Workers in the Networked World

Dilbert telecommuting
http://www.tokiwinter.com

The persistent evolution of the Internet is rapidly changing our work and personal lives. While the data is slightly dated, the Pew Research Center in 2008 reported that 62% of employed workers were considered ‘networked workers,’ meaning that they use the internet or email at their jobs (Madden & Jones, 2008). Workers who are connected on the job are more likely than other adults to have additional means to connect to the internet, including cell phones, personal computers, tablets, or other personal digital assistant devices (Madden & Jones, 2008). These various digital devices blur the traditional barrier of where work is conducted and allow many professionals to interact with fellow employees outside of normal business hours.

As technology advances, computers and artificial intelligence will alter the work environment. New jobs will be created, and routine and repetitive jobs, such as those in manufacturing, will be replaced by more capable robotics (Smith & Anderson, 2014). This includes the majority of my employees’ manufacturing positions at Georgia-Pacific. Many professions, in fact, have not even been created, with new careers appearing each year; as an example, due to advancement in connectivity and the Net, 10 in-demand professions in 2010 did even exist in 2004 (Fisch, 2010; Watwood, 2016). Unfortunately, our education system may not adapt quickly enough to prepare students for future workforce requirements, and the technical nature of many professions will prevent those in poverty from being able to obtain the education and training necessary to succeed in the connected world (Smith & Anderson, 2014).

robots-and-jobs-Danomyte
http://www.beforeitsnews.com

Several changes are considered key drivers of critical work skills that will be in demand as the internet evolves and more individuals connect over the Web. These changes include increasingly capable computer systems able to gather, sort, and interpret complex sets of data; an increase in social tools that will connect organizations and people on larger scales; and providing the global community access to members traditionally cut off by time, distance, and politics (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011). Traditional forms of management may also devolve to meet the needs of connected employees. Networks, according to Jarche (2013), will become the new companies as leaders modify supervisory practices to decrease traditional managerial friction points which can be bypassed by networked workers. Business success may rely on how capable companies are of utilizing the Net’s ability to solve complex problems through its immense knowledge reserves and ability to connect employees to meet various business objectives; supervisors will also have to modify leadership skills to empower rather than direct subordinates (Weinberger, 2011).

Pew
http://www.pewinternet.org

Connectivity is blurring how workers are employed and conduct job-related tasks. Smartphones and laptops are ubiquitous in most professions, with many employees constrained to conduct work at home or on the weekends (Madden & Jones, 2008). The ability to be always connected with work can be stressful as it can feel that there is no distinction between work and home lives. The ability to telecommute, while providing several advantages to employees, to include reduced commuting costs and providing more freedom to workers, continues to change our perception of what work means for the professional adult.

However, Yahoo’s 2013 decision to ban telecommuting seems to reject the freedom provided to some individual workers via internet connectivity. I can agree with many of CEO Marissa Meyer’s critiques of the practice, to include the decrease in value creation due to lack of face-to-face engagement and the different work ethic of many individuals (Bednarz, 2013). I consider myself a hard-working employee; however, if allowed to work from home, I can see the temptation to be diverted by the innumerable distractions in my home environment.

References

Bednarz, A. (2013, February 28). Is Yahoo’s telework ban shortsighted or savvy? Data says both. Retrieved from http://www.networkworld.com

Fisch, K. M. (2010, March 2). Did you know 3.0 (official video edition). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com

Jarche, H. (2013, November 5). Networks are the new companies. Retrieved from http://www.jarche.com

Madden, M., & Jones, S. (2008, September 24). Networked workeers. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org

Smith, A., & Anderson, J. (2014, August 6). AI, robotics, and the future of jobs. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org

Watwood, B. (2016). Week 5 overview: the opportunities and challenges of networked workers. Retrieved from http://www.blueline.instructure.com

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know. New York: Basic Books.

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15 thoughts on “Workers in the Networked World

  1. Very interesting and well-articulated blog post! There seems to be a cost for having all of this technology and networking power; and while it [technology] has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks. Those drawbacks may be mostly and acutely felt by those who telecommute, and who must deal with the constant sense of being connected and available to their employer. As you indicated, and as was brought to light by Bednarz (2013), employee engagement may be important to some; however, it may only be important to those who have spent the greater part of their working lives in such an environment. For those who have become accustomed to working and engaging with their fellow employees remotely, face-to-face interaction may not be as important a component of the value proposition as would be the freedom to work outside of, or far removed from, the stifling confines of an employer’s office building—or even more confining an employer’s cubical.

    It is also interesting to note your point regarding those advances in technology–particularly with respect to AI–and how all that “. . .will alter the work environment”. What this portends for workspaces throughout the information economy may, as you noted, be an economy that is continually inventing new occupations in response to an evolving technology landscape. Therefore, the workforce of the future will need to be agile and adaptable enough, as well as able to rapidly develop and acquire the requisite tech-skills, to meet or match the maturation rate of newly emerging technologies. This will be a challenge for future generations of leaders and workers, who must adapt to the predictions of current and past forward-thinking technologists—particularly with regard to careers and professions that have yet to be imagined; and whose eventual genesis will demand the talent and expertise necessary to make them a reality. Do you anticipate the next generation of worker will be equipped with the emotional intelligence and malleable aptitude to operate in such a fast-moving and dynamic work environment?

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  2. Sitisnyder,

    Great questions! My responses differs depending on which of my two professional work experiences I consider: Marine officer or Georgia-Pacific supervisor. The Marine Corps, as a very small force, required members to think fast and learn several technical skills in addition to their primary specialty. In theory, this would allow the average service member to think faster and make decisions quicker than an adversary, thus providing an edge on the battlefield. The service understood that not all young Marines had the education required to comprehend technological changes; nevertheless, training was still provided in order to introduce young men and women to new technology. As a leader, I understood the criticality of this training as most of the junior service members would not reenlist and would be able to use this knowledge in future civilian careers.

    My answer is different when I consider my employees in the manufacturing environment at Georgia-Pacific. The jobs on the factory line are repetitive and do not require technical training to become proficient. Sadly, most of the employees were unable to graduate from high school, and very few attempted college courses. As labor costs are the plant’s second highest expense each month, it is not surprising that so many non-skilled positions in the manufacturing sector have been replaced with automated machines. If employment was not available at Georgia-Pacific, most employees would not possess the financial means to gain the knowledge required to work in an increasing technical work environment.

    Chris

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      1. Dr. Watwood,

        That is an Interesting post you hyperlinked. Robb (2016) suggests the speed at which technology and limited AI evolves will outpace the human ability to train employees to learn certain trades. While I do not desire robotics and quasi-sentient machines to replace my employees, many of the problems I have at work would disappear if humans were replaced with machines. Healthcare and overtime costs, as well as simple problems such as employee tardiness and absenteeism, would no longer distract me from my other duties.

        Chris

        Reference

        Robb, J. (2016). @John Robb. Retrieved from http://www.twitter.com

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  3. Hi Chris,
    REALLY well done blog this week! I very much enjoyed reading your perspective on how the workplace has changed with the internet and effects of telecommuting.
    I was particularly interested in the Pew chart you references (http://www.pewinternet.org). In this chart, it states that arranging meetings or appointments is rated 63% most effective by email as compared to 12% face-to-face in person. This reminds me of a situation at my current job in higher education. Each semester, all of the faculty meets weekly for departmental meetings. Two years ago, the way we used to come up with the weekly meeting time was each of us would stand in the reception area on day 1 of classes and try to find a common time among all of us. Each person would be shouting out times “how does 2:00pm on Tuesdays work for everyone?”…”Not good for me, how about 3:30?”…”3:30 on Tuesday or Wednesday?”…”Wednesday works for me but not Tuesday”…”Well I cannot do any afternoon except on Fridays”. You can image how this went on and on, quickly becoming one of my most dreaded encounters in week 1 of the semester.
    This past year we tried Doodle pooling online (www.doodle.com). If you are not familiar, Doodle is an online scheduling platform that allows the administrator to set blocks of time in a calendar throughout the week and then send a link to each person. Each individual can then go through the times and put a check by the ones that work for them. In the end, this creates a very easy to read calendar that you can quickly identify times in common with others. Best yet, it takes us each less than 5 minutes to figure it out!
    My question for you is considering the increased productivity with the online pooling, why do you think that some people resist and continue to arrange group meetings or set appointments face to face?
    Kristin

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    1. Kristin,

      Great question! For once, I, nor my peers, object to using Microsoft Office to arrange meetings. Of course, many individuals (of all ages and experience), do not reply to a meeting invite, which makes planning difficult for the meeting’s host. The majority of my peers at Georgia-Pacific have worked in a plywood mill most of their adult lives, and they still separate most technology and the web from the relatively simple process of making plywood (though there is way more to it than I ever thought). The attitude is not so much a disregard of technology…it is that most employees began working at the mill before computers were ubiquitous in manufacturing, and they do not see the need to use computer technology to complete their tasks. Sadly, this makes it difficult for employees like me who are constrained by senior leaders to incorporate networking into the workplace.

      Chris

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  4. A frequent comment I hear from a individuals in a range of roles or positions is the need for work-life balance. This typically comes from the YOUNGER crowd, which I also find quite interesting. In several cases I have offered some support and resources to assist in work flow – however, when I offer this I am very clear that the only way the intervention will work is if the individual does their part. For those who have taken this seriously significant improvements have been made. For example, I had one professional tell me that she is bored at night because she used to do work in the evenings to catch up. We got the right work flow in place and she has adhered to it. In another situation, the individual is failing. Personal lack of commitment to make any change to her own behavior not only makes her work flow challenging it negatively impacts everyone around her. As I reflect on these examples and the comments of work – life balance it appears to me that the ability to manage oneself may be a new skill for 2020. A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR (national public radio) and an entrepreneur (apologies I cannot recall the name) made a comment that has stuck with me. He phrase he used was “the myth of work-life balance” and it immediately struck a chord. I am not sure individuals even know what they mean when they say I need work-life balance. I have not discerned any awareness of their part that if they unplugged from their devices constantly the result might be some “life”. The attraction and ease of many technologies has infiltrated most aspects of our lives and we have willingly, maybe unknowingly, embraced it all. And now it is hard to see what the real effect of technology. My concerns are primarily for the younger generation – I remember rotary dial phones (I even remember my grandparents party-line phone on the farm!), sending letters, typewriters, and going to the local library or bookmobile. These were all formative influences in my life, they have not kept me from adopting new technologies, but I am also not compelled to be plugged in all the time.

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    1. Raven, I mirror your last two sentences…and think that this course represents both adapting and responsiveness without 24/7 commitment. After all, this week, my wife and I drove to Virginia, closed on our new home, bought appliances and furniture, and maintained contact with this class throughout. Of course, I had wifi up and running the second day in this home! 😀

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    2. Raven,

      I laugh because my 12-year old does not even know what a landline phone is! To me, work-life balance should be a personal choice. To clarify, if I decide to do work at home, then that is part of my initiative and work ethic. What I do not like, and have lived with as a professional for the past decade, is the obligation to work at any time of the day. This does not mean that I am lazy! However, when the phone rings, my wife and daughter know that I will have to leave them for a while to do work tasks, no matter the time or day. When I initially responded to classmates this week, I was encouraged by the possibility of working from home during traditional business hours. Sadly, as I reflect, this could cause more stress as co-workers at adjacent mills or senior headquarters may be encouraged to contact me at any time.

      Chris

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      1. A,

        Great link to the Gallup survey! One thing is clear, I was not part of the survey, as I would have been part of the 8% who views connecting with work remotely after hours as “strongly negative” (Gallup, 2014). The data suggests the vast majority of professionals belief staying in touch with work peers or emails outside of work is very positive (Gallup, 2014). Another fact, according to the Gallup (2014) data that my wife frequently tells me, is the correlation between income and remote working habits; as income increases, so does working outside normal hours. My wife reminds me that if I do not want to work remotely after traditional business hours, then I need to be content with a lower compensation.

        Chris

        Reference

        Harter, J., Agrawal, S., and Sorenson, S. (April 30, 2014). Most U.S. workers see upside to staying connected to work. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com

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  5. Chris-

    I found an interesting article that shows that as education and earnings increase so does the amount of time workers spend using technology to be connected to the office remotelyhttp://content.gallup.com/origin/gallupinc/GallupSpaces/Production/Cms/POLL/dvno2kibv06piiyinwofta.png. What I found most interesting is the article states data collected by Gallup showed that most workers have a favorable view of using technology to stay connected to their work http://www.gallup.com/poll/168794/workers-upside-staying-connected-work.aspx. While I agree and also believe that staying connected is a good thing I wonder how much I actually rely on using the technology now and how I could do my job without being connected. I believe that I have become so used to having the technology available and being connected that I think I could not perform my job if I did not have this access unless I spend several more hours a day in my office. The fascinating thing for me is seeing how my own behavior and ideas about networked workers has evolved because I love and hate the technology, but either way I need it like a drug. Am I addicted? Are we all?

    -A

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      1. That is a very good question. There is a romantic air of nostalgia when I reflect on not having any technology on my person such as a phone, pager, or ability to communicate aside from using a house or payphone, writing a letter that would be mailed, or visiting someone. As disconnected as I remember begin able to be so easily the thought of it is also scary when considered and framed from my current perspective because I rely on technology so much for so many things. Would I go back if given the choice, no, because knowing what I know now I would long for the access more than I miss the ability to be unplugged.

        -A

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  6. Hi Chris,

    I enjoyed reading your post, and you brought up some good points. First, I would like to address the issue with robotics taking over varies aspects of manufacturing. Please bear with me on this topic what I am going to say may seem harsh. In the media today, we hear about people saying they cannot support their families on minimum wage and feel it should be raised. There are places that are looking forward to raising minimum wage to $15 per hour, and some organizations have expressed that they cannot afford to pay their employees $15 per hour. Now if I owned a manufacturing plant, this may cut into my profits. I would have to make a choice, and that may be to either give my employees the raise or switch to robotics. In the long run, it may be more cost-effective to switch to robotics. The choice would not be an easy one to make knowing that the people who helped build the organization would now be out of a job but to continue providing some jobs, I may have to eliminate others while still making a profit. As leaders, we will have to make some of those same decisions. Do we choose the future of the organization over the future of those we serve with? This is a question many leaders will be facing as technology changes the ways their organization operates.
    An excellent point you made about the educational system not being able to educate today’s youth for jobs that have not been created is true. Technology is changing the way educators do their job. Instead of teaching facts we have moved to teaching students how to think creatively. Educators are becoming facilitators, mainly because technology is changing the way we access information. We are already seeing evidence of this when it comes to the state mandated testing for graduation from high school. Have a good week and you did provide food for thought.

    Sheila

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    1. Sheila, in many ways, these leadership decisions about robotics are not that different from leadership decisions last decade about off-shoring manufacturing jobs to Asia or Mexico. Technology made that feasible…and now technology is making feasible more robotics…which in some cases is causing an on-shoring, impacting jobs overseas. I think the world of “work” is going to be redefined over the next couple of generations.

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