On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy
The End of Organizations as We Know Them
My previous post, The Move Towards Self-Employment, touched upon the decline of organizations. This post will explain and expand upon this phenomenon. Just over a couple of weeks ago, I attended an educational forum on effective teleworking in Walnut Creek, California. James Hall,Vice President of Sales and Business Development at CoreLogic, was the guest presenter. He works virtually and mentioned that meeting face-to-face with employees about once a quarter worked for him. Thus, he extolled the strengths of the virtual organization in stating that organizations that don’t work this way will be left behind.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this message as several telework authors I’ve come across have presaged this as well. For instance, William A. Draves and Julie Coates, authors Nine Shift: Work, Life, and Education in the 21st Century, noted that the sign of a powerful organization will no longer be represented by a tall, beautiful building but by how geographically and/or temporally dispersed it is. (You may read more about Nine Shift here.)
However, when Mr. Hall put the eventual wipe-out of traditional, brick-and-mortar organizations in terms of a “dinosaur-level extinction,” I’ve wondered whether this was meant for dramatic effect ever since. Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why an organization with a decentralized, virtual workforce working at different times (i.e., business can run 24 hours a day with virtual teams working as if in a relay race) would annihilate an organization that limits itself to operating from 9 to 5, all else being equal. Notice that an organization is not even required to have employees at every point around the world to pull this off. Just allow employees to work when they want. Those of us with night-owl tendencies will happily take on the graveyard shift.
In contrast to Mr. Hall’s opinion, I’ve come across a few individuals of the Industrial Age mindset who assert that the outcome of this competition might actually be the reverse. However, this opinion seemed to be hastily expressed out of fear and anxiety that everything can change so profoundly in our lifetimes. In other words, they want to know that their current understanding of how everything is will carry forth into the future so that they can feel safe and secure in their knowledge and understanding of how to succeed in the working world. This very unwillingness to adapt one’s understanding to new circumstances is the issue that will lead to the downfall of organizations that don’t adapt.
So, I agree with the opinion of the many telework authors I’ve come across in speculating that few will adapt. Thus, a great majority of organizations will not relinquish their centralized, commercial real estate space, thereby freeing up capital, and opt for the more competitive, decentralized model. The only chance that brick-and-mortar organizations will see the light is, of course, by facing the difficulties of continuing operations through calamitous events (e.g., major pandemics, natural disasters, terrorist attacks). Moreover, making this transition to working virtually is no easy task for those that are interested in doing so. You may read about all that is involved in the following publications: The Reality of Virtual Work: Is Your Organization Ready? by Aon Consulting and Managing a Remote Workforce: Proven Practices from Successful Leaders by Future of Work.
I can’t guess when this eventual mass culling will take place. However, change is definitely coming and, in this competition, I’d put my money on the organization that works virtually for sure. What are your thoughts on this?