Be Prepared as Digital Natives Demand the 4 Hour Work Week Lifestyle

A New Kind of Workforce is on the Horizon. Are You Ready?

by Nichole Kelly |

After spending 15 years in Corporate America it didn’t take long for me to realize that my generation,  Generation X, quickly fell into the traditions of our parent’s generation, the Boomers. We all commute to work in our high rise buildings, we peer our heads over our desk in North Cubeland, we work 9-5, take our 2-4 weeks of vacation each year, and spend most of our days in conference rooms having meetings about our meetings. In the last decade we’ve started to see innovations with flexible work schedules, work from home options and creative work spaces. As Gen Xers this was liberating and we began to feel like we had work life balance.

Guess what? I think there is a whole new workforce that is coming to life that a lot of our “corporate” employers simply aren’t prepared for. This isn’t about whether you are a Gen Xer or Millenial. This trend is rising up as a result of advanced technologies that allow us to work from anywhere, shifting business and personal priorities and books like 4-Hour Work Week that tell us we can live differently. Here are some things that I think are going to shape the new Corporate America. And it’s something I’m pretty darned passionate about, so much so SME has taken the leap and jumped in to hopefully prove that the New Corporate America not only exists, but is ready to kick ass and take names from our competition who can’t wrap their heads around this new type of workforce or working environment.

Take a Sledge Hammer to Corporate Walls – Literally

This isn’t so much about the desire to work from “home” as it is to work from ANYWHERE.It’s about the freedom to choose your surroundings so you can be productive and get your job done while creating the personal experience you want. Citrix was early to recognize this movement and created the blog Workshifting to support all of us digital nomads and allow us to chart our journey. Personally, I think this is the most important change that is going to slap Corporate America in the face and turn around and do it again. There is a wave of employees who want to be “free to move about the country” or better yet the world. We want to be able to travel and live in a perpetual workcation.  Seriously, could you imagine taking a job where your boss encouraged you to take a 6 month workcation to Mexico so you could finally immerse yourself in the culture and become fluent in Spanish? That’s a personal dream of mine and one of the primary reasons I’ve refused to set up a corporate office for SME Digital. The temptation of the corporate office and those darn meeting rooms will be too much for people to handle. So I say, forget it. We don’t need a corporate office. We work from wherever we choose to be. We meet virtually if we need to thanks to tools like Skype, GoToMeetingHD Faces, and Google Hang Outs.

Amber Naslund, co-founder and President of SideraWorks and co-author of The Now Revolution said, the reality of work is that face time is now the exception, not the rule and butts in seats has NEVER been a good indicator of, well, anything useful (productivity, morale, etc). You want the best talent in my field (consulting), you find it and design a flexible business to support it. We have to be all over the place for clients anyway, so physical space has literally nothing to do with how well we can perform.”

My Hometown is Irrelevant

The beauty of this type of corporate environment is that it allows companies to truly hire the BEST person for the job, not the best person for the job that lives in the same city as the corporate office.

But the benefit isn’t only on the employee side according to C.C. Chapman, author of the recently published Amazing Things Will Happen, as a business owner I don’t ever want to be restricted from hiring the most talented people because of where they live. Technology enables any of us to workshift anywhere we have an Internet connection and I not only embrace that sort of freedom, but I welcome it. Borders should never get in the way of doing business.” That’s a pretty big deal and could become a huge competitive advantage for companies who are part of the new Corporate America.

However, this also means that we are now competing nationally for talent. That may change the game for a lot of employers who may be the big fish in their local market. It will allow employees to find companies whose values are similar to their own and that have the job they are looking for, rather than having to settle for something that is close to where they call home.

Take Your Schedule and Shove It

Now that we have the freedom to be wherever our little heart’s desire, the next thing to go is the staunchy old corporate schedule. Being forced to work from 9-5? Who wants that when I’m halfway around the world on a totally different time zone and want to have an opportunity to enjoy it. I think we are going to see the resurgence of flexible schedules, but to another extreme. While it won’t work for every position or in every industry, we may start to see more employees demanding to create their own schedules on an ad-hoc basis. So if I’m not a morning person and decide I want to start work at 10 am and end at 6 pm, I will. But tomorrow if I decide to go visit the pyramids in Egypt and want to cut out at 2 pm I may start at 6 am. There are some challenges that will need to be addressed for this to work. I think you’ll see more schedules with “core hours” that require all employees to be available for certain times during the day while leaving the rest of the schedule up to the employee. This will allow teams to schedule meetings and collaborate on projects that require conversations. The old adage of employees being fired for posting a picture of them slacking off during the work day on Facebook will go out the window. You’ll see lots of employees posting pictures of them doing amazing things throughout the day and employers encouraging it.

Happy employees are productive employees, but this can drastically change who is now the “right” employee for an open position. It takes the right kind of employee to thrive in an environment like this. It certainly isn’t right for everyone. There are people who need an office to be productive because they have kids at home during the day, they feel the need to separate home from work or it’s just what they prefer. But I think there is a growing population of people like myself who throw caution to the wind and say I will find a way to make it work because it is the lifestyle I want for my life and for my children’s life. It puts a whole new spin on work-life balance, doesn’t it?

We Don’t Have to Sit Across a Table to Collaborate

Sitting across a corporate conference room table to “collaborate” is so 2000 and late! While in the new Corporate America we don’t have to be across a table there will be a need for new methods of collaboration and at times a physical space may be important. I asked Chris Brogan, author of The Impact Equation, what he thought about this and he said, “workshifting is a huge part of the future of American business culture, that ability to work where you are and how you want, but I can say that there’s still some value to having a central gathering place. Lots of time, working in teams in the same space has advantages. For instance, people might have to work on something complex that requires a lot of inter-exchange. Animating a movie comes to mind. Engineering a computer would be difficult to do sprawled out. But a LOT of roles and functions don’t need proximity for the most part. I can see a huge shift in companies paying an allowance for coworking spaces, for instance.”

I agree that we will find a new way to collaborate in physical proximity too. My vision is to set up “think tanks” for our employees who are more centrally located. They will have bean bag chairs, those fun chairs in the shape of a hand, huge white boards, and fun toys that help the creative process. But they won’t be designed to support daily working intentionally. They will be designed to support the creative process, because that’s when physical proximity becomes more important in our business. I think creative solutions to fulfilling the need for physical space will become more predominant. But I don’t think the typical corporate office will remain the standard answer in the next decade.

That said, there are companies that have made it work without the need for physical “space” like Marketing Profs, a company that has made it work for over 12 years. Ann Handley, Chief Content Office at Marketing Profs and co-author of Content Rules brings up an interesting perspective on productive online meetings, she said “we use a host of internal tools and apply internal “rules” to make collaboration effective and efficient. Dropbox, Skype IM and video calls, basecamp, and a private Facebook team page are among the tools. Rules are like ‘no multitasking during a call’ to make them short and focused. It’s otherwise too tempting to check Instagram and Twitter during a virtual meeting!”

Sounds Great But Oh My…The Challenges

This new corporate America won’t come without challenges and tough ones at that. One of the biggest is, “how do we facilitate the watercooler conversation?” Those conversations are important. They are relationship builders. When we are all heads down on a beach or in our home office how are we going to continue face-to-face relationship building. I definitely don’t think an internal social network is the answer. I think it starts with hiring the right people who understand how to build relationships online, but the challenge is real and one that we’re going to have to figure out.

Jay Baer, President of Convince and Convert and co-author of The Now Revolution, adds “The reason companies have historically had employees co-located and working the same schedule is that it enabled the collective to get more done. This is no longer true.  With Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting et al, the ability to have an actual meeting from afar has never been easier, and with broadband (even on mobile) making video conferencing massively accessible, you don’t even lose much meeting “fidelity” when you’re dispersed. At Convince & Convert, we’re purely virtual, and have senior consultants in almost every time zone. We come together physically a few times per year, and do almost 100% of our work for clients via online collaboration. But beyond technology, the bigger change that enables virtual work is the asynchronous nature of tasks and accomplishments. Parallel to boosts in online meeting software has been the rise of a new thought process around how things in business get done, driven by agile method, 37 Signals, and other champions. Breaking big projects into small pieces, and letting people do their piece and logging their progress using an online project management tool has done more to drive adoption of virtual teams because it makes the meeting itself less necessary, regardless of how and where the meeting occurs, or whether it’s face-to-face. Step one is not needing as many meetings, which is a process shift. Step two is making the few remaining meetings as frictionless as possible, which is a technology shift. Both are rooted in empowerment of employees. It’s true that part of the challenge is process and the other part is culture. Frankly, the culture challenge may be the biggest hurdle to overcome. But as Jay mentioned lessons from agile methodology best known in the software development space present huge opportunities for team collaboration. It’s something we are testing at SME and so far it’s having a profound impact on productivity.

The other challenge is scale. It’s much easier to run virtual teams when you are a small company, but what about large companies with hundreds and thousands of employees? Is it possible to have this type of workforce with that many employees? I believe it is. And I think other companies have already tested the waters with work-from-home options that can be leveraged here. Just look at Accenture, a global consulting firm with over 257,000 consultants that generated over $27.9 billion in revenues through August of this year. Yes, b-ba-ba-billion in revenues. If they can figure out how to manage collaboration with consultants in every part of the world, working at client sites, at home, and using flexible arrangements, I think it proves that collaboration in a work from anywhere model can scale.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this type of workforce can exist? Is your company prepared? What do you think the next phase of Corporate America will look like? Leave a comment and join the debate.

And if this post made you want to work at SME Digital, we’re always looking for our next A player. And we’re currently building our hiring bench for digital strategists, strategic account managers, community managers, and more for positions that are coming soon. Connect with Jay Kelly on LinkedIn and show him why you’re our next best hire!

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About the Author

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole