This is not the first, nor the second time, and I am sure there will be a third time, and many more!, at some point, that I have either heard or read about something that I would think would make pretty upset all of those folks who work on the Internet or with technology in general. Yes, I am referring to the so-called Knowledge Web Workers. Specially, those folks who have made the Social Web their new home. Indeed, in a rather thought-provoking, but very inspiring, article, Douglas Rushkoff comes to question whether we are witnessing the end of jobs as we have known them for centuries and whether we are pretty much experiencing the birth of a unknown need, till now, of a renewed model of jobs. In Are Jobs Obsolete? Douglas keeps questioning whether technology (And the (Social) Web) are part of the main problem we have been having over the last few years in the jobs market with having less and less of them. In a way, not his words, but mine, plenty of folks feel one of the culprits why the jobs market is not recovering fast enough is because of Enterprise 2.0. Or the Social Enterprise.
And in a way, they do have a good point. With the emergence of social software tools and the Social Enterprise, reducing costs, generating more sales leads, improving knowledge flows, faster problem solving, rampant innovation, retaining top talent, keeping current employee workforce happier and more engaged with much lower attrition rates, are some of the very attractive reasons for employers out there to pay attention to social and try to make the best out of it, without having to hire more human talent. Why would you want to hire more people when your current workforce has tripled their productivity, as well as their customer satisfaction, by using social software tools, don’t you think? And right there we have got the main problem. Knowledge workers are not getting hired, because social computing tools are helping solve most of the companies’ problems / issues without having to spend extra money on hiring new resources.
The reality though is quite different. And rather refreshing altogether! Perhaps what could be needed and we just didn’t know about it from before. What employers are doing, and facilitating big time altogether!, is the creation of an Army of Social Intra/Entrepreneurs, who mingle amongst each other, both inside and outside of the firewall, so the traditional concept of a company’s walls are no longer there, fully networked and wired into a complex matrix of personal (business) relationships, that are going to define work for themselves without even, if it needs to be, counting on those employers in the long run. Allow me to explain… They have got everything they need: the skills, the knowledge, the time, the energy, effort and support from others, their extensive and ever expanding networks, and something else that is starting to emerge big time and which, right now, seems unstoppable: plenty of free idle time to do what they have been passionate about all along. And that may, or may not, be related to work.
And this is exactly the point that Douglas makes beautifully in his article. The fact that our traditional concept of work, the one we have been living under over the last few decades, and, which in most cases has been dictated upon us by others without us having much of a say about it, is starting to decline and leave its way behind into a new model of work. One where the traditional corporate environment and the traditional mindless jobs are being overtaken by what a bunch of folks would now call Knowledge (Web) Work.
I remember having read in the past some piece of research (I wish I could have bookmarked it, when I was going through it!) that claimed how amazingly good we are, as human beings, when we have got plenty of idle time in our hands, instead of the traditional job / work, in order to create something new. Whatever that something would be. In fact, some employers are already facilitating some of this themselves by allowing their employees to spend some time out of their own work doing something else. Totally unrelated with their jobs, and perhaps more aligned to their personal passion(s) they would want to pursue further. And time and time again it has been proved to have worked wonders.
So if jobs are becoming obsolete, as we have known them for a long while, and it is starting to look like that!, and we keep building those armies of socially networked intra/entrepreneurs, there is something else that the Social Web, and the Social Enterprise, are helping provoke within the corporate environment: a transition away from measuring performance by your sheer presence and instead measuring that same performance based on the results you provide and deliver, resulting in the elimination of the traditional work hours.
Matthew Ingram describes it himself beautifully in a recent blog post over at GigaOm under the heading “Do we need defined hours of work any more?” and that my good friend, the always inspiring and KM blogger extraordinaire, Bill Ives, developed further under “Do We Need Defined Work Hours?” as well. Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of social computing within the enterprise is how it has helped knowledge workers, AND their employers, realise how it’s much more beneficial to measure business results than the hours you put at work while at the office in a place nearby your boss, so that he / she can see you are working away like crazy, when perhaps you may not well be.
I am sure there would be plenty of you folks out there confirming how even though this may well be the current trend it may not be extended enough to appear across the business world, and I would agree with you that may well be the case; maybe, because there will be companies out there that have not started their way just yet to live social, but, eventually, they will. They probably won’t have much of a choice. And the main reason being, I would probably venture to state, it’s due to that socially networked army of Intra/Entrepreneurs that keeps getting bigger and bigger by the day as they themselves keep re-defining the current workforce of the 21st century based on the networking relationships they keep building, cultivating and nurturing over the course of time.
The Trust Agents, the Wild Ducks. The ones who understand that the future of work, their work, is to probably move around the edges, or towards the edges, as my good friend, Harold Jarche put together, rather nicely, a couple of months back under “The 21st century workplace: moving to the edge” with golden gems like this one:
“The 21st century workplace, with its growing complexity due to our interconnectivity, requires that we focus on new problems and exception-handing. This increases the need for collaboration (working together on a problem) and cooperation (sharing without any specific objective).
One challenge for organizations is getting people to realize that what they know has little value. How to solve problems together is becoming the real business imperative. Sharing and using knowledge is where business value lies [...]
And that’s why those companies that have decided to become social enterprises and empower their knowledge workers to fully live social have already gotten started the path of preparing, facilitating and embracing the knowledge workforce of the future where work will be defined, and carried out by themselves, without having a traditional job, without having defined work hours, with a relevant work life integration that really matches their needs and in an environment where facing complexity and chaos in problem solving, ideation and exception-handling (Read further Harold’s take on that to see where we are all heading…) is going to bring innovation further up into a new level: networked, interconnected, collaborative, open, transparent, knowledge sharing based, engaging and empowering on delivering excelling business results and no longer that sheer presence we have just gotten too used to over the course of decades.
The main challenge remains though for all businesses out there: what are you doing to help prepare and facilitate that army of socially networked Intra/Entrepreneurs, both internal and external? Those who know your company best, your business and your customer base inside out, those who have got all of the knowledge, experience, know-how, skills, AND networks, to help you, as a business, survive in the 21st century? Because, something tells me that if you, as a business, are not ready just yet to help facilitate that change, and be well prepared for it, they will be moving on eventually … and won’t be looking back.
After all, they already have their jobs, their work hours, their passion and motivation to do the work and their extended networks. Basically, the work they themselves have defined over the course of time. With or without you. What shall it be?