ILD 831, Week Five: The Opportunities and Challenges of Networked Workers; Utopia or Dystopia
Networked workers bring both opportunities and challenges to the world of work. A recent survey of leading robotics and artificial intelligence experts (Smith & Anderson, 2014) elicited some widely variated opinions about the future of jobs. So varied, in fact, the reader was left to wonder if the networked worker was leading our future work world toward utopia or dystopia.
In the networked environment, there are several efficiencies to be realized through the inter-connectivity of employees and processes. The automation of repetitive tasks, thus, eliminating the attendant drudgery and employee dissatisfaction, is but one of the benefits. Other authors (Jarche, 2013), have identified additional benefits in networked environments such as shared responsibility for organizational success, accelerated learning, creatively responding to challenges, initiative, and collaborations. The global connectivity of networks is a pathway for a greater diversity in ideas and problem-solving. The network also allows for the analysis of large and complex data sets that otherwise could not be understood.
The challenges associated with networked workers are also several. Many fear that technology will displace many blue-collar and other workers. Worsening the impact of displacement is the realization that the present educational systems seemingly are neither preparing workers for the technological future nor providing the appropriate retraining and retooling of workers who are displaced. (Smith, 2014). Management and the traditional, hierarchical, organizational structures might also find the networked worker to be challenging. This new environment, for example, lends itself to distributed leadership models and to the application of innovations and solutions by employees, without consultation with or the permission of sanctioned leadership. In such environments, the role, vision, foresight, and experience of managers and leaders can be diminished. Actions and innovations may produce positive results or they may only seem appropriate without a full appreciation of a larger context provided by traditional leaders. Fresh eyes on the problem can initiate a solution or further muddy the issue. In these ways, and in others, it can be hard for organizations to control worker activities or hold workers accountable for their use of time and online activities. Traditional leadership will continue to be under pressure since the pace of change in the current technological environment means organizational success will require adaption at a pace faster than traditional leadership can accomplish. Nevertheless, leaders will have an opportunity to employ distributed, resilient leadership models in this environment (Weinberger, 2011).
Freely available internet access to workers certainly has both pros and cons. The network has the ability to scale-up conversations and problem solving very quickly with real time support or disagreement. This rapid dissemination of information can have very positive results. The extent of the information available to workers, however, can be problematic since the internet avoids filters. As Weinberger noted in chapter seven of Too Big to Know, the great mass of information is not curated and presented without context. Knowledge is prospering, he noted, but ignorance is also prospering in this networked environment (Weinberger, 2011). Technological literacy varies greatly between individuals. Some workers may take advantage of technology to identify work opportunities, apply, and promote themselves to potential employers. Other workers may be penalized by their lack of technological literacy or access to technology. Concerns exist that such differences may ultimately lead to a worsening of income inequality. Prospective employers, however, can easily identify positive and negative information about prospective employees through social media and other resources (Smith, 2015). Many employees wonder if technology, as it has in the past, will ultimately create more jobs than it eliminates. Seemingly, opinions depend upon personal views of the networked worker and whether those views trend toward a utopic or dystopic perspective.
Jarche, H. (2013, November 5). Networks are the new companies. Retrieved from
Smith, A. (2015, November 19). Searching for work in the digital era. Retrieved from
Smith, A. & Anderson, J. (2014, August 6). AI, robotics, and the future of jobs. Retrieved
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t
the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room.
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