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
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.
- 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).
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/