The Emerging ‘Matrix Worker’

Here’s an increasingly common scenario: imagine that you’re a manager in the Boston office of a mega size systems and services company. A job requisition opens up and allows you to fill a position you’ve had vacant for months.

However, since the company is trying to maintain a level head count, you must first attempt to fill the job from within before looking outside. With 100,000 employees there is a good chance that one of them has the right skills-matrix you desire.

However, most of them are located somewhere among the hundreds of other office locations your company maintains around the globe. And so you look for, find, and hire Richard, a well qualified candidate out of San Jose.

No matter that Richard is three time zones and 3,000 miles away. You’re comfortable because you both have high speed internet, instant and text messaging in addition to good ol’ email, and perhaps a groupware package, and cell phones to keep you in constant touch.

Here’s another increasingly common scenario: another of your employees quietly mentions she’s having trouble getting her youngest son off to school in the morning. Similarly being home to help care for her husband’s aging parents later in the day is also becoming increasingly important (a familiar theme to a growing number of people).

She says she actually has plenty of hours in the day to do everything, including her demanding job, but she’s having a hard time working around these family issues and keeping up with “normal” office hours at the same time.

Finally, she pops the question: “Since Rich is working productively out on the West Coast and we only ever see him ‘virtually’ through conference calls and e-meetings, do you think I can work from home too?”

And so the dominos fall.

As a manager, it is incredibly hard to justify how one employee can be remote and part of the same group, doing the same work, and not allow others to exploit the same flexibility. So you make a decision to embrace the opportunity and learn how to properly manage these increasingly common situations.

Working from home can also reduce stress; a serious concern for young families trying to raise children and maintain two income streams.

It is estimated there are 80 million “information workers” in the U.S. Typically only 20-to-30 percent of these people are “location dependent,” that is, they physically need to be at a set location to do their jobs.

This means there could be as many as 60 million information workers who could actually be happier, more productive, and spending less time (and way less money) waiting in traffic to get to and from an office every day.

Online Skills Databases

Let’s push the working from home phenomenon a step further. It should by now be abundantly clear that the convergence of wired and wireless forms of computing and communications has enabled the portable office environment.

That statement should come as no surprise to readers here. However, let’s combine this well-known phenomenon with another one that is still emerging, the online skills database.

We are all subject-matter experts in at least one particular area. Skills databases now exist within a number of large companies that allow them to run even more successfully with fewer full-time employees by matching available skills to specific project requirements.

The amount of detail put into these databases is stunning.

In the engineering world, for example, every skill and realm of knowledge that an engineer develops while working on a project is summarized within the database. It could be a new computer language such as C# or mastery of a new Java library or a new computer platform or even use of some end-user application such as an accounting package.

Similar independent databases are now emerging outside of large corporations. These databases tend to be limited to specific industry segments or particular geographies, but they are nonetheless an emerging, low-cost, high-value source of human capital information.

As a result, a growing number of information workers will realize the power now available to them by combining working from home with emerging online skills databases. By doing this they can create their own high-value work environments since they no longer need a company to do it for them.

As more and more people allow their skills to be better published and exploited, a new form of professional, the “Matrix Worker,” will emerge.

John Webster is the founder and senior analyst at Data Mobility Group. (This article contains excerpts from “Inescapable Data – Harnessing the Power of Convergence” by John Webster and Chris Stakutis.)