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By Mary van der Boon
(this article first appeared on www.expatica.com/hr)
Maîtres du Monde or Tempered Radicals?
To paraphrase legendary Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier, todays networking nomads can be called "masters of the world (maîtres du monde)". With modern technology at their fingertips they can access data, submit reports, video-view their colleagues half a world away and book the best restaurant in Venice ..all from either the comfort of their own living room or the airport business lounge. Formerly known as road warriors, todays networking nomads can fit a wide profile: on the one hand they can be young, impatient, fast, IT-savvy, driven and perpetually sleep-deprived. They can also be older, frustrated, fatigued and commuter-weary corporate professionals. Increasingly, these rebels-with-a-powerbook can also be seen as an even newer phenomenon: the tempered radical. In her new book, Tempered Radicals: How People Use Difference to Inspire Change at Work, Stanford Professor Debra Meyerson defines the tempered radical as "individuals who dont quite fit in with the predominant corporate culture, yet who work to make a difference in quiet, incremental ways. They want to rock the boat, yet still stay in it; they are trying to reach a middle ground between the extremes of conformity and pure radicalism; they are the outsiders within". These people, she states, are everyday leaders. And these people are probably on the road .
Nomads fall into many different categories:
Telecommuting, or telework is broadly defined as employer-paid work activity done at other than a corporate office and facilitated by telecommunications technologies. Recent Canadian research has determined that telework allows employees an opportunity to better manage their work and personal life and that this may lead to increased productivity and retention as well as reduced absenteeism. It is not without cost, however, to both employee and employer.
Linda Thornburg of iLinx reports that one of the drawbacks of telework is the possibility that employers may not be able to transfer company knowledge to teleworkers as easily as if they worked at the office. In addition, employers may not be able to gain the same organizational commitment. Telework also requires more trust between manager and employee than many managers are willing to develop and it's harder to manage a remote worker.
The lack of hard data often results in an unclear picture of teleworkers. Drawbacks for employees may include reduced social interaction, household distractions and lack of visibility to management. Pay also could be a drawback. Some studies show that teleworkers are paid from 5 to 10 percent less than their in-office counterparts but others show teleworkers are paid better. The evidence also is mixed on whether telework is stressful for family life or actually relieves stress. The benefits of added flexibility appear to be mitigated by longer work hours and the possibility of "role overload" as the home worker feels more responsibility for the family.
Like teleworkers, flexworkers work from home, but this category of nomad also works regular days in the corporate office. These workers suffer less from the isolation, relationship difficulties and organisational drawbacks faced by teleworkers, but pay for it by once again having to fight commuter traffic.
Frequent Fliers, or Mobile Workers
The true road warriors, these nomads are frequently travelling several weeks per month. Home-office based but serving a regional or international project function, their need to remain in contact with the corporate office is the greatest of all nomad categories.
Less costly than full expatriate assignments, short-term assignments clearly continue to grow in popularity among multinationals, according to a recently released survey. The majority (77 percent) of participants to the 2000 Global Survey of Short-Term International Assignment Policies predict their organizations will increase the number of short-term assignments, defined as those lasting 3 to 12 months. "The human resource function is often responsible for coordinating these assignments and therefore have the ability to greatly impact their success," said Brian J. Glade, SPHR, the Society of Human Resource Managements vice president of International Programs. "With the majority of respondents anticipating growth in the number of short-term assignments, HR professionals should be prepared to face a variety of challenges." Among the challenges reported in the survey are: tracking assignments to avoid host-country tax problems, persuading employees to leave their families behind, determining incentives and living allowances, and finding suitable accommodations.
Nearly 80 percent of short-term assignees do not bring their families and typically live in company-paid furnished apartments or hotels. Most assignments are either project-driven or involved in a technology transfer, with a smaller percentage representing developmental assignments. Sometimes they also encompass "commuter" assignments, where the assignee remains based in his/her home country but commutes to work every week in another country, or city. Close contact with head office is also important for this category of nomad.
Technology is the Key
Technology is driving this new workforce like never before. From seamless anytime/anywhere access to corporate networks, to field sales and service and vertical market applications, Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) and other handheld devices are transforming mobile workers from out-of-sight, out-of-mind road warriors into always-in-touch contributors. As technology grows, however, management often fails to keep pace. Recent research has shown that the nomads may be leaving their own organisations too far behind.
They Just Dont Understand
When it comes to permitting employees to work from home, or stay in contact online, executives are decidedly undecided suggests a new OfficeTeam survey. While more than one-third (36%) of the executives polled said they saw no difference in productivity levels between telecommuters and on-site workers, more than one-quarter (26%) feel the arrangement can compromise job performance. Senior managers agreed overwhelmingly that the best candidates for telecommuting programs are staff-level employees.
Boston-based human resources research and consulting firm WFD reports that as U.S. companies seek to reduce travel and facilities costs and move towards an increasingly dispersed workplace, they may find their way blocked by heavy workloads and the barrier of their own face time culture.
Senior consultant Karen Noble reports that "although access to technology is often viewed as the key ingredient of an increasingly dispersed 'any time, any place' work environment, research shows that workplace attitudes and management practices - such as measuring employee performance by long on-site hours or 'face time' - can be greater obstacles to remote work. In our experience, many of these attitudes and management practices can also contribute to another key barrier - heavy workloads that include a lot of low-value or unnecessary work."
Traditionally companies have invested heavily in the technology aspect of remote work, but ignored the management practices and cultural changes necessary to support remote work. WFD suggests that "strong commitment from senior management to promote and encourage remote work is essential to any program's success. Remote work has to be viewed as a creative business solution in a changing work environment rather than an accommodation to a few workers."
Be the Change You Wish to See
As for the tempered radicals, according to Meyerson "they inspire their colleagues, affect peoples lives, and ultimately make an important difference in their organisations and the world." And for that they need a very fast modem indeed.