As technology continues to evolve and improve, its adoption in the workplace continues to grow, allowing employees to work virtually from anywhere. That's a boon for many workers, helping them balance competing demands of career and family life.
Technology's evolution also helps employers, of course, who see technology as a way not only to boost productivity but also attract and keep prized talent. It's not surprising then that firms increasingly are providing the tools and resources that workers need to work virtually from anywhere.
It's known as telecommuting, or teleworking, and it's just one of several trends that workplace experts such as Tracey Wilen-Daugenti will be watching as 2012 unfolds. In an interview with AOL Jobs, Wilen-Daugenti says that to succeed at teleworking, employees will need to learn or adopt skills that make them better communicators.
Those include such things as revisiting email and phone etiquette and improving listening skills, which can help bridge gaps in communication that may exist during virtual meetings. Trying to conduct work through online conferences or video linkups is "very different" from what most workers are used to, says Wilen-Daugenti, managing director of Apollo Research Institute, which analyzes education and workforce issues.
Employers, on the other hand, will need to examine the kinds of investments needed in development, training and technology -- such as purchasing mobile devices -- to help employees be more effective teleworkers.
Another trend that she points to is one that's been emerging for years: Workers holding many positions during their work lives and being employed by multiple companies.
"Basically, the new norm for today is to have a job for five years and then have a different job," she says. Further, employers' attitudes about job churn are changing.
In the good old days, companies valued workers who stayed on the job for decades. Today, it's different. "[Employers] are looking for enough time in a firm to prove some sort of achievement," Wilen-Daugenti says. That usually translates to five to seven years at a job, and then it's time to move on.
It's a concept she calls "up and to the right," in which employees after a few years begin to look for that next career move that will result in more responsibility, income and experience.
Companies today aren't just interested in being profitable but also keen on finding areas in which to innovate. Many employers believe candidates with diversified backgrounds can better help the company achieve its goals and are less concerned with where those skills were learned.
Here's more on the trends that Wilen-Daugenti sees emerging in the world of work and business in 2012:
1. Continuous employment: Multiple jobs and employers.
A worker can expect to have 10 different jobs and employers during a lifetime. And workers will need to plan for continuous employment during longer life spans and make education an ongoing commitment. The proliferation of virtual organizations will accelerate this multiple-job trend as more people join work groups from remote locations or choose to work as contractors. Telecommuting is up 400 percent, and by 2015 there will be an estimated 14 million freelancers. Also, due to ongoing economic uncertainty, large businesses are postponing full-time employment, choosing instead to retain workers as contractors until the market recovers.
2. Tiny but mighty: Small businesses and self-employment will drive job creation.
America's small and medium-size businesses and startups create the most jobs during recessions. Baby boomers and other workers who were laid off during the recession will increasingly choose self-employment. Hispanic Americans have made particularly strong gains, with the number of self-employed Hispanics doubling since the year 2000. Watch health care and information technology for major surges in employment in the coming years. The growing need for home health care and more community-based medical centers will boost hiring of health-care workers. Information technology will evolve to serve small businesses, with tech-support squads (which will increasingly include women) attuned to the needs of solo workers and small and medium-size businesses, such as medical and professional offices.
3. Women rising: Working women will impact the marketplace.
As employees and business founder, women will continue to outperform the market. Women-owned businesses are growing in number at twice the rate of all U.S. firms. They contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy and create or maintain 23 million jobs. Studies show that companies led by women tend to be more financially successful than comparable companies run by men, and that women-friendly corporations have higher profits as well. Women will also continue to improve their overall education levels; they currently earn more higher degrees than men.
4. Education matters: Lifelong learning will be vital to career success.
Significant disparities exist between the skills that workers offer and those that employers require, raising the risk that U.S. companies will lose business to foreign competitors with better-educated workforces. To remain employable, workers need to develop higher-order thinking skills, embrace emerging technology and become lifelong learners.
5. Showing up for work: Face time will become a precious commodity.
The increase in teleworking, virtual organizations and mobile device use allows people to set up a work environment anywhere. People no longer have to migrate to a physical location except for important meetings. Face-to-face gatherings will become rare. For those still based in offices, expect work-process compressions such as "purposeful meetings" and deliberately reduced meeting times. The free-form 60-minute meeting is passe, and many managers will opt for 15-to-20-minute meetings with tightly focused agendas.
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