Today’s Forecast – The Blizzard Will Continue

Once again, this week’s reading provided lots of food for thought and reflection for those of us that are working in the intensely hyper-connected environment of today’s world. One of the most interesting pieces of information that I found while researching this week’s subject for my blog was that Yahoo stock price nearly tripled since CEO Marissa Mayer’s much-derided decision to end telecommuting in February of 2013. Perhaps she was on to something.

In discussing this with my son who is a sophomore in college he asked me an interesting question. Have other companies done anything similar? Upon researching that question I found that the week after the decision by Mayer, electronics retail giant Best Buy followed suit with a similar decision regarding telecommuting workers. Best Buy also saw a similar increase similar percentage increase in its stock price in the months that followed their decision. Would the experiences of these two companies be the death knell for telecommuting? Apparently not.

Further research could not uncover other large companies that had made similar decisions. Given the exceptional results of the stock prices in the 18 months since these decisions were made at Yahoo and Best Buy seems to indicate that Fortune 500 CEOs still embrace policies that allow employees to telecommute. This tells us that there is still a perception that allowing some employees to telecommute is advantageous to companies. What are these advantages? The Pew Internet & American Life Project (2008) on “Networked Workers” does not segment its data in ways that report on telecommuting policies specifically. But the study does tell us that nearly half of all working Americans do at least some work from home. Given that the study was completed in 2008 it seems a safe assumption that that percentage has risen since that time. In effect, this tells us that over half of all working Americans are in one way or another telecommuting at least part of the time.

Some aspects of the Pew study revealed that connected workers are willing to spend more hours meeting the responsibilities of their jobs while at the same time juggling their work and email accounts throughout the day. Some managers see this as a detriment to productivity while others see it as a necessary concession which affords the employees opportunities to spend more time on their job – which the Pew study also indicates is happening.

Overall the Pew findings indicate that the networked environment in which today’s workers are immersed is a mixed blessing. While productivity increases and workers become more efficient in the use of their time for both work and personal purposes, there is the detrimental effect of “cognitive overload” that happens in a world that exchanges information “faster and faster” as Shirky’s (2008) Chapter 7 is titled. Last week’s reading by Gartner (2010) reinforces this idea by stating “work will increasingly happen 24-hours a day, seven days a week. In this work environment, the lines between personal, professional, social and family matters, along with organization subjects, will disappear.” As each week of this class goes by it becomes apparent that Shirky’s title “Here Comes Everybody” is absolutely appropriate. Leaders must learn to deal with this blizzard of information for the sake of themselves and, even more importantly, for the sake of those whom they lead.

This leads us to one of the most important Future Work Skills 2020 identified by the Institute for the Future (2011). Davies, Fidler, and Gorbis note that one of the 10 skills that members of the future workforce must develop is that of “Cognitive Load Management”. They define this skill as the ability to filter and synthesize the massive influx of data that workers receive in an efficient way that allows them to focus on what is important. Workers that do not develop this skill will be overwhelmed by the cognitive overload to the point of making little contribution to their organization.

It seems this particular blizzard shows no signs of letting up.

References

Best Buy. (2014, July 25). Retrieved from http://fortune.com/company/bby/

Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future work skills 2020. Future Work Skills, 1-14. Retrieved from http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/front/docs/sponsored/phoenix/future_work_skills_2020.pdf

Gartner, Inc. (2010, August 4). Gartner says the world of work will witness 10 changes during the next 10 years [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513

Madden, M., & Jones, S. (2008, September 24). Networked workers. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2008/09/24/networked-worker

Pepitone, J. (2013, March 05). Best Buy ends work-from-home program. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2013/03/05/technology/best-buy-work-from-home/index.html

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Yahoo! Inc. (2014, July 24). Retrieved from http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/Stock/YHOO?countrycode=US

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13 thoughts on “Today’s Forecast – The Blizzard Will Continue

  1. I was interested in the telecommuting topics as well, as I was shocked to hear companies doing away with this practice. That being said, much like it taking a special type of student to be an online student, it does take a special type of worker to be a telecommuter. One must be an independently driven employee, a self-starter, and one that does not require an enormous amount of interaction nor supervision. If you require a lot of any of these things, you’ll likely not be successful. The problem is, how do you as a company screen employees for these types of attributes? Simply ask questions? Are you a self-starter? Do you require a lot of supervision? Of course the employee will answer in a way that will allow them to go to work at home, which will result in a bad outcome if this particular employee doesn’t belong there.

    I think doing away with telecommuting overall is a bad idea, but I think there should be the need for working in the office first. Manager could then get to know the employee to understand if they would be a good candidate to be a home based employee. I am, of course, a huge hypocrite. I have never met my vice president, and when I was originally hired had never met my direct report ‘manager’ (the director of my department), so I would not buy that process at all in my company! But for a firm like Best Buy or Yahoo, that might be a better fit than an ‘all or nothing’ option.

    • Jillian,

      I think one of the ways that employers are determining who is most likely to be a self-starter is by asking potential employees during their initial interviews to list the two or three accomplishments in their career of which they are most proud. Another good question to discern the level of initiative that a employee can be trusted to take in the future is to ask for them to give an example of times when they have taken initiative and solved a problem or resolved an issue. The quality of the answers they give is indicative of what you can expect in this area of their employment in the future.

  2. Julie Fickas says:

    Joe –
    I thought it might be interesting to look up cognitive load theory to understand it a bit more. The theory was developed in the 1980’s by Sweller (Paas, Renkl, and Sweller, 2004). The premise of the theory is that there is a load of information that the working memory can handle. That load can be increased if the information structure is more familiar (Paas, et al., 2004). The amount of information that an individual is exposed to daily on the internet is overwhelming. The theory would indicate that as a person becomes more familiar with both tasks and particular information, the brain does not perceive the load to be as high. I could see how this could be a great asset for organizational workers to possess. Essentially, they have formatted their brains to be able to assimilate more information. I think it would be really nice to have an increased cognitive load right about now in the coursework.

    • Julie, while I did not think it was as good as HERE COMES EVERYBODY, Clay Shirky’s second book was COGNITIVE SURPLUS (2010). In it, he argues that society is shifting from watching TV to exploring on the internet, and that is freeing up a trillion hours a year of networked educated citizenry to solve social problems.

      • Julie Fickas says:

        Britt-
        That is an amazing thought! From a physiological perspective, the processing and storage within the brain in that scenario factored over the population is amazing!

      • Thank you for the reference Dr. Watwood. I would like to learn more. Do you know if there are any proposed solutions to cognitive overload in Shirky’s newer book?

      • Joe, I think Shirky felt he answered that in HERE COMES EVERYBODY through the concept of filtering. He really does not go into overload in his second book, focusing instead on the creative endeavors people are doing now that they are no longer passively watching TV. The point of his second book is that people are learning how to use free time more constructively for creative acts rather than consumptive ones, particularly with the advent of online tools that allow new forms of collaboration. To be honest, I am not sure he hit the mark on this one.

        And your point on Covey’s time management is spot on!

  3. I would agree that this blizzard will not be letting up any time soon (if ever). I do not think the telecommuting issue is an “all or nothing” issue, but it does depend on job descriptions, individual personalities, or any other number of factors. I cannot tell you how many individuals I have come across in my experience that are never late coming into work (and never leave a minute late either), put in their time consistently, but also accomplish very little. There are also individuals who seem to prefer putting in their time and working very hard, but as soon as the end of the day hits, they are done and out the door. I do not think the integration of work and personal life is for everyone, but for those who prefer it, it can equate to a happy and productive workforce.

    I have been thinking a lot this week about studies around generational differences in the workforce. As the workforce changes, organizations must change as well. According to Stanley (2010) employers need to be flexible when working with the younger workforce generations. For example, Generation X tends to think work should be more informal and value balance, while generation Y are more technologically savvy and tend to value being part of a group (Stanley, 2010). For younger generations, this flexibility may be a priority over pay or other benefits.

    Flexibility and networking may be used as recruitment tools. Looking at the 10 most important work skills identified for the future (2010), there seems to be a shift from individual areas of expertise, to a more complex way of thinking. I would imagine individuals who are able to master all or most of these skills would be in high demand. A quality organization would need to put efforts towards hiring effective, flexible and cognitive thinkers. If a highly qualified individual is working for your organization, and desires a certain amount of flexibility, they are much more likely to leave for other opportunities that may offer benefits that coincide with their values and priorities.

    While the blizzard may not be letting up, I am hoping that we will continue to evolve and adapt our behaviors to these changes in order to more efficiently deal with immense information so that we are not overloaded cognitively.

    References

    Stanley, D. (2010). Multigenerational workforce issues and their implications for leadership in nursing. Journal of Nursing Management, 18, 846-852.

    Top10colleges.org. The 10 most important work skills in 2020. Retrieved from http://www.top10onlinecolleges.org/work-skills-2020/.

  4. It may be a blizzard … but there are no snow days! Nice, thoughtful post!

    Causation is always tricky. One wonders if the stock increase was caused by the elimination of teleworkers or just part of the recovering economy?

    • There is certainly an element of a recovering economy in these numbers but the stock increases of these two companies far surpass the overall percentage increase (which was 33%) of the S&P 500 for the same period of time.

  5. mysticdoc says:

    Hi JD –

    I didn’t focus on Yahoo in this week’s post, because I wrote about it in comments last week – but I believe that “telecommuting” may be a word that describes a phase of development along the “Information Superhighway.” As this journey matures, we may just become wire-ized (my word, something akin to weapon-ized) to simply work wherever we are. Glasses are being developed now to put the work on a screen before our eyes – not unlike our Tom Cruise, Mission Impossible fantasies. While an accessory like this certainly seems “cool,” interest in such a gadget is not necessarily attractive worldwide, and it does raise questions about our personal quality of life (see my post this week).

    Thank you –
    Caer

  6. Julie Fickas says:

    I forgot the reference:

    Paas, F., Renkl, A., & Sweller, J. (2004). Cognitive load theory: Instructional implications of the interaction between information structures and cognitive architecture. Instructional Science, 32, 1-8.

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