Friday, 27 May 2016

Launching MARGINALIA, the Future of Work Magazine

Today, I am delighted to announce the launch of MARGINALIA, the brand new online magazine on the future of work.

Here’s what you can expect from MARGINALIA:

1) Insights that will help you…
2) The latest developments to help you stay ahead…
3) Stories which will inspire you…

The publication examines the new ecosystems of work through the lens of innovation, communication and leadership.

The section on innovation explores the impact of new technology on new ways of working, the human-machine relationship, digital transformation, the interplay between enterprises and startups, and the emergence of new business models.

Communication explores the world of internal communications, employee advocacy, the digital workplace, enterprise social networks and mobile communications.

Leadership covers the topics of leadership, employee engagement, strategy, diversity, entrepreneurship, and productivity.

Ultimately, the mission of MARGINALIA is to navigate and examine the complex yet fascinating nature of work during one of perhaps the most challenging, yet fascinating and exciting times to be – and work – on earth.

On MARGINALIA, readers will find long-form articles, companies case studies, people profiles, news, how to features, event and book reviews.

Ensure you subscribe to MARGINALIA newsletter to stay current on your favourite topics and receive the best stories on a weekly basis. You can also subscribe to the feed here.

Many thanks...

Warmest regards,

Friday, 20 May 2016

A glimpse into the future of business communications

“Future Fit Communications: Connecting trends, strategies & actions” This lively event was hosted by the International Association of Business Communications (IABC) UK this week. Gloria Lombardi reports.

By Gloria Lombardi

Communicating the soul of the business matters more than ever.

Futurist Matt O'Neill was one of the speakers who shared their experiences at “Future Fit Communications: Connecting trends, strategies & actions.” This lively event was hosted by IABC UK at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in London this week.

For O'Neill, the soul of a company is going to become an important part of what business communicators will focus on in the future.

From a communicator's point of view, there are at least three big questions that O'Neill suggests considering: How will this company change lives? Why should people trust us? And, from an individual's perspective, how will working for this company enhance my personal and professional goals?

Indeed, one of the reasons for reflecting on O'Neill suggestions is the shift in values that we are witnessing in our society. This shift is in part influenced by the new generation of workers. O'Neill cited the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, which indicates that 87% of Gen Y employees are looking for purpose when selecting an employer. Surely, “something more than just performance.” And, while pay and benefits are still the dominant factor, 56% of Millennials would refuse to work for a company because of their values.

Yet, some fundamental changes will come from the top. A good example is a shift from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism that some leaders have started to embrace. This new form of capitalism looks at sustainability from the lens of all of a company's stakeholders as opposed to some narrow and limiting sustainability practices.

The power of visuals

People remember 80% of visual communications. They only remember 20% of what is read.

The move from text to visualisation that O'Neill liked to emphasise is back up by research. According to Cisco Visual Networking index 2016, 75% of all mobile traffic will be video by 2020. 67% of all connected mobile devices will be 'smart.' But perhaps, even more curious is the fact that connectivity is creating new forms of visual media. These include 3D imagery such as Holographic and Lenticular.

Additionally, we are witnessing “the growth of DIY visual tools.” Good examples are, which allows people to create an infographic of their CV in one click, and, which is enabling anyone without design skills to produce presentations and quality graphics. Worth mentioning is also Typorama - it was the 5th most downloaded app in the Photo and Video category last year. Typorama is letting “people with literally zero experience design something really compelling.”

Lastly, O'Neill brought to attention the enormous amount of data that we create every day. Hence, the emergence and need of real-time data visualisation tools to help us make sense of the complex world we are living. A good example is Google Music timeline.

Artificial Intelligence

The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could not be missed from a presentation about the future of communication. In fact, the phenomenon is appealing not just to professionals in technology, but to communicators. Just think of the impact that AI is having on news gathering and reporting.

O'Neill mentioned the project, the satirical site that uses the power of algorithms to generate entirely fake news and articles in the name of humour. Indeed, there is seriousness into something that has been put as a joke!

However, AI could be used to help organisations operate better, and intelligently. In fact, the technology can process data for pattern discovery, make inferences, discern contexts, learn and improve over time. As startup advisor Steve Ardire told me in a recent interview, Al could help communicators make sense of the conversations happening on enterprise social networks (ESN).

Mind the mind

cLet's make looking after our mind as natural as brushing our teeth.

The presentation by Andy Gibson of Mindapples centred on having open conversations around mental health at work. And the importance of improving the language when addressing this topic.

In fact, inside many organisations, mental health is still seen as a sort of taboo. Something to avoid discussing. But Gibson believes that the human mind is the most sophisticated tool in the whole nature. Each of us is in charge of one. Yet, half of the time it feels as if it is in charge of us. So, “we need to take the power back.”

Indeed, he asked the audience: “What's the 5-a-day of your mind?” He encouraged people to understand that “it starts with you."

After all, there are good reasons why we should talk more about stress at work. First, stress is bad for our health. It redirects energy that people would otherwise spend on recharging and resting.

Another good reason is that stress affects decision-making, risk-taking, and creativity. We become less creative when we are under stress. Indeed, as Gibson put it: “Stress is a great way to get intelligent people do stupid things.”

And, stress impacts on employee engagement. Negatively. In fact, we often hear that “a little bit of stress is good for you.”

But Gibson pointed out that we need to talk about how people feel in the workplace. Not just about how they perform. Because “people who are engaged but still stressed, ultimately burn out.”

Friday, 13 May 2016

Virtual Reality – new skills required

Gloria Lombardi catches up with Piers Harding-Rolls, the Director and Head of Games Research at IHS Technology, to explore the current state of virtual reality at work.

By Gloria Lombardi

Mention the words “Virtual Reality” and images of people wearing funky headsets, enclosed in an animated world and waving their hands around instantly come to mind! And of course Hollywood producers have captivated audiences by transporting them from the real world to the virtual world.

But how far is Virtual Reality (VR) a reality for organisations? How far, if at all, has it made the leap from celluloid to genuine usefulness in the day to day worklife of employees?

To get a take on the state of Virtual Reality I spoke with Piers Harding-Rolls, the Director and Head of Games Research at IHS Technology.

Virtual Reality challenges

According to Harding-Rolls there are at least three things that need to come into alignment before we reach a broader adoption of VR.

First, is the headset hardware. It needs to be developed further to improve the people experience with the technology. “All headsets today have deficiencies which will slowly be overcome. We are heading towards stand alone headsets which are self-powered rather than tethered to a PC or console, or using a smartphone.” But, he also emphasises that it will take a number of years to get there. Indeed, the usual suspects are well positioned to take advantage as the market emerges. This includes Samsung Gear, Sony PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and, of course, Facebook with the popular Oculus.

Second, the pricing of this more advanced technology needs to be at a lower level. Hence, not limiting the use by the average consumer. “Pricing for high-end headsets at the moment are too high for this.” Cheap adaptor headsets such as the Google Cardboard are, of course, more accessible, but “they have their limitations in terms of the VR experience.”

Third, there needs to be “compelling content”. It will take time to develop successful content, especially outside of the games offering. “Not one company leads in the application space as content is significantly behind the roll out of VR headsets.”

Indeed, people have already started experimenting with demos, affordable VR apps and 360 video content. But, “the market needs premium content to drive adoption.”

Social VR experiences

When asked how VR will transform the way people communicate, Harding-Rolls says that “a majority of early content will be single player/user. And, people will be immersed and locked away when using VR.”

Yet, he also expects “social content” to become more widespread over the next couple of years. This will enable people to connect more powerfully with others in virtual environments. “Based on my experience,” he says “multi-user experiences - or shared experiences - will become a really powerful component of virtual reality.”

In fact, VR offers companies outside the games sector a chance to create immersive content that is interactive. At its simplest, this means being able to rotate your head 360 degrees.

But Harding-Rolls expects the interactivity to become more complex over time: “In this new emerging content area, which sits in the middle ground between linear video and highly interactive games, I expect new genres of content to spring up as companies start to experiment.”

New VR skills required

Several industries are supporting the use of Virtual Reality. Harding-Rolls sees it making niche inroads into areas such as health, design and education. But, the biggest application, in volume terms, will be in entertainment.

This is going to have profound impact on the competencies required by the future workforce. In fact, as the technology is entering the workplace, he believes that “investing in VR content development expertise and skills, will add value to your company."

But, which skills need to be developed exactly?

Cutting edge production skills that brings together traditional video editing and effects skills, and marry them with games production technologies. “That means skills to develop content in games engines.”

Other areas where we are still at the beginning of the learning curve are storytelling in VR, marketing of VR content, analytics usage in VR content, and monetisation of VR content.

Creation of new jobs

Will VR create new jobs? Or, transform some of them? Probably, the answer is yes. In fact, “there is already a burgeoning start-up industry related to VR, which cover a wide number of applications and parts of the value chain,” explains Harding-Rolls.

Indeed, major movie studios and advertising agencies are already working with some of those VR start-ups to create experimental content at this stage. “This allows them to learn about the production process, and the challenges of working in VR. Plus, to discover what works and doesn't work in VR content.”

Ultimately, he believes that this is a suitable way to test the market and “to start training an internal workforce through practical experiences.”


Given that we are already seeing companies experimenting with Virtual Reality at work, organisations shouldn't dismiss the potential opportunity offered by the technology. Indeed, VR has its own challenges and current limitations to overcome, and it will take years to reach a more mature phase.

It is, however, one more reason to recognize the growing importance of this phenomenon as developers and investors are betting on it. Indeed, it is entirely possible that it will become part of the way businesses communicate in the future, not just sharing social VR experiences with their customers but also internally with their staff!


photos 1 and 3 credit: VR - Mobile World Congress 2016 via photopin (license)

Friday, 6 May 2016

Reimagining business meetings

Gloria Lombardi discovers how new technology is disrupting the ways businesses conduct meetings, so that decisions are made faster and employees can collaborate easily across time zones.

By Gloria Lombardi

The humble business meeting is a much derided part of most people’s work life. Typically business meetings are criticized as poorly managed, inordinately long and amphitheaters where egos flourish! Of course it would be a gross misrepresentation to characterise all meetings as a waste of time and where only the big beasts in companies have the final say!

But, it looks as though new technology may shake up how employees exchange information, collaborate and generally get things done.

Over the past few years, companies have started to mobilise their communications to solve business problems - from sharing content on online environments to collaborating remotely in the field.

But, the need for employees to have agile and flexible working environments has also driven advances in unified communications. Audio, web and video collaboration services have expanded to meet the demand of organisations to be more responsive in order to adapt and thrive in changing environments. Indeed, today, a meeting in some companies has become much more than a 30-minute group-call.  Just think of how easily colleagues can join a conference through their mobile from anywhere in the world. So far, so obvious.

As offices environments become increasingly technology-enabled, it is likely that we will see an up-take in new types of immersive interactions. In fact, interactive screens, virtual reality, and 3D experiences are already part of some workplaces. And fundamentally, they are creating new dynamics between the physical and digital working environments.

New tech companies are responding to the changing needs of business - Oblong Industries is one such enterprise. They are the creators of an immersive visual collaboration solution called Mezzanine. I recently visited the Oblong Industries office in London to experience Mezzanine and explore how it can support workplace collaboration.

Extending the physical office environment

The platform extends the physical office environment and meeting room across screens, devices and geographies. Launched in 2012, it is relatively new. Yet, it's the end result of many years of development – going back as far as the 1990s when wide spread use of the internet was just emerging. In fact, the founder John Underkoffler conceptualised the interface in 1996.  When at MIT, he worked with Steven Spielberg on the now iconic User Interface (UI) for the film "Minority Report". He then took the concept of a spatial UI into business. The aim was to help teams of people access multiple sources of information for collaboration. Hence, Oblong and the product Mezzanine.

Today, large corporates worldwide such as IBM, Accenture, NASA, Hitachi, Dentsu Aegis Network and Boeing use Mezzanine. 


Steve Pryor, a Director of EMEA Channel Sales at Mezzanine, shows me the equipment. We are sitting in an unconventional meeting room which displays three big screens and a whiteboard on the walls. “These working areas use 'infopresence' to connect with and synchronise the content across multiple rooms from anywhere.”

What's infopresence? “Infopresence is a term that describes the experience of being immersed as a group in your vital content and data in a room or across locations,” he explains.  In fact, the system links the screens together with a gestural control and via a network of sensors that fit throughout the room.

For example, if someone in the room writes notes on the whiteboard, Pryor can capture them by just pointing at them with a gestural control. He takes a snapshot of the whiteboard and then simultaneously places it on one screen. That way he is sharing the notes in real time with the colleagues who are joining the meeting from other rooms. At the same time, participants from the other locations can share their own content or change the material displayed on the screens. Ultimately, “co-creating the agenda of the meeting as if they were all side by side.”

As you would expect nowadays, the technology supports Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). So, people can access the material, change it and contribute to the conversations from their personal devices.

But Mezzanine's capacity to connect teams does not stop there. The platform allows them to work on many streams of information at the same time – from slide presentations to videos and social media streams, the content can be zoomed in or out. To do that, a tracking system on the ceiling knows when someone is pointing to some specific content or whether their are moving it in and out, or up and down on the screens. Ultimately, the technology becomes a sort of canvas that keeps teams visually engaged and informed.

It would be nice if the technology could also offer a chat function. But, Pryor says “that there are other ways people can capture information, such as sticky notes. Also, we typically answer the questions live. Don't forget that anyone is participating in the meeting not only visually but also via audio-video track. So you can just ask a question and react to that.” 

Business benefits

As ever with new technology, it has to deliver business benefits. So, what might the return on investment be? Perhaps, the best way to answer is by examining how some companies have achieved tangible benefits.

The system seems to be particularly successful within the consulting industry, which itself is driven by helping their clients to transform themselves. “Consulting companies are usually innovative and forward-thinking. They are already changing the way they work and seeing the business value.”

Take for example, PwC – one of the big four consulting companies. The Paris offices used the technology to create a conferencing workspace called the Delta Room. The initiative was part of  the ‘Innovation powered by PwC’, a program that supports the company’s commitment to exploring future business trends.

So far, the Delta Room has been used to speed up decision making, generate fresh thinking as well as support the strategic thought process with clients. The space provides a gesture-based interface for a 3D experience. And, its interior design easily adapts to different group dynamics and types of meetings.

According to PwC Associate Anne-Christine Marie, after the initial novelty, their clients became used to the unconventional layout and better appreciated the innovative interface. “It gives us a new approach to sharing, going beyond the technology and allowing us to contextualise visual data quickly in co-creating strategies.”

But, there are other use cases including the construction industry – for instance Network Rail in the UK. They are using Mezzanine for planning and decision-making across their signals division. When they have a problem with a track, they send an engineer on the field to live stream the area with a head camera. Other engineers will also provide high resolutions drawings and photos. The signals team access all that live information in real-time from their office. They can then discuss the problem and make more informed, instant decisions. Ultimately, solving the issue quicker and minimisg disruption to commuter trains. 

Moving forward

What Oblong proves, is that system providers are doing their job to build a more integrated experience inside companies. Interactive tools have already started to enable effective communications and collaboration among remote offices and teams. And, most probably this area of technology is likely to improve.

Indeed, there is no one-size-fits all. As ever, organisations will find the best solution that reflects their unique needs.

But, increasingly, holding meetings in an immersive environment is a distinct possibility for the future of work. In that scenario, the workplace will feel like a completely seamless experience between the virtual and real environment. So perhaps the humble meeting will be given a new lease of life!