Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 21st Century Employee Model - distributed workforce

Dan Pink chronicled the growing ranks of people who work for themselves in his 2001 book, Free Agent Nation. Many people may have started their own shops to become a part of the freelancer nation, even larger organizations can use freelance workers or others in alternative employment arrangements to help meet some of staffing needs.

In the multimedia/video/film world, experts come together to create, write, shoot, edit and distribute products. Such ad hoc teams form the basis of knowledge work that is creative, and profit-focused.

Such ad hoc project may involve work that requires less than a full complement of staff to complete and has immediate benefits. The work may involve frequent discussions between client (requester) and the team. One of the difficulties of having unaffiliated exerts work in groups on a project (software development, a video, a research paper, etc.) is that there are always a few who do not get fully involved in the project. This is an easy trap to fall into. Usually, one or two of the team members know much more about the topic, tools, or subject matter, and so end up putting the majority of the project, document, proposal, or whatever, together. Others are more adept at creativity, spreadsheets, running the software tools, etc., so these people end up doing a few specific tasks. Problems arise when one or two do all of the work. The rest of the group, with a lack of activities to keep them busy, often end up left out, underutilized, and even put off. Shortly, the stakeholders get frustrated with disorganization and the 80/20 rule kicks in: one or two people do the lion's share. For most, this lessens the benefit of such ad hoc cooperatives.

This can be easily avoided.

Staring out with a strong plan, and getting participant buy-in upfront makes the way forward clear. Providing an easy-to-understand project plan (perhaps with a GANTT or other visualization) and schedule keeps everyone focused on the goals. Assigning and tracking tasks, with everyones' input, results in measurable progress. If you have chosen your team members well, self-motivation will be evident.

It is not uncommon for many of us work regularly with colleagues based in different buildings, cities, countries, and even continents. Members of the work group may be in different time zones, speak different languages, and be of different cultures. Providing feedback and encouraging communication -- in real time or off-line via comments, discussion forums, email or even texting -- promotes bonding and ensures team members know they are valued.

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