Flatter orgs: An inevitable result of collaboration tech?

From provision of office space to recruitment and retention, the ubiquity of fast, secure internet connectivity has changed plenty about how business gets done these days. But what, if anything, will stay the same?

In the middle of a lengthy article in the MIT Technology Review about productivity gains expected from the increased prevalence of the virtual office, Andrew McAfee offers a few interesting tidbits about what aspects of traditional working life will likely remain basically unchanged going into the coming decade. He writes that

while the physical office is changing, certain connotations of the word “office” are not. I can think of at least two — “hierarchical organization” and “place for human interaction” — and there’s no indication that these are becoming any less important. Even the most progressive high-tech companies retain many of the organizational trappings of their industrial-age predecessors: full-time managers, org charts, job descriptions, and so on. And since humans remain social animals, conventional gathering places will remain important in business…

McAfee’s idea that hierarchy and org charts are here to stay stirs up an interesting debate about whether the content of those org charts will nonetheless change due to evolving tech tools. Some feel that new collaboration tools will inevitably lead to flatter structure.  On WebWorkerDaily, for example, Andy McLoughlin has argued that:

Cloud collaboration tools remove these barriers and enable everyone to connect and work with everyone else. Information can be easily shared, knowledge “gate keepers” are removed, people can see who is contributing to projects (and who isn’t) and traditional business hierarchies start to crumble. Everyone from the managers in an organization to interns can benefit from the flat structure that web-based collaboration tools are starting to nurture.

In this vision, the org chart may continue to be dutifully drawn up but going forward it will be less and less relevant to how business actually gets done, no longer really constraining or describing who works with whom.

Are you with McAfee or McLoughlin – are collaboration tools bound to flatten organizations or are traditional hierarchies here to stay?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Nils Geylen.