Managing the mobile workforce – why don’t they just follow the learning profession?

August 20, 2007

In a prior post I wrote about working and learning online. It generated some comments about isolation (while working at home) and about support for learning at work (i.e., does the corporation make learning possible and do they value it). This article, Managing the Mobile Workforce raises similar issues in the context of managing different personalities and cultural influences among a  growing number of mobile workers (25% of the world’s working population by ’09 the study says).

Based on the findings of the Cisco-sponsored study that is the basis of the article, here are some considerations for supporting mobile workers (and I’ve added considerations for the online learners’ experiences below the bullet points):

  • The article says your company must have hired the right people for mobile work – self-motivated, resilient, extrovered and independent (and says they should test for it).

Self-efficacy is something I’m sure we’ve all read about when discussing what makes a good online learner. (If you’re not familiar with the term, see here). What this point says to me if that we must help those who do not think they can learn online – recognize their successes, support them technologically, show them how others have experienced success with learning online; in short – remove the stress from the situation. We cannot make anyone a successful online learner but we can certainly help remove barriers. I certainly don’t think we should test anyone though. (can you imagine… you do not exhibit self-efficacy for online learning – so you can’t learn this way). As if we’re the same everyday. Anyway…

  • The article says you must have hired the right leadership so as not to mismanage the mobile worker. Mismanaging the mobile workers includes lack of communication (isolation factor), too much communication (micromanaging), and those other things that make a bad manager in any environment – lack of interpersonal skills.

To me, this is a duh statement. My experience with good management is the individual who lets you manage yourself by adapting to who you are -some like a lot of communication, some don’t. I think the same holds true for online learners. Some like to read through all the resources you’ve provided, others like to skim and use them when they need them. A good learning experience means you let people manage their own learning while you adapt to who they are (you provide options).

  • The article says you must have the right tools and resources for mobile workers. This might include video, social forums, and of course sufficient connectivity.

As learning professionals, we normally hopefully take resources into account for every experience we design. This is getting tougher I think for IDs and for IT who don’t always know what the setup is like for the mobile worker. Do you design for the lowest common denominator? Make multiple iterations? Do you have the right resources to do this?

  • The article also raises good points about culture.

Localization of content, acceptance of online learning, distribution of workforce, technological infrastructure are all considerations we consider now.

Managing mobile workers is becoming more of a hot topic based on demographic changes, global work environments, and technology infrastructure. I think we’ve got a one-up on this topic in the learning field. We’ve been managing the online learning experience for quite awhile now. Been there. Doing it.

For a talent management spin on this study, see this post by Max Goldman at the SuccessFactors blog.

  • http://christytucker.wordpress.com/ Christy Tucker

    I’m not sure I agree with the idea that people who telecommute need to be extroverts. In fact, I spend a lot more time alone now than I ever did in an office. I really enjoy it, because at heart I am a bit introverted. Someone who is really extroverted and always needs to have someone to talk to would go nuts doing my job though.

    What do you think? Is it better to be introverted or extroverted to be a mobile worker? Or does it depend on the specific job?

  • http://christytucker.wordpress.com Christy Tucker

    I’m not sure I agree with the idea that people who telecommute need to be extroverts. In fact, I spend a lot more time alone now than I ever did in an office. I really enjoy it, because at heart I am a bit introverted. Someone who is really extroverted and always needs to have someone to talk to would go nuts doing my job though.

    What do you think? Is it better to be introverted or extroverted to be a mobile worker? Or does it depend on the specific job?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    I’m a bit introverted too and agree with you about the need to be extroverted to be a (successful) mobile worker. I found the actual study and about extroverts it says, “Mobile workers tend to be more extroverted than their officebound colleagues. They get their energy and motivation from keeping in touch with people and going out and meeting with clients. While we might expect mobile working to appeal more to
    introverts because of its reduced contact with other people, the current research demonstrates that introverts are less likely to be effective in such roles as they are less likely to keep in touch with their team members. Extroverts tend to seek the company of other people and, since the support of social and work networks is important for mental health, extroverts will potentially thrive more as mobile workers than introverts.”
    Perhaps we can say we are online extroverts? The act of joining online networks, blogging, etc. is more extroverted than introverted.

    See http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2007/eKits/MobileWorkforce_071807.pdf for more.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    I’m a bit introverted too and agree with you about the need to be extroverted to be a (successful) mobile worker. I found the actual study and about extroverts it says, “Mobile workers tend to be more extroverted than their officebound colleagues. They get their energy and motivation from keeping in touch with people and going out and meeting with clients. While we might expect mobile working to appeal more to
    introverts because of its reduced contact with other people, the current research demonstrates that introverts are less likely to be effective in such roles as they are less likely to keep in touch with their team members. Extroverts tend to seek the company of other people and, since the support of social and work networks is important for mental health, extroverts will potentially thrive more as mobile workers than introverts.”
    Perhaps we can say we are online extroverts? The act of joining online networks, blogging, etc. is more extroverted than introverted.

    See http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2007/eKits/MobileWorkforce_071807.pdf for more.

  • http://christytucker.wordpress.com/ Christy Tucker

    Interesting. Maybe it’s also that we’re introverts who are comfortable reaching out when we need to and asking for help when we need that.

    I have to say though–I don’t get my energy from keeping in touch with people or going out to meet clients. I recharge by being alone. They’re talking about a different kind of job than mine though; I never meet with people face to face, and they clearly expect based on their research that f2f meetings are part of the job.

    Of course, there is a difference between interacting online and f2f. My husband is quite a bit more introverted than I am, but he does telephone tech support and spends all day on the phone. He says that being on the phone isn’t as draining to him as talking in person would be, so it works out for him. He’s great with the audio-only communication (besides having much more patience than I’d be able to manage). There’s no way he could do a job where he spent an equal amount of time talking to people but doing it f2f instead of on the phone.

    I think your idea is probably more accurate to my experiences than what their research shows; I think I am more extroverted online than I might be in person.

  • http://christytucker.wordpress.com Christy Tucker

    Interesting. Maybe it’s also that we’re introverts who are comfortable reaching out when we need to and asking for help when we need that.

    I have to say though–I don’t get my energy from keeping in touch with people or going out to meet clients. I recharge by being alone. They’re talking about a different kind of job than mine though; I never meet with people face to face, and they clearly expect based on their research that f2f meetings are part of the job.

    Of course, there is a difference between interacting online and f2f. My husband is quite a bit more introverted than I am, but he does telephone tech support and spends all day on the phone. He says that being on the phone isn’t as draining to him as talking in person would be, so it works out for him. He’s great with the audio-only communication (besides having much more patience than I’d be able to manage). There’s no way he could do a job where he spent an equal amount of time talking to people but doing it f2f instead of on the phone.

    I think your idea is probably more accurate to my experiences than what their research shows; I think I am more extroverted online than I might be in person.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/1963_beetle_ma_eh.jpg Dave Ferguson

    “The act of joining online networks, blogging, etc. is more extroverted than introverted.”

    At the same time, the not-necessarily-synchronous nature of those connections allows someone who’s more reserved (or less precipitous?) to manage the flow in a way that suits him.

    I’m sure there are people who’d laugh at the notion that I’m in any way introverted. More pertinent for me is to recognize situations in which I tend to hold back, and to decide whether that’s helpful in a particular circumstance.

    Chiming in on the other side is Garrison Keillor, who observed that while shy persons are always being told to get over their shyness, many people in the world could use a lot more shyness than they have.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/1963_beetle_ma_eh.jpg Dave Ferguson

    “The act of joining online networks, blogging, etc. is more extroverted than introverted.”

    At the same time, the not-necessarily-synchronous nature of those connections allows someone who’s more reserved (or less precipitous?) to manage the flow in a way that suits him.

    I’m sure there are people who’d laugh at the notion that I’m in any way introverted. More pertinent for me is to recognize situations in which I tend to hold back, and to decide whether that’s helpful in a particular circumstance.

    Chiming in on the other side is Garrison Keillor, who observed that while shy persons are always being told to get over their shyness, many people in the world could use a lot more shyness than they have.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    RE: getting over shyness.
    There was a great post a while back that made me feel good. It also confirmed (at least in my mind) society’s pressure to be extroverted. (extroverts don’t need to make excuses for their personality type)
    There has been some literature about online learning helping the shy student because they have time to think and respond.
    http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/how-to-be-a-happy-introvert.html
    I generally disagree with the Cisco findings about this one point. I don’t think being an extrovert is necessary to be successful as a mobile worker unless you’re job is based on you being extroverted (sales?). Maybe I’ll change my mind if I’m out of a job in the future. For a researcher, I think introvert is fine. I think extroverted researcher might be an oxymoron.
    Re: being more extroverted online than in person. I’m that way too. I probably wouldn’t walk up to you at an event and have this conversation. The extroverts wouldn’t give me time to.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    RE: getting over shyness.
    There was a great post a while back that made me feel good. It also confirmed (at least in my mind) society’s pressure to be extroverted. (extroverts don’t need to make excuses for their personality type)
    There has been some literature about online learning helping the shy student because they have time to think and respond.
    http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/how-to-be-a-happy-introvert.html
    I generally disagree with the Cisco findings about this one point. I don’t think being an extrovert is necessary to be successful as a mobile worker unless you’re job is based on you being extroverted (sales?). Maybe I’ll change my mind if I’m out of a job in the future. For a researcher, I think introvert is fine. I think extroverted researcher might be an oxymoron.
    Re: being more extroverted online than in person. I’m that way too. I probably wouldn’t walk up to you at an event and have this conversation. The extroverts wouldn’t give me time to.

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