Networked workers work it

Week five

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Networked workers, much like networked computers, bring both opportunities and challenges to an organization. Consider the below list of advantages for a networked computer system (futureofworkingadmin, 2016).

  • Connectivity and communication
  • Resource sharing
  • Cost and storage efficiencies
  • Flexibility
  • Creativity

Let us now apply these to the networked worker space.

Connectivity and communication are highly relevant whether talking about computers or people. A network makes it far easier for workers remote from each other to connect. It is easier to diffuse innovation and build collective knowledge. Communication channels abound and offer the opportunity for a speedier response. My role today for my organization would not function without the network. We have approximately 500 communications professionals across the country, which operate on behalf of a region (like I do) or a line of business. There are teams within teams. For example, there are about 100 regional communicators. Within that subgroup, I am on a more intimate subgroup of seven. Physically, I work completely alone, with the next nearest of my communications colleagues operating out of Colorado. It was a different environment when my organization was not so large or designed as it is today, more of a wirearchy than hierarchy (Husband, 2017).

Resources can be more easily shared through the network. Whether leveraging the same tool or information, the network allows for multiple team members to have access at the same time. This may be a Web based story publishing system, or it could be a knowledge base located on a SharePoint. It could even be access to people as resources if a particular diversity dimension is missing from one’s immediate environment. This all leads to cost and storage efficiencies as relates to overhead and also the human mind. Data shows the network can save tremendous amounts of money with regard to office space, software, and other business tangibles (Bednarz, 2013). From a storage perspective, the networked worker need not keep everything she or he would need to know locally or internally. A leader need only know where to find knowledge versus hold it natively (Ibarra & Hunter, 2007). A good leader will both provide the networked space, as well as leverage it.

A network is flexible in nature in that it may involve a few or many or change instantly from two to infinitely more. There is also opportunity for creativity. Networked workers can capitalize on the various strengths unique to individuals for the benefit of the organization in addition to receiving personal benefit (Ibarra & Hunter, 2007). Networking, in the more traditional sense, is about building relationships and creating value through those connections. Providing a platform by which workers are networked helps facilitate this relationship building in addition to ideation. Jarche (2013) commented that “networks are the new companies,” as connected people cost less, require less supervision, and flip the manager-employee paradigm, where contributors are perhaps more important than coordinators.

We now consider a list of disadvantages for the networked computer, which are also challenges for the networked human.

  • Dependency
  • Security risks
  • Viruses and malware
  • Can lead to negative acts
  • Requires knowledgeable users

Much as people may become dependent on a computer increasingly to perform tasks they might once have been able to do, networked humans may become dependent on each other in a negative sense. This can lead to a lack of personal responsibility, when operating as part of a networked group. For example, consider “groupthink” and NASA’s Challenger disaster. Schwartz and Wald (2003) commented, “…smart people working collectively can be dumber than the sum of their brains,” which was the case both before the disaster and during the investigation that followed. And if groupthink may occur in the physical space, it is certainly possible to see it transpire in the digital space, with broader ramifications through the multiplying power of connection. Perhaps also there is a tendency to feel less responsible when speaking through a network, or even, as Bednarz (2013) suggested, find it easier to lie. It is certainly more difficult to champion an opinion when looking an opponent in the face.

There are security risks. These exist both due to the spread of information over multiple, networked sources, requiring that each of those have necessary access rights and follow confidentiality requirements. Also considering the ease of which a network may be infected by a single connected computer being hit with a virus, the toxic team member, as a parallel, can infect a human network just as easily.

Finally, a network can enable negative acts and requires knowledge to run and operate within it. While slackers certainly exist in the physical space, they arguably have an easier time shirking work in the less monitored digital world. Also, a question frequently asked lately regards the preparation of team members to navigate digital waters. Both in the job hunting and in job performance, it is unclear whether adequate training is being given or is always available. Even with a generation of “digital natives” on the rise, the digital world continues to evolve. The learning curve is perhaps not as steep for this younger generation, but still, a growing and changing system of networked workers begs the question, will today’s knowledge of effective networking suffice tomorrow or the day after (Smith, 2015).

References

Bednarz, A. (2013, February 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

futureofworkingadmin (2016, February 26). 8 advantages and disadvantages of computer networking. futureofworking. Retrieved from http://futureofworking.com/8-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-computer-networking/

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

Husband, J. (2017). What is wierarchy? Wirearchy. Retrieved from http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. L. (2007, January). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2007/01/how-leaders-create-and-use-networks

Schwartz, J., & Wald, M. (2003, March 9). The nation: NASA’s curse?; ‘Groupthink’ is 30 years old, and still going strong. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/09/weekinreview/the-nation-nasa-s-curse-groupthink-is-30-years-old-and-still-going-strong.html

Smith, A. (2015, November 19). Searching for work in the digital era. PewResearchCenter. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/11/19/searching-for-work-in-the-digital-era/

17 thoughts on “Networked workers work it

  1. Good morning,

    I really enjoyed your post and I think it speaks to some of the reasons why the internet and networks are now an integral component to today’s business or organization. Honestly, what would most of us do without that connectivity? As you wrote, connectivity, resources, and building networks are huge advantages for today’s worker and the web helps facilitate all of those. How much about our work would change if we couldn’t access external resources via the web or didn’t have the ability to frequently network with colleagues on an instantaneous and regular basis as is available through the web? This is not to say that we couldn’t connect in those ways at all (we used to go to libraries and pick up the phone or go to conferences, of course), but the frequency has changed everything. Answers can be found in an instant and connections are made daily.

    While there are risks to our organizations (you’ve outlined a few of them nicely), I believe we must press on because there is truly no going back.

    Best,
    The Ayes Have It

    Like

    1. Ayes, thank you for your comments. Most if not all of the current networked reality is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time (Masket, 2014). Specifically for my role in communications, we can deliver news faster, but a tradeoff for speed is sometimes accuracy. We can self publish, putting more out there via multiple channels, but the previously clear line between an advertisement and a trusted, third party opinion is now fuzzy. Some challenges are different. For example, positioning news to achieve a filter forward is different than getting filtered in. And some opportunities are the same. A core element of my job is still fundamental relationship building.

      As you said though, short of an apocalypse, there is no going back. We press ahead and make the best of the opportunities that connectedness affords us, while seeking ways to turn challenges into opportunities. I have to be vigilant that I do not turn a blind eye to pitfalls, but I feel fortunate that I do not have to force myself to embrace the network.

      References
      Masket, S. (2014, June 2). Don’t fear the network: The Internet has changed the way we communicate for the better. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/don-t-fear-the-network-the-internet-is-changing-the-way-we-communicate-for-the-better-32352d7b302#.sx4fiq66f

      Julie

      Like

  2. Julie,

    Great post! Your comment about the need to prepare team members to work in a digital environment really hit home. This is an important issue in higher education and something I have been working on at my university. It is a common assumption that students who enter college have attained a level of digital literacy through pre-college computer experience. Dede (2005) proposed that Web 2.0 has fostered collaborative and participatory attitudes, and Veen and Vrakking (2004) posited that new generations can deal with a larger quantity of information. However, it is difficult to quantify a level of digital literacy, as sources of pre-college computer experience are diverse and inconsistent. Studies have shown that there is a great deal of variation in the access and use of technology among digital natives (Kennedy, Judd, Dalgarno, & Waycott, 2010; Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Vojt, 2011).

    Anecdotally, several Millennials and Gen Zers have shared with me that they and their peers are tech natives and tech savvy, but they have little idea how it all works, or even how to optimize their experience. They want to know what the cloud is, which wifi network to join, what an SSD is, and what they need to know about cybersecurity. I would add cyber ethics, the net and society (I love Mike Wesch’s work, https://www.k-state.edu/sasw/faculty/wesch.html), productivity tools, and working in a networked age, to name a few. The problem is, few colleges require computer courses beyond those for computer majors, so many students never take one. I have been working with faculty at my university to add a technology category to our general education requirement. This interdisciplinary category focuses on the application of technology to create solutions, adapt to new tools, and engage in a connected world. The proposal goes to the committee for a vote on Monday. Your post and the posts of our colleagues have been inspirational to this project!

    -CatOnKB

    References

    Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 28 (1), 7–12. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0511.pdf

    Kennedy, G., Judd, T., Dalgarno, B., & Waycott, J. (2010). Beyond natives and immigrants: Exploring types of net generation students. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5), 332–343. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00371.x

    Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., & Vojt, G. (2011). Are digital natives a myth or reality? University students’ use of digital technologies. Computers & Education, 56(2), 429–440. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.09.004

    Veen, W., & Vrakking, B. (2004). Homo Zappiens. Growing up in a digital age. London: Network Continuum Education.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Great video! Thank you so much for sharing. It really spoke to me about what the goal of education should be and how it is necessary to tailor the experience to find students where they are to help them reach where they want to be.

        Like

    1. CatOnKB, thank you. You put the disparity I see between the digital natives’ use and understanding of the digital world so well. My 15-year-old for example, has expertise with the devices he is using, but he seems to lack the ability to apply particular understanding more broadly. He is an expert with an iPhone, but he cannot take the ability to navigate it and leverage it in a different environment where the underlying usability is built on the same principles. This could be said of many subject areas or concepts, but it seems he skipped over the learning part and was simply handed knowledge he does not actually know in any real sense (Wong, 2015).

      The issue feels akin to what I understand “Common Core” works to solve – a conscious effort to change the way we educate, so students learn problem solving versus participate in rote memorization. The longer we let digital education go, reinforcing the performance of tasks versus understanding why they are performed a certain way, the greater disservice we do to workers operating optimally now and in future within the digital landscape.

      I wish you the best on your proposal vote. It gives me hope!

      References
      Wong, A. (2015, April 21). Digital natives, yet strangers to the Web. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/04/digital-natives-yet-strangers-to-the-web/390990/

      Julie

      Like

  3. Very thorough analysis, Julie! I appreciate your acknowledgment that slackers exist in both traditional and digital environments. I made a note to this point when reading Ann Bednarz’s post on Yahoo’s telework ban. For me, it is helpful to reflect on my own educational experiences in both the traditional brick-and-mortar and digital settings, respectively. The Mike Wesch video posted above (which is really a great resource) makes reference to students efforts to “sneak right past.” While I have always tried to be a good student, I found that I was more comfortable with being an engaged consumer than an engaged contributor. I managed to hide in many traditional classrooms and wondered what my digital classroom experience might offer. Surprisingly, I have found it much harder to hide in this environment. I have been forced out of my comfort zone and am better because of it. I agree that the slacker challenge is a legitimate one, though with appropriate expectations and accountability it seems very possible to manage this well.
    -EA

    Like

    1. EA, thank you! I agree and made some comments on your initial post as well. I appreciate that you note the digital classroom has made it harder to hide than it was in the physical classroom. You spoke of being forced out of your comfort zone, and I wonder though it feels understandably this way, whether the digital environment has in fact made it more comfortable for you to engage? So yes, you are forced to contribute but in a way far easier for you?

      I ask after reflecting on my own educational journey. Getting older accounts for some of my willingness to engage more now than during my undergrad years in the physical classroom. However, I know it is also much easier on my style to have the time and space to form an opinion and support my argument in our digital environment than it ever was speaking up in the moment, in a class, or forever losing the chance.

      The Wesch video also resonated with me. While I never fell asleep in a class, I could well imagine any of my teachers echoing things he said about the sleeping student. I consider how they might have looked out at me back then, actively listening, but seeming to contribute very little and wondered if I was paying attention. In fact, I was verbally reprimanded in one college class for doodling. It was helping me focus. Fortunately, for today’s doodlers, there is more information available now to support my then disbelieved claim (Shellenbarger, 2014).

      References
      Shellenbarger, S. (2014, July 29). The power of the doodle: Improve your focus and memory. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-power-of-the-doodle-improve-your-focus-and-memory-1406675744

      Julie

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Something that popped out to me as I was reading this was your section on security… coupled with the slacking and lying phenomena you discussed, I wonder how networked workers treat security protocols. An older article I found estimated that most remote workers DO care about their security while “off campus,” but I think a lot has changed since 2008. The article was also specifically talking about company-provided technology, which I think changes the way we perceive the device and what we do with it.

    Now that we’re firmly into the gig economy, freelancers abound. Coffee shop consultants are everywhere, using personal laptops for business and pleasure. Road warriors connect to every WiFi signal they can get, and unfortunately, I think people are too busy to care or perhaps just don’t know the risks.

    I found a couple good points on this page about maintaining security among remote workers: http://blog.siteuptime.com/2016/01/09/how-to-maintain-security-protocols-when-employees-work-remotely/ It seems like their advice is prevention. Invest in the equipment and protocols up front and avoid huge potential losses down the line.

    This might be an interesting area to research in terms of deviant workplace behavior, concern for procedure, and client/company best interest. Hmm.

    Another great post – thanks!

    Like

    1. James, thank you! A number of great points… Yes, I feel a distinct difference using my own devices versus company devices, and even with my own, I was never one to click crazily on links or make any purchase without seeing the “https,” security lock symbol, etc. The best thing my organization does for its security (and networked workforce) is to have extremely tight protocols that simply do not allow us to do otherwise. We are restricted in so many ways, it is nearly impossible to make a security mistake even by accident. This is comforting as a remote worker, while I still need to do my part for the sliver of possibility where I can still err.

      It would have been the easiest thing in the world to cause a security problem at an earlier workplace. They were very keen for anything free and did not have an IT staff. The most basic security measures were not in place and completely dependent on the individual workers to manage in the office and at home.

      Like

  5. Hi Unicorn Magis,

    Your paragraph about working on a networked team was interesting to me. A study from Govindarajan and Gupta (2001) indicated that only 18% of networked teams felt they were successful in meeting their goals. As a professor that teaches in networked classrooms, I find facilitating collaboration and teamwork across classes difficult. I realize that the working world is not the same as the classroom. However, I genuinely believe my primary job as a teacher is to help my students develop skills that will pay their bills. Part of this skill set is learning how to be a valuable team member both in person and virtually. How do you promote collaboration within your team? Govindarajan and Gupta (2001) suggested virtual teams struggle to align individual goals, lack of important knowledge, and often have unclear objectives. If you experience these challenges, what are some ways your team works to overcome these struggles?

    Shelli

    Govindarajan, V. & Gupta, A. (2001). Building an effective global business team. MIT Solan Management Review. Retrieved from: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/building-an-effective-global-business-team/

    Like

    1. Shelli, thank you for the questions and comments! To a degree, success on a virtual team and/or a physical team is in small part a matter of personality and style. I voiced this thought on another cohort member’s blog, but whether it is my introverted nature, a result of one of my strengths (input for example) or any number of other factors, putting forth an opinion and backing it up in the virtual world is easier for me. The physical space often requires I speak out before I am ready, and this sometimes makes me feel I am saying a thing just to say it versus contributing something of value. Members of my team at an earlier organization jokingly referred to this as “value add” in that we were being forced to do the opposite through constant reinforcement to be more vocal at any cost.

      Above said, I do think there are ways to exercise the necessary muscles and gain skill in both environments. I believe dedicated teachers like you can help. The Wesch example Dr. Watwood shared above was great in showing how one might thoughtfully engage an individual and help that individual contribute in any environment. I think it comes down to fundamentals and demonstrating how those same core principles might be applied in different ways. For example, I am more lately embracing quiet in the physical space to get the necessary listening and research done before I follow up at the next, earliest convenient point.

      I would be curious as to whether Govindarajan and Gupta’s (2001) study would look different if the teams were not far flung but all in the same place. Many of the points of failure the authors cite – misalignment of goals, lack of skills, lack of clarity – could all take place “in the room” so to speak in addition to over a network. In the case of a network, it is sometimes easier to blame the network when my feeling is the proper strategic planning is not being done in the first place.

      Comparing an in person team made up of different lines of business but located in the same space with my communications team whose members are all remote, I would say these same strategies make both succeed (or falter when lacking):

      • If holding a meeting or collaboration, in whatever form, hold it only if there is value to be shared and be clear about the goals. Be clear in advance, so folks come prepared, and stay on task. Make action items clear.
      • Have regular, unofficial touch points. Communicate. I connect with my virtual team members (instant message, phone, email) intentionally and with similar regularity to how I might walk into another colleague’s office in the course of a given week.
      • Make connecting with each other part of a process. For example, whenever any of us write a story, we send it to another team member. This is less to find mistakes and more to ensure we habitually leverage each other.
      • Have a plan at the outset and ensure there is a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. This last seems the most obvious, but it is also the one most often forgotten.

      References
      Govindarajan, V. & Gupta, A. (2001, July 15). Building an effective global business team. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/building-an-effective-global-business-team/

      Julie

      Like

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