By Gerald Charles Jr., Director, Public Sector, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group
We have graduated from the industrial age, when work proceeded incrementally and individually in assembly-line fashion. Now we live in a 24-hour knowledge economy in which mobile people, with their access to information and to one another, are an organization's most important asset. The workforce is now the most critical facilitator of innovation, competitiveness, and growth. IT leaders need to evolve their collaboration and workspace strategies to meet the needs of this workforce evolution.
Imagine an employee on her first day on the job. As this new worker first walks in the door, the designated new-employee systems and processes trigger a flurry of activity based on the employee's personalized specifications:
- Colleagues are reminded to greet the employee, whether in person, by telepresence, or by messaging in one way or another
- The new employee signs electronic forms, pre-filled with information from her employment application
- Maps to meeting locations are downloaded to her PDA or equivalent device
- Accounts to essential systems are created automatically and a laptop and other devices are delivered to her workspace
- Orientation or training on new systems is determined on demand, intuitively, by the new employee
None of this assumes the new employee is physically at headquarters: her workspace may be the home office, in the field, at a regional smart work center, or elsewhere in an organizational structure with a much improved environmental footprint.
A new vision of workforce and workplace sustainability applies technology as a strategic tool and enabler for public service innovation, productivity growth, and reduction of the environmental footprint of government. It enables workers to collect, analyze, and exchange information to make quicker decisions, deliver personalized services, and work from any location at any time. In this vision, workers are empowered with personalized services, choice, and work-life balance in a human network to get their work done and make organizations thrive.
As architects, stewards, and contributors of this network, IT executives must understand the evolving nature of work. The new tools and culture of Web 2.0 represent fundamental shifts that dictate a new, collaborative framework for the workforce.
A Fundamental Framework for Collaboration
The pervasive use of collaboration tools and platforms, including the role of presence data (information on the location and environment of a person you are collaborating with remotely), has become the foundation for interpersonal trust, for quick collaborative decision making, and for delivery of services at the point of need. In this framework, speed is of the essence. Your employees, customers, and partners simply won't tolerate delay.
By using a framework for collaboration, your organization can not only manage this challenge, but also achieve better business results. An effective collaboration framework has four elements:
- Confidence: Accelerate decision making through greater trust
- Agility: Quickly get information to employees in a form they can use, no matter what the time or place
- Group information sharing: Connect all those with the right knowledge to those who need that knowledge
- Empowered work experience: Raise productivity through greater workforce engagement
The Evolving Workplace, a Virtual Workspace
Today's workplace is not bound by the manufacturing plant, central office, or even a permanent physical location. The mobile workforce tends to have different work locations (home, work, the field), varying work styles, work-life balance, and teamwork no matter where or when they are. An individual's workspace is about connecting both who you know (social capital) and what you know (human capital) to deliver a work product. Key elements to recognize are:
- Workforce composition and output: The new model of collaboration changes roles within a workforce, and businesses need to recast the way they support these elements of the workplace to fit the model. Businesses can now tap geographically diverse talent and use social networking applications to connect people and develop products. Think about the number of people in your company who collaborate on projects. These people often don't know each other, don't work for the same organization, or even live in the same country. Open-source code development, YouTube productions, and public distributed-computing projects are only the beginning of this phenomenon.
- Workspace: A 21st-century workspace is defined by the kind of access it provides to the tools, resources, and people needed to get the job done, not by a time clock or being at a desk in sight of a supervisor. The workspace must be virtual because it often doesn't matter when or where work is performed. In fact, the new criterion for "work" is that it needs to happen where people need results from the people who can deliver them. Often that is not at headquarters or in the factory. After all, the information and people (customers, partners, suppliers) with whom workers need to connect aren't always at their own offices, much less in the same time zone or country. In a virtual workspace, employees can be just about anywhere.
- Work styles: As you consider tools to make your workforce more productive, remember that employees' workspaces no longer depend on a desk but rather enable them to exercise different work styles. A typical workday may begin at 7 a.m. by checking email at home from a PDA and end late in the evening with a web conference or videoconference with people in another time zone. While workers have broken free from cubicles and the time clock, they're now constantly interacting with others. The space where they work is no longer a place where they work.
Workforce and workplace sustainability is not just about employees, their needs, and offices. It's about "us," a smart, secure human network of citizens, their governments, and other stakeholders utilizing various work styles and workspaces to achieve desired government outcomes, by:
- Accelerating the ability to recruit, hire, and retain the right talent at the right time
- Ensuring effective use of information to better manage policy outcomes and client expectations
- Improving efficiency and effectiveness through workforce engagement
- Pursuing service innovation by networking stakeholders
- Using technology to transform how organizations interact to break down performance barriers
- Reducing the physical footprint of organizations and the corresponding energy resources and costs