Work Wide Web

Work Wide Web

July 07, 2022

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Imagine a lush forest, dense with tall trees. Standing a few feet apart, the trees seem solitary, functioning on their own. But don’t walk away just yet. Imagine the roots breaking ground, snaking through packed soil. Zoom in on each root. Pay attention to the thin film at the end. This film, the one that looks like it could fall apart if a raindrop fell on it, is part of an incredibly complex underground communication network called the Wood Wide Web.

The WWW interconnects every single tree in the forest and pulses constantly with information: alerts, resources, and even support for new or weak trees. A tree on the far left end warns another tree on the right about a parasite attack. Older “hub” trees can give extra nutrients to sick ones; multiple exchanges like these increase the whole forest’s immunity.

This sprawling, intricate mass of natural phone lines, radars and radios is the support system of a forest and a shaper of the ecosystem. With it, a forest transforms: from a group of individual trees to an interwoven whole, a superorganism.

People at organisations are a lot like trees. They seem to be functioning on their own, chipping away at tasks important to them. When you put them together, they become a group. But when they start synergetically interacting with other people and other teams, they become a superorganism-type team that is stronger, more collaborative and more resilient than when on their own.

The way to achieve this is to build an organisational Wood Wide Web — an internal communication network that I, in all my copywriting wisdom, will call the Work Wide Web.

What might that look like?

Probably not fungi growing on everyone’s laptops. I’m thinking more of a variety of small function-oriented networks feeding into a general, organisation-wide one. The smaller networks would include Slack channels, group DMs, design sprints, Product Requirement Documents, Figma components, Design Language Systems, Notion wikis, and shared task boards.

Not all information from small networks goes into the organisation-wide one. But the information that does is critical. Workspace tools such as Slack, Confluence, Figma and Notion come into play here. But having the tools doesn’t always equal having good processes.

Think of it like talking to someone who is a few hundred feet away — information reaches in bits and pieces. Or, like speaking Greek to someone who only understands Spanish — the information is lost if the next person doesn’t understand it. This is where common templates, structures and language come in.

From my experience as a Chief of Staff specialising in communications, I’ve found that clear and jargon-free writing is useful here, as are visual presentations and infographics. Communication guidelines and glossaries of important terms help speed this process along.

So we’ve established what the Work Wide Web might look like. Next,

How might it work?

The Work Wide Web will connect teams that seem completely unrelated to each other.

Actually, it’ll first reframe the flawed logic that teams are unrelated. No matter how different teams may be in scope and function, they’re working on moving parts of the same experience. Designers work on the app, customer support provides assistance to users, and HR manages the employee life cycle — but they’re all in the same organisation, working towards the same mission, just in different capacities. They bridge gaps by using the Work Wide Web to pass signals, resources and alerts to each other.

Everyone needs to be tapped into the Work Wide Web.

If one team under-communicates (or completely stops), information falls through the cracks. I felt this personally when I was working with designers as a UX writer. I didn’t get feedback or change requests and assumed my copy was good to go. When I saw the text on the final app, it was completely different. The product experience suffered because users didn’t have clear written directions. This was a situation we could’ve avoided and eventually, we established better two-way communication processes. For a Work Wide Web to be most effective, every component needs to be working with and talking to each other.

The Work Wide Web also takes time to grow and spread.

One or a few “hub” individuals need to kickstart the process. Often, these are people who believe in the inherent power of communication. Maybe they've seen its impact at other companies and are in positions that influence change. In my experience, CXOs, People Ops leads, Chiefs of Staff and Communication leads tend to check all three of these boxes.

There’s really no right way to start setting up this network. But it’s important to:

  • Understand what’s happening right now. Many times, there are bits and pieces of an information flow system already in place — removing the broken parts and building on the functional ones is a good place to start.

  • Highlight the importance of a communication network. If you don’t explain it, you probably won’t get the buy-in you need to make this work.

A tree on its own is not a forest; a team on its own is not an organisation. But if they're connected through a supernetwork, channelling back-and-forth conversations and infusing knowledge into the collective mind, they're all the more capable for it.

Thanks to...

Caryn Tan, Jude Klinger, Katerina Bohle Carbonell and Christine Cauthen for their help in shaping this essay.

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