The good, the bad, and the ugly of networked workers

Connected humans in the current age of technology and web connection have created a new assemblage of networked workers that are changing the way in which organizations run. Still, networked workers of today bring both opportunities and challenges to the organizations they serve. Virtual communication, artificial intelligence, and robotics have advanced the proficiency of organizations, and have served as technology mediums that offer workers access to knowledge and an opportunity to connect with anybody (Jarache, 2013).

Opportunities that networked workers bring to an organization:

  • Networked workers can work remotely and thrive from collaboration between workers. The connection that workers make with other contributors results in work that can be accomplished with little supervision and without the need for a boss, thus reducing transaction costs (Jarache, 2013).
  • Networked workers can save organizations money. A survey conducted by the Telework Research Network revealed that networked workers offer organizations increased productivity that equates to a national average of $270 billion dollars’ worth of work. In addition, employees who spend half their time in the office and the other half connected virtually have the potential to save companies over $500 billion dollars per year because it creates a saving in business related costs such as electricity, absenteeism, and turnover (Bednarz, 2013). Moreover, worker appreciate telecommuting to the point that in a survey conducted by Dive.com, IT professionals reported that they would be willing to give up ten percent of their salary in exchange for a full-time telecommuting position, thus saving an organization money (Bednarz, 2013).
  • Networked workers have a greater capacity for information sharing. Because the web allows data, that was once difficult to manage and store, to be easily retrieved; networked workers can access information and share knowledge in the most efficient and expeditious way, thus increasing the creativity yielded from human connection (Weinberger, 2011).

While a networked workforce presents many opportunities for organizations, challenges related to a networked workforce remain. The literature offers diverse perspectives as to what the exact major challenges are for some organizations, but opinions vary greatly (Bednarz, 2013). Based upon the readings for this week, it appears that many of the challenges that organizations face surrounding a networked workforce are related to employee performance and the availability of jobs (Bednarz, 2013; Smith & Anderson, 2014).

Challenges associated with network workers:

  • Networked workers tend to lie. A study conducted by Robert Feldman found that workers who telecommute had a greater propensity to lie about work performance (Bednarz, 2013). In addition, many workers who telecommute fail to work a full eight-hour day (Bednarz, 2013). This conception affirms a challenge of a networked workforce is accountability and trustworthiness. While this may be cited as a challenge; I question why work for those who telecommute is not simply judged on work performance and outcomes; over time worked?
  • Loss of jobs. A key finding of research conducted by Smith and Anderson (2014) revealed the great divide that exists related to how AI and robotics impacts the workforce. Many believe that networked workforces that are reliant upon the web and technology impact both blue collar and white collar employees and will result in a loss of jobs. The eminent threat of technology is the innovation that technology brings a displacement of workers in exchange for highly skilled workers (Smith & Anderson, 2014). The contrasting opinion to this argument is that the loss of jobs will be replaced by the creation of newly created jobs.
  • Income quality. Smith and Anderson (2014) claims that the increase in displaced workers related to networked workforces will also result in an increase in income inequality. The research suggests that many of the jobs that will be created to support advancements in technology will not be accompanied by wages that support families and the middle class will suffer.

Innovation comes from networked workers because they can communicate and collaborate without boundaries, and thus generates more thought and knowledge. Undoubtedly, networked workforces bring opportunities for organizations, but are attached some serious challenges.

References:

Bednarz, A. (2013, Feb. 28). Is Yahoo’s telework ban shortsighted or savvy? Data says both. NETWORKWORLD. Retrieved from http://www.networkworld.com/article/2163977/smb/is-yahoo-s-telework-ban-shortsighted-or-savvy–data-says-both.html

Jarche, H. (2013, November 5). Networks are the new companies. Retrieved from http://jarche.com/2013/11/networks-are-the-new-companies/

Smith A., & Anderson J. (2014, August 6). A1, robotics, and the future of jobs. PewResearchCenter: Internet, Science and Tech. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/08/06/future-of-jobs/

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

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7 thoughts on “The good, the bad, and the ugly of networked workers

  1. Given the challenges and opportunities of Networked workforce, do you see your organization embracing this trend now or in the near future? Why? What adjustments will your organization need to make to actually embrace this trend more fully? Will the leadership of your organization be more open to this trend than the staff? Why?

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    1. Hello,
      I love my organization and I think that it is an awesome place to work; however, one of my organization’s greatest downfalls is that we have not embraced being a networked organization in both workforce and academic programs. In regards to being networked workforce, telecommuting at Marquette is nonexistent. In athletics, all our positions are 100% in office positions. A few years ago, out internal photographer asked to be able to telecommute twice a week because she can edit photos and build photo galleries from anywhere and when she is in the office she must share an office space with another staff member because of a shortage of office space. Our athletic director agreed with the change to her position and proposed it to the human resources department at the University and they rejected the proposal. In addition to a lack of a networked work environment, we also lack a networked academic environment. At Marquette now we have no fully online degree programs and only one graduate degree program that is offered in a blended format. The article, The 10 Most Important Work Skills in 2020, presents the drivers of change and the 10 most important work skills that professionals will need in 2020. The two drivers of change that I think Marquette should be addressing by expanding educational offerings in an online format are new media ecologies and a globally connected world. Both drivers of change are rooted in technology and the advancements to communication and innovation that technology can make. I would really like to see Marquette make more advancements in technology and in preparing students for the future work skills needed. I believe that our relatively new University President and first lay president is making some significant changes such as the creation of an Office for Innovation and redesign of the University core curriculum.
      Adrienne

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  2. Adrienne,

    You asked the question about why telecommuting workers could solely be judged by work performance rather than hours? I agree with this, as it really is the only thing that could reasonably be tracked. However, if your employer offers this as an option for some, but not for others, and/or if telecommuting is allowed only a few days a week rather than all of the time, how would this method of accountability sit with the rest of the company who needs to be at work for a specific number of hours?

    OR – here’s a radical thought – allow employees to make their own hours, with the only expectation being that they need to get their jobs done! Would this even work in a face-to-face office? I’m tossing this around in my head – it would certainly throw all of the accountability and choice to the employee, but could that really work? I think about my own office and have my doubts….but maybe?

    Curious about what you think.
    Andrea

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    1. Hi Andrea,
      My office and institution does not embrace telecommuting, where are just not there yet and it is something that does not to be considered because the are many positions that could certainly be hybrid positions in which some time would be spent face-to-face and the other time spent communicating from a remote location. I like the idea of setting your own work hours and evaluating workers on their work performance. To certain extent most people in my department of intercollegiate athletics set their own hours. For example, the academic center that I run offers services from 8:00 am until 10:00 PM, and it is staffed by a professional staff member at all times that it is open Sunday through Friday. So, on certain days I may work 8:00 to 5:00 and other days I may work noon to 9:00 PM. As a staff we try to work our hours around our personal lives and most often our hours far exceed 40 hours per week.

      Adrienne

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      1. Adrienne,

        My office doesn’t have an official policy regarding telecommuting, but it seems that they are open to it in cases of emergencies (weather, sick kids, etc…). I work in a satellite office, so I feel like I’m actually working remotely anyway (little oversight), but I still am accountable to getting my job done and being available when our office is open. But I also know what they Yahoo article was saying when they mentioned remote workers often working additional hours, since technology allows us to be constantly connected.

        I believe that every business / organization should consider how they can offer more flexibility to their employees, as this is beginning to be a common “perk” of the modern workplace. Those that don’t offer any flexibility may not be as attractive to new employees in the future.

        Thanks for sharing your perspective!
        Andrea

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  3. Hello Adrienne:
    Reading your posting made me wonder about the nature and types of new jobs that some believe will be created by technology. I don’t recall any extensive listing of what these jobs will be. In your readings, or experience, have you come across a good list? I have read about coders, programmers, app developers, and instructional designers, but not much beyond that.
    Randy Roberts

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  4. Hi Adrienne,

    Pardon the tardy comment but I have been out for the last week with a health issue. Thanks for the analysis and explaining the challenges for networked employees. Your mention of the potential of collaboration for networked employees reminded me of distributive leadership which also focuses on the dynamics of small groups and in the case of Weinberger’s (2011) chapter, how leadership of these small / hybrid teams can lead to innovation. As shared by Mehra, Smith, Dixon, and Robertson (2006), one of the strengths of distributive leadership is the flexibility of the small group leaders to adapt to both the group dynamics and the situation which seems spot on for managing connected workers. Another feature of distributive leadership I think is applicable to the challenges you mentioned can be found in the military small group leadership examples provided by Weinberger (2011) since formal leadership within the small groups was not strictly defined and that any group member can be a leader based on context, situation, and/or the task the small group is addressing. Ben Hammer

    References:

    Mehra, A., Smith, B., Dixon, A., & Robertson, B. (2006). Distributed leadership in teams: The network of leadership perceptions and team performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 232-245. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2006.02.003

    Weinberger, 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.

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