2014 - A survival guide

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[date-stamp]The year 2014 is now some months old, and we have some experience of the changes and challenges the New Year has brought with it. Some trends are new, some trends are gaining more momentum from last year, and some trends have died. For those of us who deal with large amounts of information (which is all of us), what has changed and how do we cope with the changes? Here's a quick survival guide.

 

Which trends to handle in 2014?

Let's take a look at the most prominent trends for workplaces in 2014.

More and more remote workers in distributed companies (telework)

This is a trend that has been going on for a while now, and it keeps getting stronger. It is no longer uncommon for a company to have employees that are located all over a country, or even in multiple countries. When recruiting new employees and trying to keep existing employees in the company, the talent of the employees is emphasized more than geographical location. Talented employees are crucial for most businesses, and attracting and keeping these onboard is something of major focus. So when a talented person applies for an available position in a company, it is not a blocker that this person lives somewhere else other than where the company has its offices. Same thing if a trusted and valuable employee wants to move to another part of the country, this is normally not a problem. There are exceptions to this trend though; most famous is the ban on working from home that Marissa Mayer put in place in 2013 at Yahoo. This trend has not been widely picked up by other companies though, so the trend towards more remote workers continues.

Increased switch to cloud applications

Most companies find it beneficial to switch to cloud applications for common things like email systems, CRM, file storage and customer support applications. As with most trends, there are exceptions here as well; but the switch to cloud applications is something most companies either are considering doing or are in the middle of doing. I looked into the benefits of moving to cloud applications in a previous blog post, and using cloud applications makes perfect sense in a work environment characterized by a lack of a single, fixed geographical location.

Always-on work environments

Working 8 AM to 5 PM (and then you're done) is a thing of the past. The trend towards more remote workers also contributes to this, since co-workers might find themselves in different time zones. In addition, co-workers need to communicate, so some of this communication may happen outside of normal work hours. The need to respond to customers and partners in other time zones also contributes to this. Plus of course a classic explanation for working overtime: tight deadlines. The widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets also contribute towards this trend, since employees now can easily connect to cloud-based systems used by their employers and continue working when having a free moment in the evening or on weekends.

 

How to cope with the trends

Given what's going on, how can we best cope with these trends?

Knowledge is power - for everyone.

Knowing what's going on and what your co-workers are working on in a project is crucial for a distributed team with remote workers to function properly. The remote workers add some additional requirements to the infrastructure in a company, like the use of information sharing tools and making the same information available to all employees regardless of physical location. I looked into tools that are suitable for companies with remote workers in a blog post a while ago, and tools for efficient company-internal communication are especially important when remote workers are present in a company. In order to be efficient, employees must have access to all information that is relevant for their job. Not having the right tools available and limiting the access to information results in employees reinventing the wheel and being less efficient and productive than they could have been. Therefore, investments in good collaboration tools is crucial to create an efficient and productive team when remote workers are involved. So a good strategy is to emphasize good information access for everyone, regardless of physical location.

24/7 operation.

Some companies have customers that are both geographically close and far away; this is especially true for software-as-a-service companies and specialized consultancy companies for instance. Moreover, the larger the company, the more likely it has customers far and wide. Adopting a 24/7 way of operation can be a way to go in this scenario, in order to give partners and customers good and immediate responses to requests to your company. For a customer not to get a response quickly on a request does not leave a good impression. Therefore, when your customers are all over the globe and in many time zones, so should your company be. The trend towards always-on work environments makes this easier and benefits the company greatly when it comes to decreased response times.

 

So, how to survive?

Embrace the trends-do not fight them. When recruiting new employees, this is especially important. If a company is known for a restrictive policy for employees working remotely, this may prevent well-qualified people from even applying for jobs.

Fighting the trends means you risk losing talent and not being as responsive as your competitors are, which is dangerous. There has been speculation that Yahoo has lost some talent because of their ban on working from home, which seems plausible since many people cherish the freedom to work from where they want. Yahoo, which is a well-known company for attracting talents in other ways as well, may get through with this; but lesser known companies may face serious problems because of such a policy.

People looking for a new employer also look at the tools used in the company. If there is only old software that has not been replaced because "it works", then steer clear. To keep and attract talented people, keep your toolboxes filled with the best tools available.

So the essence is: Do not try to be reactionary and turn the clock back 10 or 20 years, embrace the trends and use them to strengthen your company.