Our technological options to connect with one another continue to evolve. Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, and many other sites in use today will be updated by new applications with new features in coming years. And thanks to IPv6, we have the opportunity to connect with nearly everyone or everything in the world.
What impact will this nearly unlimited ability to connect have on our value at work, on our ability to collaborate and create? We can look to workers in their early twenties to find out.
The overwhelming majority of those now entering the workforce for the first time grew up sharing their thoughts and actions with their online networks. They’ve worked together on homework virtually. They’ve been supervised by parents via email and mobile phone. Presumably their experience has taught them about how and when to trust others’ advice and intentions. It has made sharing knowledge and working with others to create new knowledge second nature.
Applied to work, these attributes all can provide tremendous value to employers who need to understand their customers better or to develop a better product or a service. Employers only need to know how to tap into them.
Employers that understand and adopt new ways of working will have an edge over those who cling to more traditional models. This edge comes from being able to innovate and adapt and create new success-sustaining value. This means taking some calculated risks and trying some new approaches.
Tapping talents from apparently unrelated fields and from diverse cultural and geographic origins, for example, can help sustain the flow of new ideas to replace the increasing stores of stale, obsolete knowledge (or “obsoledge”) that hinders innovation.
Employers of knowledge workers also no longer need to limit themselves to recruiting with a reasonable commuting distance. High-quality candidates might come from any place in the world -- and sometimes expect to work from where they are. Those who don’t learn to tap their employees and their employees’ networks for their creative potential will suffer.
An increasing percentage of today’s workforce is choosing to work for multiple employers simultaneously. The current economic environment has created many new free agents. A growing number will likely want to test new ways of working. Some choose a primary employer, but moonlight virtually for others at the same time. When properly screened for possible conflicts of interest, multiple employment relationships can greatly expand someone’s knowledge.
Companies can learn from their highly networked employees. To remain competitive, they must enable their employees to bring all the skills they have to work with them. Forcing them into a job description, not allowing them to apply their networking or collaboration abilities, can mean that you have to hire more people.
Managing a distributed workforce brings with it an entirely new set of challenges. Many employers don’t know how to manage employees they don’t “own” for 40 hours a week. Working in far-flung teams requires that everyone on the team maintain awareness of what each colleague is contributing. Teams that span the globe have the potential advantage of non-stop innovation -- members who are ending their day pass work off to those who are beginning theirs, so the work continues without interruption.
In today’s economy more than ever, those who crack the code of high-performing, online teams will lead the way to prosperity.
— Dennis A. Kirk is a principal and strategy consultant with Toffler Associates, where he leads the firm's future human capital practice