The Rise of the Remote Workforce

remote-workforce-360x260We live in an emerging globalized mobile world of dispersed cloud workers. More than ever we see individuals and organizations trading in their traditional offices to work from home, coffee houses and just about anywhere in the world in which they can connect to the Internet. Leading the 21st century dispersed workforce brings its own challenges and requires new attitudes, approaches, and technologies. It requires leadership that is willing to step out of the comfort of the corner office and explore rich new possibilities of workforce engagement. It requires a higher degree of understanding communication, culture, collaboration, and empowerment.

“We live in a time of unprecedented globalism. Businesses, people, and economies are tied together in ways we could not have imagined 40 years ago. Organizations must now compete within a global landscape where clients and even the workforce are culturally diverse and geographically dispersed. Organizations are networked and interlaced around the globe through the Internet and mobile technologies. Crossing and operating within cultural boundaries must­­­ become a skill of the leaders and followers of the future. Organizations of the future must become culturally literate if they are to successfully compete under these emerging paradigms.” – Philip A Foster, The Open Organization, 2014

As we witness the emergence of a globalized mobile world of dispersed cloud workers, more than ever we see individuals and organizations trading in the traditional offices for the coffee house office or what I like to call the Coffice. A cloud based workforce is nothing more than a distributed or remote employee who is not bound by geography, time zone, or national boundaries. These employees are connected to colleagues via technology and therefore are able to work more flexibly via the internet.

Leader flexibility is the key to creating an atmosphere where each employee can become more excited about where they work and more importantly what they are working on. As the world becomes more globalized, the need for a flexible cloud optimized workforce is more evident. With a remote workforce comes the need to re-imagine and retool leadership for the remote worker. What is certain is that the way we approach and engage leaders and followers is quickly changing. There are challenges ahead as we assimilate into the new realities of a distributed cloud based workforce. Leading the charge for change is and will continue to be our Millennials. By the year 2025, it is estimated that nearly 75% of all work will be held by this generation. What is certain – change will happen whether we embrace it or not. As the 21st century organization continues to seek greater flexibility, organizational leadership must also evolve to the pressures and realities of a globalized economy.

While traditional leadership relies on formality, power, and proximity to followers; the Organization of the 21st century is emerging as a nontraditional structure in which authority is not vested in positions and human capital is dispersed geographically. Organizations will begin to abandon traditional leadership pedagogue for leaderless, self-led, and an empowered autonomous workforce. As hierarchies begin to collapse, leaders must learn to adapt to new realities and what it means to lead a more culturally diverse dispersed workforce from a distance.

As our reality shifts, leaders must learn how to communicate more effectively; engage human capital differently; embrace cultural nuances with diplomatic precision; and empower employees. The shift toward a dispersed workforce requires confidence and an abandonment of old models of employee engagement. The new way of working is not for everyone.  These changes will require discernment in the on-boarding process. Because Communication is so different in the dispersed setting, employees must leave ego behind and walk with assurance that they questions are important enough to ask.

Things are shifting – organizations are changing. Engagement of employees will change. We can either prepare for the inevitable or bury our heads in the depths of a 19th century hierarchical structure. In the end, you can change or you can become irrelevant. The choice is up to you.

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 Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing. Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia.

Twitter: @maximumchange, E-mail: philip@maximumchange.com.

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Book Review: Under New Management

Under New Management Book CoverI have been saying for some time now that the way we do business is broken. I guess I should say that our models for achieving success are no longer sustainable. In fact, we have outgrown our one-size-fits-all approach to business process, leadership, and structure.  Something has to give…. and it has.

In his new book, Under New Management, Author David Burkus peels back our stale expectations of leading and managing and opens our eyes to new and innovative approaches to business. To the classically trained leader, his concepts can be downright provocative and will challenge the very core of their beliefs. Some mind bending examples include outlawing email, paying people to quit, ditching performance appraisals, firing the managers, and writing org charts in pencil. The managerial curmudgeon might scoff at these ideas as fantasy and think they will never work.

Burkus anticipates these arguments and takes the additional steps needed to move the reader from ethereal to relative by offering examples of organizations who are successfully embracing these very ideas. While many of these new concepts may be born out of the technology industry, Burkus offers examples outside of the tech field. Real case studies from Volkswagen, Wegmans Food Markets, Shake Shack, Starbucks and Whole Foods.

Gone are the days of “this is not how we do things around here” and I couldn’t be happier. The 21st Century will require new ways of thinking and new approaches. These approaches may very well go beyond the ideas of outlawing email and losing the standard vacation policies. We don’t have to agree with everything in the book – but I think Burkus invites us into something deeper. He invites us to free ourselves to pave the way and come up with new and creative ideas that feed the human spirit and engage human happiness and productivity in the process. Under New Management should be one of the keys that release us from the old ways of thinking and finally give us permission to break the rules.

I strongly recommend that every leader read this book and then imagine the possibilities when we begin to “redesign the factory” and develop meaningful change in our own companies. Under New Management is Available now on Amazon http://tiny.cc/fvz29x. You can reach David through his website at http://davidburkus.com/.

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Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing. Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. Twitter: @maximumchange, E-mail: philip@maximumchange.com.

The Future of Working: Dystopia or Utopia?

Cbw_bXzWAAIt_ap                  Image Source: (McCormick 2016).

Recently I read an article from The Verge by Rich McCormick (2016) regarding Mark Zuckerberg’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The focus of this article was a picture of Mark Zuckerberg walking past attendees who are wearing Samsung’s Gear Virtual Reality headsets. Rich states that the image,

“…looks like concept art for a new dystopian sci-fi film. A billionaire superman with a rictus grin, striding straight past human drones, tethered to machines and blinded to reality by blinking plastic masks.”

Normally I would chuckle and move on, however this picture represents deeper insights about the future of our workforce and leadership. In fact, last year my colleague Dr. Jeff Suderman and I published a similar scenario in our paper “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios.” In our article we presented four scenarios which depict how we might engage human capital by the year 2050. Two of these scenarios explored the possible dehumanizing effects or impact of technology in the future workplace.

One scenario focused on something we called Bio-Circuitry Leadership. It was represented by an image found in the movie Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers were partnered with armored body suits. We imagined a scenario in which there would be “minimal separation between humankind and machinery/technology and very often, humans must adapt to the needs of technology instead of technology being adapted to meet our needs” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).  In this scenario, organizations and their leaders become “a complex blend of the best of both worlds: machines and humanity. The era of bio-circuitry leadership means that organizations have leveraged people and technology into a seamless system. It is difficult to distinguish between who people are and what they do because of how effectively human capacity is enhanced and blended with technology” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

The second scenario presented a contrasting view and was titled Automaton Leadership. “By definition, an automaton is a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being. As a result of the relentless progression of technology, human capital will be shaped into a group of robot-like devices to accomplish the betterment of our world” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). As this scenario unfolds we find a world in which the “economic collapses of the early twenty-first century coupled with a decreasing full-time workforce led to a wide acceptance of technologies in everyday life” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). Under this scenario we imagined a world in which individuals of working age “…apply for and are fitted with docking harnesses which permit them to connect directly into the work grid. The Internet of everything now includes humans themselves. Individuals strap themselves into a work pod and the docking harness connects their entire body into the Internet” (Suderman & Foster, 2015). In this world the lines between “reality and virtual are merged as individuals spend most of their waking time connecting to the network” (Suderman & Foster, 2015).

Dr. Suderman and I recognize that our storylines are no more than best guesses about how our future will unfold.  However, the usefulness of scenarios about the future is not how accurate the stories turn out to be, but rather, how they help us shape the possibilities of the future. Twenty years ago few of us knew or even thought about the impact a smart phone would have on our lives. Today, we find mobile technologies impacting everyday decisions such as grocery shopping, taxi services and hotel accommodations. The seemingly innocuous introduction of ubiquitous technology has shaped a new economy right before our very eyes.

The idea of a future workforce strapped into some kind of technology may not be as farfetched as we would like it to be. In fact, most of us are already invisibly tethered to our smart devices. Laugh if you will, but the picture of Mark Zuckerberg and the audience of drones could very well be a glimpse into what is to come.

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IMG_0100-001Dr. Philip A. Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, International Lecturer and Best Selling Author of “The Open Organization” – now available through Ashgate Publishing.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching. He is the Founder and CEO of Maximum Change Leadership and Business Consulting, serving clients from around the world. He is a Doctor of Strategic Leadership with emphasis in Strategic Foresight and holds a Master of Art in Organizational Leadership, both from Regent University, Virginia. Twitter: @maximumchange, E-mail: philip@maximumchange.com.

Dr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman, E-mail: jeff@jeffsuderman.com.

 

References:

McCormick, Rich (2016). This image of Mark Zuckerberg says so much about our future. The Verge. Retrieved on February 21, 2016 from http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/22/11087890/mark-zuckerberg-mwc-picture-future-samsung

Suderman, J.L., &Foster, P.A. (2015). “Envisioning Leadership in 2050: Four Future Scenarios. A Case for relevant 2050 leadership – preparing for change.” Building Leadership Bridges. Sage Publishing.