How work is changing in the new world workplaceBY SRINIVASA ADDEPALLI
All Hail the New World!
The concept of telework, telecommuting or virtual work (different names for the same phenomenon) has been around for some time. In fact, ‘telework’ was nominated in the 2010 Word of the Year list published by the American Dialect Society. According to a recent study by MRI China Group, 47.7% Singapore based professionals stated flexible work hours as the highest priority over other factors such as benefits, personal development, etc. in their choice of employer. Several changes, both in the physical and in the digital world, are accelerating the adoption of this concept by organisations. The demand side changes include organisations’ need for multi-cultural experiences, war for talent and rising urban real-estate prices. On the digital side, ubiquitous connectivity, proliferation of connected, ‘smart’ portable devices and emergence of new collaborative tools under the Web 2.0 moniker are enabling employees and organisations to seriously consider virtual work environments.
Organisations will have to grapple with three key questions as they seek to transition (willingly or otherwise) to a new world work place.
What is Work?
Work, traditionally, has been a place you go to and spend a pre-defined amount of time at. In the contract between the organisation and the employee, work has almost always been defined in terms of the time spent at a location, in a loyal and exclusive manner, for a fixed salary. That is now changing rapidly. A study by staffing company, Kelly Services, Inc., predicts that 41% of all US workers would become ‘free agents’ by 2020, up from about 25% in 2009. Not only does this raise questions about how corporates define their organisation, but also in many cases, how they measure their ultimate work output.
Managers who are used to evaluating employee performance based on dedication (read: works 50 hours a week without complaining) and hard work (read: works weekends too) will need to re-write management practices. Managing by outcomes would need to become more than a passing fad. For global organisations, the issues are compounded by the lack of clarity and commonality in the laws and policies regarding ‘virtual’ employment. Developing markets that still face high levels of social inequalities may struggle to embrace the temporary nature of such employment.
Can you Skype me?
Employees at many organisations are bypassing traditional communication systems. At work, they have started using the same tools they use in their personal life. Skype, Facebook and Twitter are influencing what employees seek in terms of communication and networking systems at work. Real-time, interactive, image/video-based and device-agnostic applications are preferred over the static, top-down and office-centric intranets that most companies use.
Employees are taking the initiative to communicate and create virtual teams with co-workers they have never met before; this undoubtedly allows organisations to get more innovative and productive without additional costs. Moreover, it improves employee motivation and increases their ‘loyalty’ to the team and organisation. Enterprise networking tools, like their social counterparts, are also democratising forces that reduce information arbitrage. Managers and organisations that thrive on office politics will have to contend with new waves of change that have the power to bring down regimes. Managers ought to take the lead in adopting these technologies, however alien they might appear, and be seen as participating in the new world water cooler conversations.
Who’s the CIO?
People are using technology in their daily lives more than ever before. For the first time, perhaps, new applications are being created for the consumer market before they are adapted for business use. Facebook and Twitter had attracted millions of users before ‘social networking’ was brought to the enterprise. Interestingly, any employee can create and manage an enterprise social network, for example, Yammer; the IT team usually gets involved only when it needs to be integrated with other enterprise applications like Sharepoint or Exchange. Similarly, Apple announced that 80 of the Forbes 100 companies are testing or deploying the iPad. It’s a safe bet that in most cases, the decision was initiated by the CEO (or someone else at the top) who wanted to access the enterprise network and applications on the iPad.
It is not just the new applications and devices that IT is losing control over, even ‘traditional’ software and hardware do not need to be within the enterprise now. With applications, platforms, storage and computing available on-demand in the cloud (public or private), the CIO has every reason to rewrite his/her job description.
The IT and networking function will need to achieve three major goals: (a) developing policies and guidelines for enterprise architecture and security; (b) being the interconnection/exchange between various applications and platforms chosen by the business users; and (c) designing a network that enables intelligent and reliable access from any location or technology.
You cannot escape the fact that organisations, employees and offices in 2020 (perhaps, 2015) will not be the same as they were in 2000. Enterprises that rise to this challenge can create sustainable competitive advantage in the market. This is not an IT challenge or an HR issue; it is for business leaders to shape the future of their organisations. The next decade’s corporate battles could very well be won or lost based on how well CEOs get or don’t get the new world of work.
Srinivasa Addepalli, Senior Vice President - Corporate Strategy, Tata Communications