Home / Workforce Management & Planning / Company Culture & Employee Relations / Technology at Work: The Creation of the Anywhere Worker

Technology at Work: The Creation of the Anywhere Worker

Technology at Work: The Creation of the Anywhere Worker

By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Resource Center

Whether at home or work, technology has long driven innovation. Now, with the convergence of broadband and wireless technologies, these once separate worlds are merging. The result allows workers to get the job done anywhere and anytime. Call it a revolution in worker mobility, but it’s actually much more than that.

Author Emily Nagle Green documents this trend, one that she sees as having great potential benefit for employers, in her book, Anywhere: How Global Connectivity is Revolutionizing the Way We Do Business.

As president of Yankee Group, a leading global connectivity research firm, Green has tracked global connectivity trends and surveyed thousands of millenial workers about technology. The results are often surprising.

Monster: What exactly is an “Anywhere Worker”?

Emily Nagle Green: There are two ways to spot them: Someone who has the appetite to use whatever technology is available, wherever they are, to be productive. Along with that they have an expectation that their employer will support and respect their enthusiasm for technology and be productive wherever they are – within the proper constraints.

An anywhere worker is also willing to take a lot of personal responsibility for that technology. In the old days, the source of all technology insight was the company’s IT dept. As workers, we depended on it to tell us how tech could be useful and when we needed help.

Because of the consumerization of technology – particularly in the home – people in their twenties join the workforce without the assumption that the IT department of their employer has the core responsibility for their use of technology. They’re willing to assume that they should handle it on their own. But they also assume that the organization has kept up with technology.

Monster: What type of company can best make use of Anywhere Workers?

Emily Nagle Green: Organizations that understand the big picture and have the flexibility to be responsive. There is a tremendous amount to gain – the biggest benefit is productivity.

Anywhere workers are willing to use technology wherever they are. If you can respond to this, you can recapture lost time in airports, hotel rooms and while commuting. Doing so also helps create a satisfying work environment. It starts with a business recognizing these benefits and figuring out how the organization can adapt.

For instance, can you find a way for people to bring their own smart phones to the work environment? Many companies put rules in place around technology to say, “only these employees get smart phones” as a means to contain costs.

This misses the point. The core issue isn’t cost — the core issue from our research is that employees cite smart phones as the second most productive tools. And if your employees are willing to buy their own, why not make it feasible for them to use them at work? 

We’re at a tipping point. The biggest change that companies have to make is in how they think about the role of their IT organization. Is it the citadel that defines and controls all technology use? There is often an incredible squandering of potential employee enthusiasm when IT defines what technology workers can use.

Monster: Your research firm, Yankee Group, surveys young workers about technology. What have been some of the most notable recent findings?

Emily Nagle Green: We asked workers where they find new technologies that make them more productive. Only a third cited their IT department as the source. A third cited co-workers and a third said the Web. That is significant.

These workers are used to sourcing generationally – reaching out to the network-connected crowd to answer questions. They’re willing to answer their IT problems in the same way – including questions about their own applications. That’s another hidden benefit that might lessen the costs of your IT department – employees servicing their needs via the crowd.

We asked the same group of people to what extent they use consumer applications for business. A third said they use the same IM for business and personal use. They don’t see the boundaries – they don’t differentiate. It’s all one experience for them. They time-slice their lives in much finer increments than 9 to 5 and 5 to 9.

The challenge is whether the IT deptartment will support that.

We also found that 40% of workers said their company doesn’t allow them to install applications on their work computers. Fifteen percent of workers surveyed in last quarter regularly use blogs, and 12% use wikis. These are all consumer applications, being applied to work opportunities.

Monster: What recommendations do you have for companies who are looking to engage Anywhere Workers?

Emily Nagle Green: Here are my recommendations:

  • Workers want to be able to be away from their desk. Have a policy that supports that, whether it is a flex schedule or a guideline for working from home. Know too that it may not be appropriate for every job.
  • Rethink your mobile working technology kit. What policies do you have that need to be updated? It might be based on commuting mileage, i.e, if you live more than xx miles from one of our offices you get to work from home x days a week. Or if you’re on the road xx days a year you can use a broadband data card. You can update your phone to a more capable smartphone so we can put corporate applications on it, such as mobile access to CRM, and we’ll cover the expense, Same with laptops — can you figure out how to tap into employees’ willingness to use their own machines, via providing a corporate ‘image, with VPN, corporate app licenses, reimbursement for business expenses associated with it?
  • There is a lot of money to be saved by people who want to work away from the office. It allows you as employer to spend less on real estate. If that’s appealing, and you’ve thought through your policy on remote workers and IT guidelines, you can develop some cost information so that your managers understand the P&L benefits of having fewer employees in the corporate office. The savings falls to the divisional bottom line – which creates incentives. IBM has done this and recognized great savings.
  • Take a close look at your IT department. How contemporary are they with consumer technology for Anywhere Workers? Are they operating on a more flexible charter, or do they tend to assume that they should protect the company first and flex second? They may need to be given permission to loosen up. Be sure you understand the trade-offs between security and flexibility. It’s often not about saying no to everything or yes to everything. Do you have leadership within IT that understands the subtleties to crowd-source worker technology without sacrificing the articles of faith that the IT org has to secure IT data?

These sort of questions can be difficult to pursue, but the results are often well worth the effort.