The Evolution of Work: Mobile Communication

mr-spacelyI never knew exactly what George Jetson did for a living – but what I did know was that his boss, Mr. Spacely, could communicate with him from just about anywhere. This didn’t seem like such a good thing – at least how it was portrayed at that time. But I am slowly changing my view. In our world, the tools may be different, but the theme remains. Mobile communication was inevitable, and it is permeating our workplace. It is up to us to weigh in, manage the weaknesses and maximize its potential.Mr. Spacely may have abused his technological privileges, by brow beating his employee with counter-productive exchanges, but mobile doesn’t have to be a “dirty” word in the workplace. Many seem worried that the “human side” of work will suffer greatly, and that the quality of our work lives will plummet. I am not quite that concerned.

Finding Balance
With any innovation, there is an adjustment period while people struggle to integrate the product or process into everyday life. Integrating mobile effectively with work may be particularly challenging because of the possibility of intrusion – it is an obvious downside. Of course, we should be concerned about the inherent downfalls of a technologically jammed life.

There has been continued sentiment to “contain” the boundaries of work – in an effort to improve the overall “quality” of our lives. However, containing work may have never been a viable goal. (Although the parameters of those boundaries and the definition of “quality” will vary by the individual.) I can’t seem to confine my thoughts concerning work to my desk, and I’m not sure that I would want to. We are bound to think about our work and its challenges outside of the office – when we are commuting, eating dinner or watching a movie. That is not a bad thing – but how we utilize mobile to capture how we function as thinking people productively, is key. Simply because technology will allow our work lives to expand – does not necessarily dictate that it  becomes a 24/7 operation.

We have to manage technology – and not the other way around. It is an opportunity and not a sentence.

We are learning that to excel, organizational cultures must emphasize openness and collaboration, and if technology contributes to that cause, it’s a win-win situation. Helping employees become more effective through mobile should be a priority – but this is not a race – it is a process. Mobile could tax us further and contribute to our downfall, but there are situations where mobile just makes a lot of sense. It’s already in our pockets. So why not try.

A natural fit: Idea management & collaboration
Developers are challenged with the task of determining what really translates into mobile and what simply doesn’t work. Mobile doesn’t seem to be suited to duplicate a PC desktop – however, with certain workplace challenges the advantages are there. As explained by Benjamin Robbins, Principal at Palador, “If there is one aspect that a mobile device should greatly excel at over a PC, it is collaboration”. Robbins is really putting this notion to the test. He has made the committment to use only his mobile device, and the adaptations which he creates for an entire year. (Read about his journey here). The purpose of this exercise is two-fold. Not only does he want to explore what can be done with a mobile device – but what can’t be done effectively, as well.

As he explained, there is a natural fit between mobile and functions of work such as brainstorming. With mobile this is an anytime proposition, so you don’t have to be at your desk to create. The idea that you can share notes and ideas with colleagues, across time zones and brick & mortar walls is key. Robbins explains that, “Discovering what aspects of mobile that can enhance virtual learning is key.” He goes on to explain that we could view mobile as a workplace classroom without boundaries. “There are endless possibilities for idea sharing and the visualization of those ideas with mobile.”

Picking up the communication slack
Some mobile communication tools are born out of a strong need in the workplace. LUA, for example, the brain child of Michael DeFranco and his team, has an organic feel both in its inception and implementation. A recent graduate of the TechStar start-up accelerator program, DeFranco explained to me that LUA developed because of a gap in the communications market. Designed for fast paced, field-driven environments, LUA provides communication capabilities to industries that in a former life, were primarily walkie – talkie driven. (How can we forget the communication nightmare of first responders to the 9/11 catastrophe?)

Other industries such as film production, sales organizations and construction, where quickly disseminating evolving information can also spell success or failure can utilize mobile to become more effective. With the ability to upload and distribute documents, initiate instant conference calls, and sync team communication between desktop computers and mobile devices – LUA fulfills a long list of field communication needs. Even freelancers can also be enabled to access the network temporarily – a must for quickly changing workforces.

Facilitating virtual team effectiveness
The potential of mobile to facilitate teaming is evident – and those who teach virtual teaming techniques see great potential. As explained by Illysa Izenberg, of Strategy and Training Partners, LLC, “Technology enhances team communication when the warmest and most connective and inclusive tools are utilized (such as video-conferencing, online whiteboards, and shared intranet sites).These tools focus on people communicating openly yet respectfully to discuss concerns, share documents and personal information on intranet “walls” to collaboratively resolve challenges.”

Creative platforms such as Jostle, which help teams communicate and excel, also seem to be a natural for an extension into mobile. Jostle which emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teaming in more traditional work environments, is in the process of adapting its capabilities to both iPads and smart phones. With strong visuals to help employees map out their work lives and learn about other team members, the platform helps to build engagement.

The emphasis remains on the people side of the equation, as helping people connect should remain a mobile goal. As explained by Brad Palmer, “Collaboration happens in real-time. With mobile, teamwork becomes much more dynamic and responsive, greatly enhancing the engaging experience of working alongside each other to get work done.” Moreover, Jostle allows the inclusion of employees that don’t have work email addresses or desk phone numbers with its mobile form, an advantage to many organizations.

As time goes on we will undoubtedly see more progress in the adaptation of mobile into daily work life. It will be interesting to see where it takes us in the next few years. At that time we’ll have to pause – and teach Mr. Spacely a few things.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. She teaches workplace effectiveness strategies to employees and businesses. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Careers in Social Media

Last night I revisited a simply hilarious 2008 IBM commercial which illustrated the emergence of social media in the workplace. It featured a young employee dabbling on a social networking site at his desk (presumably Facebook).

When his manager enters, she inquires as to what the heck he is doing. He lets her know that he is exploring “social media” and that he has 800+ friends. He boldly adds that he can find “anyone”.  “Really?”, she says, and proceeds to rattle off directions for him to locate a group of international financial experts, with 10+ years of experience that speak Cantonese.  “By the way” she adds, “they need to hit the ground running by Monday.” His reply: “I don’t have any friends like that.”

Social media in the workplace

Ten years ago we would have never predicted the explosion of careers in social media. Where social media was once viewed as a diversion to the real work at hand, it has evolved into a key essential for many businesses. Organizations of all kinds have developed the belief that leveraging social media is an organizational must. From small businesses to large organizations, the emerging value of social media is apparent.

The evolution of jobs in social media has been a fantastic process to observe. Early roles concentrated on monitoring the “community” of users who interact with an organization or product. But these early roles have given way into an entire genre of social media jobs, seen as integral to the functioning of the organization.

Universities are reporting that recruiters are visiting campuses seeking candidates for these new roles. As discussed by, Scott Tsuchiyama, Community Manager at the University of Michigan Career Center, “We started noticing these sorts of dedicated social media positions crop up around 3 years ago…Most often, employers are looking for strong communication and research skills for these positions.” He goes on to explain that, “some organizations are creating positions devoted entirely to social media, many other organizations include social media responsibilities within more traditional roles in marketing, communications, public relations, and community relations departments”.

There is also growing recognition concerning the impact of social media on many related content areas. According to Linda Gross, Associate Director Career Services Network, at Michigan State, “The reality is that social media has become so prevalent it is no longer a specialty area, but an expected competency associated with digital media”. You will find employer competency and job function expectations for social media incorporated in public relations, organizational communications, advertising and marketing positions among others”.

Types of social media roles
Many types of social media roles have evolved. Here are a few of them:
    • Community Manager –  An early iteration in the social media model, this type of role has the responsibility of interacting with customers and client bases.
    • Social Media Designer – This individual would be responsible for developing the visual, or “look and feel” components of an organization’s social media strategy. A background in the visual and graphic arts is a plus.
    • Social Media Strategist – This role clarifies social media goals and outline the paths to accomplish them. This group of individuals would develop an entire social media strategy for an organization.
    • Content Specialist – This role concentrates on the content of the actual messages sent though social media channels such as company blogs and Facebook pages. Individuals in these roles often have a journalism or PR background.
    • Business Analytics –  This role entails using available analytics to monitor the social media presence of a product or organization. Working knowledge of various tools such as Google Analytics,  Radian 6, or YouTube Insight may be required.

How you get there and what you might find

At this point the field still appears to be quite open, as a well-defined, “set in stone” curriculum to land these jobs has not yet emerged. Programs at colleges and universities are beginning to pop up – but you’ll likely require another core skill set to pair with your interest in social media. A variety of disciplines can serve as a foundation for a role with a social media component. As described by Sean Nicholson, Director of Social Media, at InTouch Solutions, a Digital Agency in Kansas City, “You can start with a background in Computer Science, Communication, PR , Journalism or even Psychology. But the common thread is the desire and ability to connect and network with others through social media platforms.”

The importance of this mindset is shared by Chris Bowler, VP of Social Media at Razorfish, “Social media is essentially about relationship building and story telling. Those who succeed are likely to be highly creative or analytically driven.” Razorfish, for example, employs a large social media team of over 50 across the nation. The organization has developed various social media roles, at varying levels, ranging from social media coordinators (entry-level and likened to a community manager) to Social Media Directors (would oversee a team and advise clients). These  roles help clients paint a picture of their products and services utilizing social media and monitor message effectiveness.

Paths to social media roles

Just as roles in this realm have evolved, many with early careers in social media experienced a career evolution as well. Scott Bishop, Director of Social Media at Bozell, recalls his path, “I began with a degree in marketing in 2001.”, he explained. He found his early interest in social media was fanned by a desire to understand the psychology of  buying behavior  –  it was simple for him to see how this developing medium could apply. “Over time I became active in social media clubs, where we were all just figuring out the landscape.” He continued to sharpen his skills while networking with others in the space, which helped drive his  social media career journey forward. He finally committed to a full-time social media role in 2009.

In today’s world, you need to assess whether your core skill set would meld with a social media role. Depending on these skills you may land in varying aspects of social media – such as content creation vs. analytics. For example, those with a journalism background would be most appropriate for content development. Those with a quantitative orientation would be most suited to social media analytics. However, as Nicholson states, ” Being well-rounded can be a real advantage. A general background in business is quite helpful. Knowing how to connect social media to an overall business strategy is highly important.”

The world of social media seems to be changing daily – with this changing tide comes the evolution of a myriad of jobs in this arena. It is entirely possible that one of them is for you.

Note: If you are interested – you can observe an ongoing discussion of this list of social media roles discussed on Focus, by Jeremiah Owyang.

Another Note: Razorfish offers an internship program – you can get more information at http://www.razorfish.com/#/careers.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Coworking

The evolution of work has continued a fascinating process whereby the structure of work changes to meet the state of the external world. In a previous post, I have discussed the development of permalancers and slashers. These groups have grown significantly in recent years, partially in response to the ongoing challenges of economy and the job market. To work is to live — and the structure of that work has had to flex with the times. For many, working independently (or even remotely) has become the best and most viable option.

Freelancers have become a force in today’s world of work. (In the US alone, there are over 40 million independent workers.) Moreover, with less physical real estate — an increasing number of employees work remotely — while still affiliated with an organization than ever before. With the emergence of this larger “solo” presence, more and more of us are looking for innovative methods to stay productive while on our own. But, we are challenged to do so without the added social benefit of coworkers or colleagues by our side. The problems solo workers face can run deep — and the accompanying symptoms often fester undetected.

We are social beings after all, and loneliness can be a formidable challenge. As a psychologist, the thought of millions sitting alone in front of a computer monitor, challenges much of what I have learned about meaningful work. We are designed for interaction and collaboration — and to many freelancers this state of  “aloneness” can become untenable. Studies show that perceived loneliness can lead to multiple problems, including sleep disturbances and the inability to fight disease. People need people. Certainly as individuals, we may have a unique level of contact that works for us. However, most people benefit from some level of human interaction in their work life. We may not always require coworkers to help us become productive every day, but to have the option is often preferable.

For others the basic notion of working at home is the issue, where the myriad of distractions can break concentration, provide ample opportunities for procrastination and limit productivity. To make matters worse, these distractions are always present and available in a home setting. As a result, many find that a location specifically designated for work is the best option – increasing the opportunity for both focus and effectiveness.

Enter coworking

Coworking is a brilliant option. Personally, I find the founding principles of the movement inspiring. The tenets, which include openness, collaboration and a sense of community, are workplace attributes which individuals working on their own are  challenged to replicate within a home office. Of  key note, is that coworking is the product of evolution, and not a momentary blip. As described by Anna Thomas, former Chief Happiness Officer at Loosecubes, “People talk about coworking as a hot trend, which inherently implies that it’s not sustainable. In fact, shared workspaces provide the opportunity for one to create a more sustainable (and potentially fulfilling) work lifestyle.”

Indeed, this movement has fulfilled real needs within the work life realm. As explained by Jenifer Ross, owner of W@tercooler, a coworking space located in Tarrytown, New York, “The coworking environment offers a sense of community and camaraderie, shared beyond industry specific backgrounds.” Moreover, to some the experience can be described as a “Cheers” of office spaces – a place to call their own, connect and combat that feeling of “office homelessness”.

What you gain

Utilizing a coworking space is a clever option for freelancers, slashers, and start-ups, and those who find themselves working remotely without a workday “destination”. As described by Kevin W. Grossman, Co-Founder of the TalentCulture Community “The economic environment has forced the hand of adaptability, and coworking helps to motivate solopreneurs”.

Coworking spaces provide the basics, as well as some of the social-emotional benefits of an office community. Office essentials such as access to conference rooms, copy/fax capabilities and locked storage are often provided. But, other perks such as sponsored events like hackathons, pop-up shops for entrepreneurs and networking events really seem to make these spaces feel like home.

A developing segment of co-working spaces, such as Chicago’s  Enerspace, have cleverly combined other components that support or enhance work life. The brain child of University of Chicago’s Booth School alum Jamie Russo, Enerspace addresses key heath and wellness initiatives that might affect work life. With scheduled classes in meditation, an on-site fitness studio and a full-service kitchen – heath, wellness and work, combine in one unique space.

Old problems could still emerge

Of course, some of the problems you experienced when working at home, could still occur in another workspace. (Who could forget the classic TedX talk about offices?) As with any work environment, distractions do exist – and problems such as interruptions, could still befall your time in a coworking space. Specific personal productivity issues, not impacted by a work space, must be addressed as well. For example, if you had a tendency to procrastinate at home, you may see the same issue reemerge. Be sure to utilize the tactics and routines that help you remain focused and on track.

I encourage you to visit the Coworking Wiki page for more information about coworking. Also consult sites such as LiquidSpace and OpenDesks, to help you book that space.

One last note: If you find that perfect place — be sure to share your good fortune with others.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Permalancers, Slashers & the Career Pivot

Change is inevitable, and when a strained job market has to flex with the increasing pressure of a sluggish economy, something has got to give. Not necessarily to the betterment of organizations. Not necessarily to the advantage of employees. What occurs is simply Darwinian theory applied to work. Jobs evolve – and mutate.

The structure of work and its evolutionary past
Often the impetus for the change comes from the external environment, and over the course of time jobs have changed to meet the state of the world. From the inception of the role of apprentice to effectively transfer needed skills through the generations – to the needed presence of women in the workforce during World War II – the world of work has changed to adapt to the state of the world.

In our current economy, organizations can be fragile and funds are often tight – limiting the number of full-time employees that can be supported. In response, changes have occurred to the structure of work to deal with these imposed constraints. Whether these changes are transitory in nature, or here to stay remains unclear.

Trends to note & observe:

  • Permalancing – The notion of permalancers, those freelancers who spend long periods of time at an organization without actually being considered a full-time employee, raises all sorts of legal and ethical questions. Of particular concern is the obvious lack of job security and its eventual impact upon job satisfaction and performance. In a nutshell, these employees do not enjoy the same benefits or security as other employees within the organization. Some have viewed the positives of the arrangement, as flexible and realistic.  However, are these employees able to fully commit to organizational goals? Are freelancers distracted by their search for a permanent home?
  • Slashing – When full-time jobs are few in number, employees might have to take on more than one role to meet their financial obligations and fill a 40+ hour work week. Slashing, a type of career “multi-tasking”, has provided some workers the opportunity to pay the bills and stay afloat. Many may actually enjoy the variety of their roles – others may prefer a less dissociative career path. Sometimes, slashing can allow an individual to pursue an entrepreneurial dream, while still working at another role. But, how many of these individuals will choose to stick with this option when the economy stabilizes? What are the long-term ramifications for careers and pay?
  • Career Pivoting – Pivoting often entails a change in work setting or industry, where components of the current skill set are applied to a new role. These more “controlled” career path revisions seem to be occurring more and more often. Often the pivot emerges out of the need to follow the work, in other cases to pursue an improved career fit. How pivoting is actually accomplished will be a research focus, as vehicles such as mid-career internships become more popular. How many career changers are choosing a pivot instead of a more drastic career change? Are there opportunities for career pivoting within organizations? Will internships be available for those who require a mid-career revision?

The evolution of our world of work will continue in the coming years.  Learning how these changes impact employees and organizations is certainly the next step.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.