Monthly Archives: October 2012

The cloud workers


Of the many changes that have transformed the workplace in the last decade, the most transformational has undoubtedly been the changing concept of the office space itself. No longer the cubicled, large pieces of real estate where the boss can keep a hawk eye on his reportees. As we transition into a hyperconnected, n-dimensional world where Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty suddenly makes a lot of sense, the real estate has shrunk and shrunk and converged into virtual office space. The uber- connected yet agonizingly detached Gen Y has entered the office precincts and started challenging the concept of brick and mortar work spaces segregated along hierarchical lines. The result is the emergence of the cloud workforce who work invisibly, connect on Skype, back-thump on Yammer and work off sleek tablets. As the ambit of the enterprise has expanded to encompass the globe, the cloud has spread making things like physical distances and visa restrictions inconsequential. The challenge for the manager has increased manifold. His new reportee Jake insists on working from his rock studio, the music keeps his creativity alive. He has impromptu meet-ups in his garage where the rest of the folks Nita, Samuel, Lee come together once in a while from different parts of the country. And when they come up with something really brilliant they Skype you onto it. Are you happy with the situation? Chances are if you are the typical autocratic, control-freak boss, you would panic. You would fret over the loss of control, of the inability to keep a watchful eye on your employees or maybe the kick you get out of surprising them while they are playing poker. On the other hand if you are the new-age smart manager, you would probably welcome the invisibility, the flexibility and the ubiquity of the cloud workforce. The amazing strides that we have made in telecom technology have enabled the new paradigms of working. There are countless benefits. You can reduce your real estate costs and invest the capital elsewhere instead. Building maintenance costs which sit on your books as major expenditures take a tumbling. Your employees appreciate the freedom to work from anywhere. They are no longer wasting precious time and energy commuting. And you gain access to very valuable components of workforce who are otherwise forced to not work or take up lower profile jobs – working mothers or those with a sick parent at home for example. The cloud work force also gives you tremendous geographical reach. You can have the best people from all over the country work for you. So you do not have to open a branch in the really expensive cities to get access to the best talent. The new paradigms also break down walls between the enterprise and the larger world, opening up opportunities for collaboration beyond your organization. Organizations such as Eli Lily and P&G have successfully adopted crowd-sourcing where they have the world working with them to improve their products. So your suppliers, your customers, your employees and the community at large can doodle the next big innovation on online sketch boards. Suddenly what seemed like a management nightmare has made far-reaching innovation possible.

Ofcourse there are the challenges. An organic enterprise which stretches like a porous membrane across the globe needs highly evolved management culture to ensure you do not sacrifice cohesiveness altogether. At times there is nothing like face to face meeting to thrash out issues and get things moving. Physical workspaces thus still retain their importance. The cloud force also requires new ways of measuring performance. HR practices such as logging in time suddenly seem archaic. The emphasis has to shift o more qualitative evaluation of work. The concept of separate time for work and play is fast disappearing. Employees play while at work and seal deals while vacationing off the Caribbean islands. For Gen Y, life is one hyperconnected maze with blurred boundaries. The smart manager has to attune to this concept. It would not be easy to loose the decades of management practices centred on monitoring and control. However as far as the cloud workforce goes, control looses hands down to collaboration. Enjoy the liberating showers.