With a laptop, tablet and cell phone, workers are spreading out across town, and sometimes even across continents to be creative at work.
For years experts have predicted that the world was shifting to mobile work. Change was slow and the vision of the mobile worker was limited to three narrow categories:
- Office-based mobile worker: Someone who spends most of his or her time in a company-provided office, but who also sometimes works at home or in a third place.
- Non-office-based mobile worker: This worker is in the field, such as a salesperson, or working between buildings on a corporate campus, such as an IT professional. They are more often at someone else’s office than their own.
- Home-based mobile worker: The former “telecommuter,” this employee spends most of the work week in a home office, but comes into the office occasionally.
As companies capitalized on real estate savings the home based worker pool grew. My brother lamented the loss of any human connection when EMC sent all their trainers home to work, arguing that clients only wanted virtual training. With a headset, multiple large screens, reasonable computing power and an internet connection my brother held classes five days a week in his beloved computer room.
And then the perfect storm – an economic collapse amid the greatest burst in connective technology we have ever seen. Instantly the planet began to feel smaller through Twitter feed and Facebook posts, and everyone’s troubles suddenly seem more relevant. Americans learned the names of places they can yet pronounce.
Managing virtual workforces outside the company four walls is the “new normal.”
The New World of Freelance – Former knowledge workers have been forced to become freelancers, with companies unwilling to commit to employment. Untethered from their crushing mortgages by foreclosures, knowledge workers are now free to work from anywhere. They can move to towns where the rents are cheaper and the public schools are better, because everywhere they go the internet will keep them connected. Healthcare reform will address the one thing that only employment used to provide for many, health insurance at an affordable cost.
Yet, it’s hard to believe this virtual work is doable, sustainable, can lead to equal or better results. When I tell my professional colleagues they smile somewhat vacantly, not certain if I’m just running off into the jungle and will disappear when I cross my first border. It is only the security of Dropbox that keeps potential group panic at bay.
Virtual work is not a walk in the park (although some days it literally can be). My virtual team has taught me new skills to keep the work flowing when we don’t see each other face to face. The valuable strategies can be condensed down to – communicate, communicate, communicate.
Making Mobile Work
Meetings have to be more carefully planned to maximize the time, especially when some colleagues woke up or stayed awake at some punishing hour and their time is not to be wasted. If it is a visual meeting you have to make sure colleagues will be in front of a computer instead of sitting in traffic.
My job is to find the technology tools to make virtual work easier, that make a difference, that “get it” about all the ways virtual work is different.
Conference call tools are a big factor. Our team has explored Uber Conference which gives you meeting statistics on who talked the most and who talked the least. This data has consciously or unconsciously moved our team toward more balanced input.
Now we don’t wait for stragglers because they can catch what they missed through Ubers Record feature. What Uber is missing is real-time document sharing – but so is everyone else. . [See upcoming blog –Can You Hear Me Now – Conference Calls in the Virtual World).
In3 Ways To Take Advantage Of The Virtual Workforce, Forbes magazine reminds us of the tremendous appeal of virtual work to millennials.
Overcoming the challenges inherent in less face to face contact begins with trust—and trust isn’t confined to a building or a location. Trust is built on mutual respect, communication, understanding and performance. Trust is maintained by focusing on these things, even virtually.
Slowly, the world is catching on to something good. An office address is just a place companies collect the mail.
Now if you could just tell that to the Czech Immigration Police who are still waiting for someone to go to the Immigration Police Office in Bruno to get an Invitation Letter they refuse to put online, and vouch for my upkeep should I just be escaping joblessness like any other refugee who must be halted at the border.
I’m not the only one with visa challenges. Check out Alex at TechCrunch
[i] Herman Miller, On the Move: How Mobile Employees are Changing the Workplace