, when IT finds them, they are purged from the system.)
But when we listen carefully and observe the goings on, it just seems that across generations in the workplace, paper provides an efficiency not found in the software world for work that requires the visualization of complex assemblies such as buildings and automotive components.
That is, the selection of work media is not generational in nature, but lies in the kind of work that people do.
What have you observed? What do you think?