Networked workers bring many assets to organizations including communication, collaboration, and productivity. For example, a networked worker with a smartphone can plan a business luncheon without ever leaving home. The worker can communicate with potential luncheon participants via e-mail, instant message, text, and social media to gage interest, select a location, set a time, and plan the agenda. The networked worker can reserve a meeting room in a restaurant, send calendar requests with a link to Google maps for the location, send a link to the on-line menu for participants to pre-select their meal and drink that will be ready when they arrive. The development of the meeting agenda by those attending can be done using a shared workspace such as Google docs and Dropbox. This example is possible because networked workers can use new technologies to quickly communicate, to effectively collaborate, and to be more productive.
The ability to communicate faster with multiple people at the same time increases productivity and provides a consistent message. According to McKinsey Global Institute the increase in productivity of networked workers could be as great as 20 to 25 percent by using social technologies. Collaborations are smoother because everyone is involved in the conversation and has an opportunity to provide input.
The networked worker can use these new technologies and tools to balance work and home (and school) responsibilities. For me the opportunity to pursue my doctorate degree would not be possible without these new technologies. I am writing this blog while on vacation with my family. Technology offers me the opportunity to meet the demands of work, school, and family. If I had a job that required me to be at the office for certain hours everyday of the week, and a doctoral program that required me to be in class at a certain time on certain days of the week, and busy kids to run around to various activities, I would not be able to balance the demand of all three.
The opportunities that networked workers bring to organizations also some come with a “side” of challenges. Two challenges of the networked worker for an organization are decrease in personal face-to-face interactions and the increase in the amount of information to interpret and manage. Many of the modern forms of communication such as email, social media, and text messages replace the need for face-to-face interaction. There are many times during the week when I get e-mails, text messages, and instant messages that could have been avoided by simply picking up the phone (or walking down the hall) and talking with me face-to-face for a couple of minutes. Face-to-face interactions are also important in building strong relationships and dealing with conflict. Social media is an easy format to voice concerns and type words that you would not say to someone face-to-face. Thus, leaders need to prevent and manage issues like harassment and bullying through social technologies with policies and consequences for those that use these new technologies in inappropriate ways.
The other challenge is the amount of information to be managed. The increase in communication and collaboration equates to greater amounts of information such as emails, social media sites, blogs, and intranets to read, process, and respond. Network workers have a hard time keeping up with all of the information and collaborations. As the Top 10 Online Colleges explains, networked workers need the ability to filter information for importance because if they don’t they might miss the next business luncheon!