NetGeners, who have been online since birth, take this speed, agility, and reach for granted. As they join the workforce, they bring with them New Ways of Work. In many cases, more senior members of the organization perceive fundamental differences between the behaviors, values, and norms of the newcomers (and others embracing these new technologies) with the values and norms of those accustomed to traditional working environments. Executives find that they are expected to be leaders in these emerging ‘new’ organization and are wondering what this means for the future of their organizations.
What is seen that some companies have no restrictions on employee use of the Internet during working hours, allowing them to surf the Internet in search of new ideas and customers as well as linking to other individuals on social networks. Others are absolutely convinced that there is no direct linkage between social media and the work their employees are doing and consequently close all the social websites in an attempt to force their employees to “think only about work” in the working hours.
While the pioneering companies that are experimenting with, or even embracing, the affordances of social media will ultimately come out ahead, it is still early to say that the companies that take a more reactive tactic are misguided. It is suggested that trying to change employee behavior and establish norms through only technical or policy barriers is limiting. Employee behavior, technology, and social norms are linked and coevolve, and an organization that attempts to change one without being aware of this coevolution process is likely to fail.
The general feeling of the top managers seems to be that their employees use Facebook or Twitter at work to communicate with their friends about private topics. The observations indicate that the younger employees place a high value on their connections and will still find ways to communicate, if not in one company, then in another.
Executives believe that strategic management level has to deal with the New Ways of Work rather than leaving the issue to be dealt with by the operational level.
As with other organizational transformations and major changes, the adoption of New Ways of Work in a particular organization will respond to corporate leadership and the resulting organizational culture. If senior managers use a variety of communication tools and social websites, the rest of the organization is likely to adopt this same behavior. If the CEO and other C-level executives have no clue how to use Skype or communicate via Facebook, the culture is unlikely to support employees who want to use these tools.
For most firms, the discussion about New Ways of Work with the executives has been accepted as an issue about positioning New Ways of Work into the companies’ overall strategy.
Virtually all executives are confident that they must develop New Ways of Work in this rapidly changing environment. What form it takes is still emerging as firms experiment with different structures and organizational styles; executives recognize that their organizations are not confined to adapting to dominant industry structures, but instead can shape future structures through their own action.
The immediate challenges are twofold and go beyond simply introducing technology into the workplace. The first challenge is the integration of NetGeners and the accompanying behaviors (regardless of age) into the workforce. The second is conceptualizing knowledge work processes in ways that take advantage of social media. These two challenges are related and are addressed simultaneously.
New technology in the organization brings with it different behaviour, social norms, and values. The result is that executives must acknowledge that these introductions require re-thinking the current organizational structure and established human resource routines if the firm is to meet the expectations of the technologically savvy generation whose learning preferences and styles differ a lot from the once of their predecessors.
Meeting the expectations of NetGeners is not simply to attract and retain knowledge workers, however. Many members of this generation have illustrated, through their games and entrepreneurship, how distributed knowledge-intensive work can be conducted efficiently. The characteristics of their approaches include, among other approaches, flat hierarchies, high levels of self-organisation, and even consensus-based decisions, facilitated by frequent and intense communication through a variety of channels.
A new world of work is already emerging. The fundamentals of competition for knowledge-intensive firms remain continued learning and a capability to apply new knowledge quickly. Some executives have begun to deal with those issues and introduce new practices (unified communication, virtual teams and projects) sufficient to satisfy the needs of the newcomers though new work practices and even recognition of an “entirely new worker identity”.
For many executives, this will pose the ultimate challenge: a change in organizational culture when the workforce is comprised partially of aging boomers comfortable with established routines and systems and partially of newcomers who comfortable with the wider variety of communication channels. Social media can facilitate and shape the emergence this culture, but executives must lead by choosing the platforms and being visible examples of the desired communication practices.
All in all, New Ways of Work require a rethinking of organizational strategy. Strategic agility requires dealing with competitiveness in attracting and retaining a creative workforce that engages talent throughout the career life cycle: before graduation from college and even after an employee leaves. The broader implications are that leaders will need to re-think how to organize and manage knowledge work. Instead of considering dynamism as primarily a market side factor, organizations also must consider dynamism from the resource side (especially the creativity represented by the knowledge workers). In the larger knowledge ecosystem, leaders must consider not only firm-firm strategic partnerships, but they must develop a capability to sustain networks in which individuals rather than firms “own” the relationships.
New Ways of Work engagement will sooner or later be implemented by leaders across a wide range of knowledge-intensive industry and service sectors. It is expected that the pioneering companies to enjoy the advantages afforded to first movers; others may have to play from behind.
The New Ways of Work phenomenon is international. The technological affordances of social media are not bounded geographically, only by Internet access, and adoption rates continue to grow. Social media is a disruptive technology, and firms that do not include these technologies in their quest for strategic agility undoubtedly will be playing catch up to those that do.