Knowledge workers have significantly changed since the days of the Industrial Revolution. In that era, factories managed workers, communication was distant and information was shared via the telegraph or horse-drawn carriage. Times have changed drastically and quickly within the past few generations, paving the way for high expectations in the modern workplace.
Today, knowledge workers are information professionals that use the Internet as their global information sharing tool. The term “knowledge worker” can be traced to Peter Drucker and his 1959 book, “Landmarks of Tomorrow.” Half a century later, the definition is still somewhat vague. The work these people perform is sometimes offered as an opposite to manual labor: non-repetitive work that involves a degree of problem solving. One thing people do agree on: Almost every worker that touches data in a business is, to some degree, a knowledge worker. As the revolution continues, new knowledge workers want to use modern technological capabilities in the way they are designed and intended to be used.
One inescapable trend is emerging. Knowledge workers no longer cram into a small cubicle at 8a.m., take a break at noon for lunch and wrap up a slow, hard afternoon of work at 5 p.m. Today, we are amidst a revolution, just as Tracy Chapman sang: “Finally the tables are starting to turn, talking ‘bout a revolution.” As technology continues to advance, how we work has evolved, becoming more accommodating, and expectations for the ideal workplace have become more demanding. The knowledge worker is moving forward without thinking of going back to what is now viewed as an ancient practice. In 2010 it was estimated that there were more than 26 million “telecommuters” in the U.S., and all signs point to accelerated growth of the “virtual workforce” in coming years.
Even in the last 15 years, the way we use technology has changed drastically. The way the baby boomer generation once worked – when a cubicle was filled with a desk, a big clunky computer, sticky notes attached to the computer screen and the sound of a fan blowing through the computer’s tower -- is a thing of the past. To process a case, an employee was required to call a different person to resolve each issue in a given case. This meant spending hours, days and even weeks to resolve a case, taking up valuable time, money and energy. This process is the way Generation Xers were trained, and they entered the workforce practicing these methods.
Generation Xers have witnessed the relentless changes technology has brought. They have seen the computer become a necessity and email become a primary form of efficient communication. And now Gen Xers are becoming the C-suite and are empowering line of business managers. It is crucial for this generation to recognize how the incoming generation, the Millennials, works most efficiently and productively. As Millennials flood into the workforce and Generation Xers move into the managerial roles, the baby boomers are likely to retire or take on consulting positions. Throughout these generations, the way work is done has changed. The Millennials are a determined, hardworking generation, raised with the influence of technology and real-time communication – both Web-based and mobile capable – at their fingertips. This has carried into their workplace habits, paving the way for what they view as the ideal workplace – working when they want, how they want and where they want. Millennials aren’t taking the first job thrown at them; rather they are waiting for the job that will accommodate the work environment they envision.
All this is important when considering the knowledge worker of today and of the future. When the best possible knowledge worker is hired, provided the right tools and given the right training, success is inevitable and the job gets done well. Millennials are looking for cloud-based tools. These tools support the modern approach to work, which is to be productive anywhere at any time
Knowledge workers are not process management-oriented, which will dramatically change business process management, perhaps even causing it to is fade away. For Millennials, productivity is people-oriented. Company-wide communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing provide the best results. Knowledge flowing in multiple directions, across the company and not just among management, is the most effective way to achieve a collaborative environment. The platform is set for the future. Today’s Internet is being used as a global information sharing tool, enabling real-time, mobile communications and making globalization a reality.
According to a Gartner study, by 2013, 40 percent of knowledge workers will remove their desk phones and won’t work from a cubicle or office. Instead, these workers will work from their current location via tablets and smartphones. We have come a long way from distant communication in the workplace and time-intensive information sharing. Enterprise software developers are spending copious amounts of time and money to determine what businesses need to do with their software to monetize and benefit from these developments.
According to the same study, by 2014, 40 percent of workers will telecommute, marking a significant milestone for the way work is done and shared among the enterprise. Gartner further predicted that broadband will become universal and enterprises will become mobile. So, rather than asking, “Are we there yet?,” we should be asking, “How long until everyone recognizes the future is now?”
Today’s knowledge workers are just as productive inside the office as out. Even without universal broadband, they are already removing desk phones, having content mobilized to telecommute and using cloud-based platforms as a tool to get the job done. Cloud-based tools enable knowledge sharing and the ability to obtain the information necessary to answer questions and maximize productivity. Companies that are the first to recognize this paradigm shift in work will surpass their competitors.