The Evolving Workplace
The Irony of Change is that it is Constant.
We see this in our lives and we see it in the workplace. Our fore-fathers coped with change, just as we do today.
In years gone by when our country began, Americans lived in an agrarian society. While some individuals fished and others hunted, most individuals and families supporting themselves by tilling the land, working as farmers. Some individuals developed specials skills and crafts providing their services to others. The craft-oriented society evolved to larger scales resulting in the emergence of manufacturing of goods, tools, and weapons. Manufacturing evolved further when creative individuals created machines capable of mass production and providing transportation that exceeded the capabilities of horse and animal- powered transportation. Electricity was harnessed for lighting and communication. We took to the air and revolutionized travel with planes, trains, and automobiles. Mechanical tabulators evolved into programmable controllers and then to computers.
The irony of change is that it is constant, and constantly accelerating.
Now, smartphones put powers into our hands that were unimaginable a generation or two ago. We are moving from the digital information age to what has been referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. Prime examples include artificial intelligence now being used to facilitate decisions while automobiles are being programmed to be self-driving and factories once filled with workers on production lines now hum with the efficient programmed movements of robotic assembly, welding and painting devices.
Many individuals embrace new technologies and the changes they bring to daily lives and to the workplace. And yet, any manager who has ever introduced change into a workplace has encountered resistance from employees who prefer doing things the old way, “the way we’ve always done it before.” But, time marches on, and change happens. Organizations, like living creatures, adapt and survive, or die.
Organizations operate to provide a product, an object or device that others find useful and want to acquire, or a service performing some activity that others want or need. Organizations in the private sector, sell their product or service and seek to make a profit in order to continue in business. Not-for-profit entities may provide a product or service at some cost while not seeking to make a profit, and the government provides certain services such as education, protection, public safety, or infrastructure development and maintenance paid for through taxes.
In all of these organizations, there remains one common element: people. While many work processes have or are becoming more automated, the individual employee remains an important part of the process, and those who lead or manage, individuals themselves, must interact with other people to obtain results.
There remains one common element: people
This thumbnail overview of workplace change brings us to note many of the current changes impacting upon the evolving workplace. Cited in no particular order, here are some of the significant new changes in the workplace that affect how managers manage and employees perform in the workplace. The Digital Generation – In an article entitled “The Digital Generation,” author Nickey Hockley cites one description which characterizes Digital Natives as those who have grown up using technology and the internet, as distinguished from Digital Immigrants who have come to technology later in life. The Digital Native performs tasks entirely from the screen while the Digital Immigrant is more likely to access information from the screen and then print out and work from paper copies of data. In another characterization, Hockley cites the term Digital Resident, a person who lives a significant percentage of his or her life online through social media and portrays self-image through online networks, distinguished from the Digital Visitor who uses the web as a tool but is unlikely to fully expose their identity online.
Telecommuting – Many firms now allow a wider variety of flexible workplace alternatives, permitting employees to perform work tasks at home or from alternative work sites. Often referred to as telecommuting or telework, such practices permit employees to perform work tasks from home on an ad hoc or part- time or full- time basis. Such practices are particularly adaptable for knowledge workers, or for workers whose job requires data access, or entry to an employer computer system using desk-top or portable lap-top computers or tablets.
Virtual Work Teams – The information age has connected individuals through the internet via smartphones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers allowing many individuals to perform work tasks away from the central office or factory that was once the primary place of work and employment. The interconnectivity of devices allows individuals to work in the office or plant, or at home, or while traveling. Software and systems now allow instant communication in mediums that may be visual, verbal, and/or electronic messaging or e-mail. Documents, and data and graphic images can be created, shared, viewed, edited, circulated and stored for instant retrieval and use. Work team members may be across town, in another city, or in another country. Further, the virtual work team members may be employed by the employer or they may be an independent contractor or another contingent worker as described below.
The Gig Economy – This term has been applied to describe a growing number of individuals who have elected to engage in self-employment, obtaining work on a project or job by job basis. Such individuals often find independent contractor employment opportunities through web sites or cell phone apps that offer to connect self-employed workers with employers who are seeking individuals with their particular skills. One example of this business model is the ride-sharing services – a form of non- regulated taxi service - offered through organizations like Uber and Lyft. Their drivers are independent contractors who set their own schedules, accept or reject offered assignments and make all contacts and arrangements for services with customers through the ridesharing app.
Contingent Workforce – Other examples of contingent workforce arrangements include temporary help work agencies and employment agencies that provide contract workers with specified professional skills or credentials for specified or short- term assignments. Individuals in this category of employment are actually employed by the employment agency and paid by that agency while performing tasks at the client employer’s job site or work from home basis.
New Employment Relationships – Another example of an emerging employment relationship is referred to as employee leasing, where a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) offers to handle all employee management tasks and responsibilities for an employer by hiring and providing payroll, payroll taxes, and benefits for all the employees of the business in return for agreed fees for these services. The effect of these varied employment relationships can create what is referred to as a dual employment relationship where two or more entities are involved in directing and or supervising and or paying employees to perform specified jobs. These issues become significant when there is a workplace injury or workplace decision or incident that might be considered to be employment discrimination.
Changing Employment Roles – The traditional employer- employee relationship is altered by one or more of the work arrangements described above. In the traditional employer relationship, the manager could hire and fire the employee and the employee could seek and accept and quit employment at will. These are elements of what may be referred to as employment at will, a legal term defining the employment relationship. Employment at will prerogatives may be altered by certain state or local or federal statutes, and by court decisions interpreting the law. The laws define what constitutes a supervisor or manager, and certain laws may affect employees differently than supervisors. A person who functions as a project leader or a team leader may, or may not be a supervisor under the interpretations of the various laws. While this explanation may seem muddy and unclear, one reason is that it is a matter that is in a state of flux. Employment laws from the 1930s to current years are now being applied to new workplace arrangements that were not anticipated when the laws were originally passed by state legislatures or by Congress.
Performance Appraisal Under Fire – The annual performance appraisal remains a standard tool in the human resources management toolbox of an overwhelming number of employers according to survey data (reported later herein). But this annual ritual has come under fire in recent years as growing numbers of high-profile firms are opting for alternative means to manage employee performance. Supervisors lament the struggle to complete the annual performance appraisal exercise while employees complain that the process is an unfair torment. Management wants to recognize and reward top performers while human resources staff endeavor to implement suitable solutions.
The workplace is changing, but the common element is people, working together to accomplish results. The ideas and suggestions covered here are intended to help team leaders to effectively interact with other people to obtain improved performance results.