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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No More Employees

11_LargeOpenSpaceIt would seem strange to concern ourselves with the labor participation rate 20 years from now. However, as a practitioner of Strategic Foresight, it is just as important to examine the here and now as it is to explore the trends for the future. This creates a textured picture of what the future may hold and it helps organizations navigate potential disruptions in their future. These disruptions could have an adverse effect on whether an organization is able to reach their preferred future. There is more to an examination of labor than how it may or may not affect industry. The flip side to these discussions is in how it may or may not affect labor itself. I’ve written several blogs on the subject of the manager-less organization of the future. In doing so, I’ve had to consider the complete texture of a potential future. Asking “What if” to explore the potentials of the future we are able to imagine disruptions with depth and certain context.

WHAT IF there were fewer employees in the future? What would that look like? What would that mean to industry, education and the economy? These are serious question worth the exploration. In my previous writings I’ve explored the trends which may create pressure on a future workforce. One particular trend that caught my eye is the result of a prediction I read. In 1989 it was predicted that by the year 2000 there would be less than 50% in full time employment. In 2011, I read a Gallup poll that indicated this number was actually closer to 45% in full time employment.

Playing these trends out another 20 years, we can begin to imagine the year 2034 as it relates to labor. Assuming a trend in which full time employment is 35%, we will find slightly over 128 million individuals employed full time. Considering a near 366 million population in 2034, that leaves over 192 million individuals in part-time, less than full-time or not in the workforce at all.

This is a lot of meat to consume. The bottom line, we will have a whopping 65% of individuals in part time, less than part time or unemployed. What does this mean for industry and what does it mean for labor itself? For industry, it means that they are going to have to do more with less. Technology will play a key role in the organization of the future. From the Internet of everything to automated processes, we are going to see technology continued to grow and influence our future. This will likely mean that the geographic footprint of corporate offices will decrease. In the technology field alone, developers are creating artificial intelligence that can write mundane coding assignments. Software automation is already developing so that it can anticipate how to respond to social media posts. We are looking at a future in which calling a company and expecting to speak to a human will be diminished. We will have more automated attendants and processes to interact with Artificial Intelligence. The manufacturing sector will likely continue to see an increase in automation of mundane tasks as they also drop to a just in time manufacturing within a smaller factory footprint. The advent and improvement of 3 dimensional printing with bring manufacturing of day-to-day objects into the home, making consumers makers.

How will this play out for labor itself? A larger number of individuals will enter into contract, part-time and self-employment. Individuals will begin to form powerful alliances with complementary products and services.  Individuals will no longer be required to travel to a central office to work. Cloud based connections and remote working with be the norm in 20 years. These changes will require more skilled labor than ever before. The future can be viewed as that of a cerebral economy in which labor is more educated and skilled than in previous decades. The workforce is seen as knowledge workers. Geographical boundaries of work related to country of origin will collapse giving rise to a new understanding of the global economy. While governments remain intact, workers will know no boundaries.

A labor shift of this magnitude has many implications. Individuals will need generalist skills in a given industry as well as a deep understanding of technology. This will require access to high speed Internet and other technologies. While there is no guarantee that any of this will come to be; we do know that the trends are moving toward such realities. The question: how will society and organizations deal with a future much different than the one we have today?

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PIC3Dr. Philip A Foster is considered a Thought Leader in Business Operations, Organization and Strategic Leadership. He is a prolific writer, published author and lectures internationally. His most recent e-book “Organization 3.0 – The Evolution of Leadership and Organizational Theories Toward an Open System for the 21st Century” is available exclusively on Amazon.  Philip is certified in both Leadership and coaching and serves as Adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN. 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. He can be reached at philip@maximumchange.com or (615)216-5667.