Category: Organizational Management

The New Ways of Work are already here

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.

Challenges of the Work of the Future

Members of the millennial generation (Gen Y — those born around 1980 and later) are entering the knowledge management workforce. They are comfortable using social media and other communications technologies. They bring into the workplace behaviours, norms and values that often appear at odds with expectations and practices in traditional organizations.  Social media enables — even demands — new ways of knowledge work — but the resulting tensions create challenges for executives.

Challenge 1:  The Talent Life Cycle

Young knowledge workers entering the workplace bring with them a new dimension of dynamics: they demand personal development through challenging tasks, job flexibility that is higher than what baby boomers would have preferred (and have accepted), participation in development towards objectives that matter to them, and flexibility in connecting and developing their own networks. Such preferences pose challenges to organizations.

In the eyes of the executives, creative knowledge workers determine the competitive advantage of the firm and represent the capabilities for continued learning. The executives recognize that knowledge and learning are not simply an individual capability but one that is manifest through work teams and the organization as a whole.

New Motivations and Values

Young people who grew up with mobile phones and computers exhibit different values and beliefs than their predecessors. They do not adapt easily to the industrial ways of working, hierarchical organizations, and bureaucratic decision-making modes that have been accepted by baby boomers. This generation is about making a difference, meeting a challenge, and always progressing in their capabilities. These drivers, more than job stability and routine, motivate this generation of workers.

They frequently assume personal responsibility to make the best out of every job. They expect professional development of their skills and are not satisfied with remaining in the same position for long. Therefore, “career paths” for knowledge workers are more dynamic and less predictable than they once were. The job stability preferred by the baby boomers is slowly being replaced by a desire for vigorous professional development.

Solution:  Re-think the Management of Knowledge Workers

Search for challenging projects. For digital natives, having fun while working and being a part of what ‘changes the world’ plays a crucial role in the work they do. Therefore, many firms have opened the social network sites for employees. If employees work during their “non-working” hours, they can do private networking during their workday. Many firms already provide opportunities for flexible working environment (people can work from anywhere they want); home office opportunities (this is especially crucial for women with children); and interesting jobs that bring self-realization and self-satisfaction. Such firms are sure that challenging projects in which employees can develop their own ideas and be creative provide more incentives to the digital natives than a higher salary.

Opportunities for development rather than promotion. People like to succeed, and the millennials are no exception. They demand more personal responsibility for what they do, but they want to be rewarded for their contributions and performance. Therefore, progressive companies encourage employees’ learning and development as well as provide alternative reward paths. They organize seminars and conferences where employees can share their success stories and give advice to those who is still looking for new opportunities.

More personal responsibility. Several firms long ago began building the relationships with their workers on results orientation and trust rather than on directing and controlling time spent in the office. These firms trust the workers to be capable and do the work needed in the time framework required. To accomplish this, they ensure a dense communication pattern: they discuss with the employees what they expect and communicate the realistic goals to which they have agreed.

Solution:  Resolving the Issue of Short Tenure 

Executives recognize the mobility and increased dynamism of the human resource. As long-life employment becomes rare, fewer young employees stay at the same work place for several years. They become nomadic workers not only in terms of work space flexibility and work from anywhere, but they desire flexibility in where they choose to work.

Millennials feel they easily could move from company to company; there seems to be little stress associated with losing one’s job.

Approach: Create and invest in alumni networks. What firms need to do is accept when employees choose to leave, recognize their valued service, but engage them in alumni networks so they remain connected. They have to keep track of what their former employees do and where they work: invite them to the annual Christmas dinners and keep them in their network of knowledge assets. This not only widens the company’s network but gives young people the chance to come back to the firm when the good opportunity arises. This approach serves as a powerful resource for identifying new talent and maintaining an engaged network as a source of new ideas and learning.

Challenge 2:  Core Resources — they are not just inside the organization

It now becomes increasingly clear that firms acknowledge the importance of the networks and develop ways of building trust in them. The networks are about interactions that maintain the ties between individuals, but they also are about getting access to new knowledge and information embedded in these networks.

The use of social media has made it possible for professionals around the globe to get advice from their colleagues and share experiences with a mouse click. Utilizing the vast amount of resources that are available online available tends to make access more valued than self-creation. As the technology makes this easier, the focus shifts from simple factual knowledge exchanges to enabling tacit exchanges and collaboration among trusted members of the network.

Question of Control

The cross-boundary nature of the individual networks raises the question of how an organization can control the flow of information in these networks and what should be the role of management in this more open information environment.  If individuals’ loyalties shift away from their employer toward their personal networks, how should executives approach this new environment? Although many organizations express concern over the risk of potential loss of proprietary knowledge, others express optimism that the benefits outweigh the risks.

The key seems to be an organizational agility to embrace openness and the opportunities for learning through the individual networks. Corporations have used similar approaches before to building strategic partnerships between and among firms with whom they could cooperate.  The difference now is that the networks are individual and potentially more collaborative.

Challenge 3:  A New Communication Network Ecology

The emphasis on the use of social media for marketing and HR purposes is diminishing as firms recognize the limitations of treating social media like other marketing channels. The more community-based communication and collective actions permitted by collaboration platforms and shared workspaces has made a dramatic shift from physical meetings to virtual working environment where project and human resource management, technical support, training and networking are done from anywhere.

The variety of communication channels (SMS, Twitter, email, phone, video-conference, shared workspace etc.) also increases and blurs boundaries between customers and employees, business and private.

The capabilities for virtual collaboration are enhanced with the wider range of opportunities for shared storage and even processing capacity in “the cloud,” enabling greater organizational agility for knowledge work across boundaries.

Solution:  Getting Engaged

The more possibilities the firms provide to the employees to stay connected, the greater access they will have for new knowledge and ideas. Collaboration platforms, shared data storage, wikis, blogs, and forums — both inside and outside the firm — enlarge the range of resources available to the firm and leverage existing investments. The emerging network environment does preclude the loss of control but does require executives to rethink the means by which risk is managed. Only by remaining engaged with the emerging information ecology can firms maintain an awareness of the expanded opportunities for learning and creating value. Managing risks through limited experimentation and bounded engagement with the wider networks will be a better choice than staying on the sidelines. Engagement is a better choice than the certain risk of being left behind by the competition.

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