Networked workers bring a significant amount of opportunity to an organization and can significantly increase organizational productivity. From acquiring information quickly and efficiently to immediately responding to company tasks and communicating quickly and cheaply, the web has enabled workers to streamline business processes, increase knowledge, and up efficiency in the workplace. However, easy access to the web has some negatives in a work context, especially concerning time management and security. Free access to web resources ensures the availability of time-wasting websites that distract employees and decrease production, and networked activities open organizations to external infiltration, hacking, and other malicious threats. If an organization can mitigate the threats to company time and resources that easy connection brings, the positives of a connected environment are substantial. If it cannot, then the organization risks losing vital business information and productive hours. Here are a few of the most obvious opportunities and risks associated with networked workers:
Availability: Connected workers are nearly always aware of and engaged with work issues. This provides broader opportunities to solve work-related problems, ensures work remains a priority regardless of time and space, and allows employees to influence work from anywhere. According to Madden and Jones (2008) networked workers who use the internet or email at their job report higher rates of working at home. Overall, 56% of Networked Workers report some at-home work and 20% say they do so every day or almost every day – this indicates a large majority of American workers are available and working outside of the traditional hour structure.
Access to Information: Networked workers have ready access to a massive amount of data, which can inform business decisions, help identify new strategies, and inspire new marketing approaches.
Creativity: According to Friedman (2007) Capabilities create intentions and, in a networked world, there is a whole new universe of things that companies, countries, and individuals can and must do to thrive. The existence of networked resources can inspire new ideas and help individual employees develop and implement creative solutions to business problems. Madden and Jones’ (2008) research indicates network availability does inspire collaboration; the authors indicate that 73% of survey responders say web technologies have improved their ability to share ideas with co-workers.
Communication: Networked workers can communicate easier, quicker, and more efficiently. From email to web chats to synchronous video conferences, today’s networked employee possesses a host of communication enhances that limit the adverse effects of time and space. This enables long-distance collaboration and allows the smooth management of complex design, procurement, and supply functions.
Distraction: Research indicates a significant amount of workers shop, blog, and engage in online gaming at the office (Madden and Jones, 2008). These activities take valuable time away from company tasks and cost companies significant time and cost in lost productivity. While many organizations employ filters and other blocking devices to limit the type of sites employees visit, social media, video, gaming, news, and other sites are often accessible from work computers or employee telephones, which makes it possible for employees to eschew assigned tasks for unrelated web activity through a variety of platforms.
Security: The websites networked workers access may open company systems to threats from hackers, industrial espionage actors, or malicious codes. Many individuals and nations use a variety of active and passive techniques to gather sensitive and proprietary data from countries and companies, and networked workers are a company’s weakest line of defense against a web compromise.
Bias Confirmation: The web’s user-driven model enables browsers to self-select the information they view, which can lead to selectivity and bias over time. For companies, this is dangerous because it serves to limit creativity and create groupthink.
Burnout: According to Madden and Jones (2008), those who are most tethered to work are more likely to say that their gadgets and connectivity have increased demands that they work more hours, with 46% of workers stating demands have intensified and 59% of professionals and managers agreeing. This correlation has implications for work-related burnout – 49% of wired workers stated constant connection increased the level of stress in their job, and 49% of workers stated connection made it harder for them to disconnect from their work while at home. These numbers suggest constant connection is somewhat stressful, and sustained connection may contribute to higher stress levels, job dissatisfaction, and burnout.
While these lists are far from inclusive, they identify some of the most obvious issues surrounding networked employees. In the current work environment, most employees have immediate professional or personal access to the web, and employers must acknowledge this and develop strategies to keep their assets safe, their employees focused, and their missions unchanged. At the same time, employers should work to harness the communication technologies and creative power that the web facilitates; if done correctly through proper policies and management techniques, integrating the web into the life of the typical employee can improve production, inspire creativity, and positively impact the organization.
Friedman, T. (2007). The World is Flat (3rd ed.) New York: Picador.
Madden, M. & Jones, S. (Sep 24, 2008). Networked Workers. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Workers.aspx