10 minutes

It’s time to imagine another world/way

The 15th issue of Weconomy investigates a new idea of reticular communities shaping new species of “UFO” (Unidentified Future Organizations) organizations. It is time to imagine which species of UFO we want to be or to which we want to belong.

The fifteenth issue of Weconomy, Logotel’s research project on collaborative economy, was born from urgency and a desire. It is urgent to take the time to imagine what kind of UFO (Unidentified Future Organizations) we want to be. And, it is time to imagine another world/way, because we cannot miss this opportunity. Covid-19 triggered profound trans­formations in the world of work, business ecosystems, and relationships be­tween people and our relationship with communities and areas. It made us rediscover the preciousness and fragility of the connections that nurture bonds that, today, move seamlessly between physical and digital in an environment that Luciano Floridi calls onlife.

We feel inadequate faced with the scale of these changes. Many of us are strongly tempted to trust in some saviour technology. But beware: technology enables connections, not forms of contact. Therefore, we urgently need to stop and take the time to imagine what new possibili­ties we have before us, to inspire us towards a future that – admittedly – is still undefined. However, if we begin with the meanings we want to give to work, we will be able to overcome a vision of the economy that, even before the pandemic, contained many dysfunctional elements and forms of alienation..

We don’t want to go back

Since 8 March 2020, we have realised that “we do not want to go back”. That’s why, at Logotel, to visualise the potentialities and risks of the way of working that was irrupting into our lives, we immediately embarked upon a strand of research, experimentation and planning dedicated to next-working. Increasing distances between us and others have altered social norms and changed how we relate to each other, impacting how we do business. Therefore, we need to envision, but we cannot do it alone. Because we don’t need to find a perfect recipe, but to describe what new paths we are taking as an organisation. Companies are becoming networked, and managerial and professional roles are transforming. And we can see this in action in more developed distributed entities, such as GitLab, Automattic or Xero.

So many perspectives to understand the scope of major transformations

This issue of Weconomy is motivated by the desire to contact as many points of view as possible. First of all, based on our experience as Logotel in this exceptional period through listening to and continuously working with our customers and the over 250,000 people in 24 countries who populate the over 45 business com­munities we run daily. It’s the precious observatory from which we look at the molecular evolution of changes in the world of work, and it’s where we’re helping to build a new sense of belonging. And then Weconomy opened up to the out­side world, gathering more than thirty testimonials: from business, academia and design.

A new idea of reticular communities shaping new species of organizations

Thus UFO has given life to a prism of perspectives with a common element: a new idea of networked communities shaping new species of or­ganisations. Businesses where the ‘experience of work’ is different, relation­ships and connections between people become even more crucial because they stimulate, shape and sustain communities, which would otherwise ‘fall apart’. Networking is about furthering the distribution of work and increasing the diversity of stakeholders, initiatives, and exchanges. Thus, each node, each person in the network has its influence, which multiplies the perspectives but also the divides. So, the polarisation between the me/I and the super we/organisation is no longer enough. In between there are so many we/ teams to support.

We feel the need to understand the extent of these transformations better. How have we changed? What impacts on the way we work, on our experience? On co­ordination? How will learning systems need to change? What shape should our future organisation take to support our business and our communities? What new kind of ‘glue’ and collaboration will we need to nurture to increase cohesion and a sense of belonging?

UFO organisations are undefined, but our imagination can’t be

For design, the ability to imagine is crucial in managing transformative pro­jects. To create something new or generate change, we need to ‘see’ the prob­lem and then imagine how things could be different. Because the future is a place, a rendezvous onto which we can project the reality we live towards a preferable dimension. To shape it and create a future (or futures?), we must first be able to interpret the magnitude of the changes, imagine their implications, and ‘know-how to show them’ to others. And thus make them understandable, acceptable and attractive to everyone. And that is inclusive. Only then will we lead and be able to ‘ground’ the new species of organi­sations. While UFO organizations are undefined, our imagination can’t be. It must start from some fixed points, which involve new forms of cohesion, new collaborative environments, care net­works, and new forms of participation in the great transitions in progress.

1. We imagine new balances between the freedom of individuals and new forms of cohesion

One of the most visible changes how we work involves the disappearance of clear boundaries between work and private life. It can generate new forms of burnout, but can also give birth to new forms of harmo­ny over and above Tayloristic rhythms. To enable this new vision, we need a new concept, which is very much present in UFO organisations: networks of influence. Because the old hierarchies and control structures no longer work. Therefore, the forms of leaders change, and today they inhabit an in­termediate zone between ‘generative chaos and quiet efficiency’.

But not only that, what makes UFO organisations come alive is the willingness and ability to connect with the entire ecosystem, regardless of the tasks assigned to in­dividuals. It is a concept that can take many forms: starting from individual responsibilities to generate collective meanings or through continuous exper­imentation that focuses on work teams, understood as the true dimension of sociality; or through conscious work to draw out all corporate knowledge, making it practical and recognisable. Each pathway gives rise to a different species of UFO, but they all need a social element: rituals. They are the ele­ment to design and build because they give rhythm in a fluid environment. Rituals nurture the participatory dimension, allowing for learning and con­veying meaning and value. They give form to collaboration in hybrid spaces that is otherwise formless. If we don’t clarify this, how will we design our or­ganisations and ecosystems? Therefore, it is necessary to design the experience of services for our internal and external customers, our physical and digital spaces of collaboration.

2. We envision new collaborative environments

When we come across the organisations of the future, we often read the word ‘hybrid’. It is a term that encourages us to connect different environments (physical and digital, individual spaces and collective places, cities and mul­tinational headquarters). In short, it opens up new possibilities that we need to explore from a perspective of meaning. Understanding organisations as an aesthetic fact enables us to see whether the work that will take place with­in these spaces is beautiful or not, even before it is effective or efficient. As Francesco Zurlo says in his article in Weconomy UFO, beauty is a relational concept because it induces people to action and, therefore, collaboration. And, as a result, to make something meaningful happen, which motivates people to be together in the same place.

Thus, space is not a place to fill with objects, but one that strengthens the connections between working groups, also to stay together and know when they need to separate (indeed, these days it is important to reflect also on what we mean by ‘personal spaces’, as Erin Casali defines them in her contribution). Accepting that it is essential to recover the physical di­mension in environments, it is also necessary to think of digital environments not as platforms dedicated to the distribution of information but as com­munities that convey value exchanges. And here is another challenge: not to restrict ourselves to designing internal forms of contact, but to grapple with the internal-external dynamics on which hybrid environments feed.

3. We envision how to nurture networks of care

Social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen points out that, with the pandemic, we have learned so much about digital, but even more about the physical world. And not only due to nostalgia for the events that gripped us during the lockdowns. The physical world has become a part of a broader and more complex network, in an ecosystem of relationships that we must look after and that can also embrace the dimension of sus­tainability which, as Matteo Pedrini says, implies an overall reinterpretation of business activity.

So, it becomes crucial to set in motion a dynamic of listening and observation, to generate wellbe­ing within organisations; to understand the new needs of customers and broaden our outlook even further, encompassing areas, communities and species that are increasingly part of a business that aims to generate positive impacts. The dimension of change and that of learning intersect on this level, which – together – enable people to live everyday life and support the reshaping of organisations, as Jessica Aroni explains in her contribution.

4. The great transition: here is the biggest horizon

Are new kinds of work just so much experimentation to optimise the number of days spent at home and in the office? Otherwise, to choose the best technol­ogy to support hybrid models? Is that all? Envisioning UFO organisations is much more important, not only for business and to improve people’s quality of life – and they are already very complex challenges. For example, moving to a value exchange model between company and employees one-to-one is the key to acquiring, retaining and developing the best of breed in organisations, as Daniele Cerra argues in his article. However, the stakes are even higher: we need to introduce dynamic, creative elements that can establish community networks to deal with a world and a market that will undergo enormous changes in the coming years… From the energy transition to the electric rev­olution in mobility to 15-minute cities, to the importance of making the eco­nomic dimension thrive with the social and environmental dimensions. These are just some of the big themes, planets to explore that we can no longer ignore.

So we hope that the 15th Weconomy Magazine will give you a glimpse of new species – of collaborators, organisations, customers and communities – with which to con­nect. We can tell you that, at Logotel, we are already generating a transforma­tion, helping to frame a new design dimension for a networked, hybrid, online and sustainable world.

Article by Cristina Favini, Chief Design Officer Logotel – Published on Weconomy 15 – UFO. Unidentified Future Organizations