Data from Internet World Stats indicates that as of June 2016, 50.1% of the world’s population had access to the internet. In 2011 that figure was roughly 33%. In the US this penetration is 89%. Every second approximately 10 people gain new access to the internet. This pervasive worker connection brings both opportunities and challenges to the workplace.
Jarche highlights the economic benefit networked workers bring to an organization noting that because of their connections a small handful of workers can now accomplish what it took entire departments to accomplish in the past. They have fast access to knowledge across multiple sources of information and the transaction costs of accessing this information are minimal. Networked workers may also require fewer direct supervisors due to their reliance on the network for information and support and this introduces additional cost savings. And although not everyone would see it as a benefit, in a VUCA world, being able to tolerate ambiguity is crucial, and the Pew piece notes how networked workers and AI are changing how we define exactly what makes a job a job and how ultimately this can result in the restructuring of the social contract. Staying cognizant of this will help organizations stay flexible.
According to the details of the Workplace 2020 info-graphic, there are six primary drivers of change under way. They are:
■ Extreme Longevity ■ The rise of smart machines and systems ■ Computational world ■ New media ecology ■ Super-structured organizations ■ Globally connected world
Only extreme longevity (i.e. estimating that by 2025 the number of Americans over 60 will increase by 70%) does not clearly benefit from networked workers. The other five depend on competently connected workers. These workers bring each of the ten necessary skills for success in 2020 to the job. They include:
■ Sense making ■ Social intelligence ■ Novel and adaptive thinking ■ Cross cultural competency ■ Computational thinking ■ New Media Literacy ■ Transdisciplinary ■ Design Mindset ■ Cognitive load management ■ Virtual collaboration
Weinberger (2011) discusses a 1963 letter written by Bernard Forscher titled Chaos in the Brickyard which discussed all the random pieces of data that were being developed but not linked together. There are many more random bricks strewn about today. And, although computers are able to categorize “bricks” quite well, it will take connected workers with the skills listed above to provide a holistic and deeper understanding of these varied data points. And stringing these data points together will not be an easy task. Weinberger explains that our new medium of knowledge, can't keep information, communication, and sociality apart. This combination can lead to a plethora of knowledge about which we will most likely tend to disagree. He has little optimism that we will ever again find something we all agree on.
Networked connections enable greater work flexibility and we’ll likely see an increase in the number of workers working remotely. Depending on the research one cites, remote workers present various opportunities and challenges. Ann Bednarz in a piece in Networkworld describes the key aspects. Weinberger (2011) states that, "the mechanisms of belief have become detached from the means of knowledge” (p.150). This leaves us in a time where you can remain ignorant yet seem like you are knowledgeable. With this in mind, I felt it particularly interesting to note that research by Zimbler and Feldman (2011) mentioned in Bednarz’s article points to an increase in lying in virtual environments. If no one is truly seen as an expert and we disperse with many of our former tests of validation, it seems this trend could continue to grow. This would present a critical challenge for networked collaboration. Another, consistent challenge presented by remote workers is the desire to have a trusting, close relationship with their leader. They want a leader who not only keeps them organized but who cares about their development both personally and professionally. Millenials in particular are clear about their need for feedback from their leaders. An article in the Harvard Business Review discusses Millenials’ desire to receive purposeful feedback from their manager on a monthly basis – more than any other generation in the workplace. They want an authentic and approachable leader who can inspire and connect them to a higher purpose. These very human needs must occur in tandem with the technological savvy required to function effectively in the role. This challenges leaders to fully integrate seemingly opposing elements and to help their workers do the same.
I found some solid guidance on this integration from Tiffany Shlain, who among other things co-founded the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Webby Awards. In an OnBeing interview she discusses the relationship with technology and points out that technology is not something other than us – we are its creators and by mentally reframing our relationship and seeing it as an extension of our abilities and an amplification of our desire to connect we can come to see ourselves and technology in a more interconnected and holistic way. She encourages us to view the network as a nervous system for the world. Her work gives me hope that as leaders and workers we can continue to evolve our relationship with technology and ourselves for a dynamic and positive outcome.
ReferencesWeinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.