Busy Bees

ImageJust when you thought you simply could not be any busier at work, Tom Austin, Vice President and Gartner fellow, proclaims that our jobs will soon “become less routine, characterized by increased volatility, hyperconnectedness and swarming” (2010).  Swarming? Really?

According to Austin (2010), by 2015 “people will swarm more often and work solo less.  They’ll work with others with whom they have few links, and teams will include people outside the control of the organization.”

Given the impact of technology and globalization on our work, perhaps it isn’t difficult to imagine a world in which we’re all ‘swarming.”   Competition is increasingly at a global level and the expanding availability of technology has truly flattened our world (Friedman, 2007).  The growing worldwide use of social media has had a particularly significant impact.  As Shirky (2008) wrote, “A million times a day someone tries some new social tool” (p. 295).

At my workplace, the use of social media tools most certainly continues to grow and expand.  We have Facebook and Twitter accounts for our school, for most of the academic programs within our school and for many of our social clubs and student organizations, as well.  We have an internal Wiki for our faculty and staff, LinkedIn pages for our alumni and websites in Chinese and Russian to market our programs to an expanding global pool of potential students.

Inside our school, technology abounds.  We have classrooms equipped with Echo360 technology, multiple teleconference rooms and a soon-to-be completed digital broadcast studio.  We also are home to the smallest physical library within our university.  The fact is that you don’t need extra shelf space for digital textbooks and resources.

My typical work assignments also increasingly reflect a pattern of ‘swarming” as both the use of technology and the impact of globalization expand. Just this week, for example, I participated in conference calls with colleagues in Beijing, email exchanges with an academic program sponsor in Tokyo and a streaming guest lecture that included women from Afghanistan participating via Skype.  I also traveled to and from New York on Amtrak where almost every single passenger was either online, watching a movie on their mobile device, listening to music or reading on their kindle or tablet.

Technology and our ability to connect, communicate and collaborate on a global scale is revolutionizing the way we work.  As Husband (2013) writes, “this impact is growing into massive change in the ways we do things and behave.”  As a result, our workplaces are being transformed into a wirearchy as “rapid flows of information erode the pillars of rigid traditional hierarchies” (Husband, 2013).

Husband (2013) predicts that while the last thirty years have been about “the building of the technical infrastructure that provides an interconnected world,” the next fifty years will be focused on our ability to adapt to the “interconnected world and workplace” that will most certainly keep us all ‘swarming’ (Husband, 2013).


Friedman, T. L. (2007). The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. New York: Picador / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Goasduff, L. (2010, August 4th). Gartner Says the World of Work Will Witness 10 Changes During the Next 10 Years. Retrieved from Gartner: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1416513

Shirky, C. (2008).  Here Comes Everybody – The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin Press.


12 thoughts on “Busy Bees

  1. bonnybarr says:

    Interesting description of how technology is transforming your workplace. I am curious how the faculty and staff were engaged/trained/helped to adopt all the new innovations? In my experience a certain amount of upfront time is needed to get staff to adopt innovations, and then staff have to prioritize setting aside time to practice, utilize and engage with the technology. In a past university job that I held on a satellite campus we had a state of the art smart classroom equipped with synchronous video/audio capabilities. However instead of utilizing the technology the home campus insisted that our students travel 70 miles and pay for parking to physically attend the joint class on the home campus. Their rationale? “It is too hard to reserve the smart classroom on our end”. Extremely frustrating!

    • jvap2013 says:

      Bonny – that is a VERY frustrating story about your former university experience. But I think it is very telling. There are some folks who simply can’t – or won’t – adapt to technology use. You can offer training opportunities, set up help-line’s and provide online assistance – all to no avail with some of our colleagues. Like most universities we have a variety of training sessions for just about every technology on campus. Faculty, staff and students can attend these trainings for free – but many never take advantage of such offerings. We did – and continue to provide training for anyone who would like to learn how they can best utilize the new technologies that are part of our new school. Thankfully, many faculty and staff are taking advantage of these opportunities. But we also chose to provide technical assistance on-site during school hours. These staff members ensure that everything from PPT projectors to Echo 360 technology are ready and working for faculty when they arrive for class. Interestingly, I have noticed that some of our staff adapt better to the technology after a few weeks of regularly watching one of our techs set up their class. Sometimes with technology, it seems that fear of the new and unknown is the enemy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bonny !

      • Welcome to my world…since my day job @ the Center for Teaching Excellence is faculty development for teaching and learning with digital technology. Of 3,000 faculty here, around 300 regularly take advantage of our services, which keeps us busy. But that would suggest a large segment are either DIY or not interested. Hard to gauge.

        This August we opened a new state-of-the-art (if that term is even accurate any more) classroom building with classrooms equipped not only with dual projection and web conferencing / Echo360 capture capabilities, but adaptive furniture so that the rooms can be easily reconfigured class to class for small group work. The first week, we had student IT workers in each room as class started, wearing easily identifiable T-shirts. Our survey data suggests that the technology uptake was enhanced by their presence as the semester got rolling.

      • jvap2013 says:

        We are in the process of conducting a survey of our faculty, staff and students on the effectiveness of our move and to gain insight on their thoughts on the first few months in the new school. Based on what we are hearing so far, the only major concerns relate to miscommunication (which NEVER occurs in universities) over issues such as new identification cards, parking and building access. We have found that the decision to have I.T./Tech staff available on-site may have been the best decision we made. Just this weekend we held a major event in our brand new auditorium. We had 100 students, many faculty and area business leaders in attendance. Just prior to the event, our faculty coordinator realized that the microphone, PPT and equipment were not functioning. Thanks to the I.T. staff on-site we were able to correct the issue immediately. It was a power issue that faculty could have never solved on their own – so we were thankful to have quick access to solve the problem immediately. We are anxious to review the study findings and see if there are issues we missed – or ways in which we can improve our outreach, communication and operations.

  2. Troy Stearns says:

    I really liked your examples of swarming. There are many people that experiences in a global business include interfacing with many groups in different time zones. It can get confusing figuring out what day it is or what time it is in the countries that I am trying to interact with. I have found that I have been on conference calls that happen at 9:00 PM so I can speak with a team in Australia. However, having such limitless access to other teams creates an issues with a work-life balance. I feel that the loss of work-life balance is an issue that most organizations do not want to address. The loss of productivity is the last thing on the minds or management and telling subordinates to take more time off would be the last thing they would want. So, when you were swarming, how many hours did you work that day? Do you find yourself working fourteen or more hours because you have to take of issues within the U.S. but still have to deal with others in distant time zones? The aftermath of all of this technology is the inability to unplug and find time for self as well as family. I know personally that because I am a salaried employee, many senior managers at my organization feel I should be available 24/7 because I work from home. It is almost a disadvantage to work from home because I am never off the clock. So, where technology has given me an advantage by working from home, I also get a disadvantage from having to be available more often than a regular 9:00 – 5:00 job. Have you experienced this as well? Thank you.


    • Troy, when I was at the Pentagon, we used to joke that we typically worked half days (which translated to 12 hours a day). Most days, I got to work at 6:30am and left at 6:30pm. But my balance was daily 6 mile runs through Alexandria and DC…which broke the day and gave me time to decompress. I also rarely missed any of my twins softball games. Balance was negotiated…but it was important to negotiate the balance.

    • swaggin94 says:

      Hi Troy, I do not work from home full-time. However, I can work from home as I see fit. For me, this typically means two days a week. I echo your thoughts on being available 24×7 when working from home. For example, my management never “checked” to see where I was when our company did not allow for working remotely. Now, management does calls to check on employees when they are working from home. I find this comical given that I could come and go as I pleased when I was required to physically come to the office everyday. As result, I sometimes go into the office even though I indicated to my company that I would be working from home. My thought is that companies are still trying to figure working remotely out. What do you think?

      In the meantime, I feel your pain. Regards, Peter

    • jvap2013 says:

      Troy – I think the reality is that most of us are existing in a 24/7 work environment. The fact is that we are all connected at work and home and such technology has made us constantly accessible. The key to survival in this environment is setting limits. For example, a former supervisor of mine had a tendency to email questions, concerns or new ideas at 3:00 a.m. or later. He was a great boss, extremely bright and a wonderful mentor to me. But he never seemed to sleep. Instead, he would do some of his best thinking late at night when his wife and young daughters were asleep. I keep my iPhone next to my bed because I am an emergency contact for any pertinent issues that arise with my undergraduate students. Typically, I receive no more than a call or two per semester for such issues. But the emails from my boss resulted in a vibrating iPhone many many nights. Initially, I responded to many of these emails. But then I learned from some of my veteran colleagues that this was not necessary – or recommended. My supervisor eventually told me that he was sending such emails not expecting an immediate response but to ensure that he would not forget to share it with me. I changed my phone settings to eliminate the nightly email alerts – but to ensure that I could still be reached by phone when necessary. As for remote working, I have never understood the need to check-in on such workers. But I do remember during my days working for the Federal Government that this was a common practice. Some government supervisors seemed annoyed – or envious – that their subordinates had been approved to work from home. They would routinely call them – not for any business purpose – but to verify that the employee was at home, answered the phone and was completing required tasks. The issue became such a problem with remote workers that the union representing these workers actually raised it in the annual bargaining agreement with the agency. The practice was disallowed and supervisors were informed that they were ONLY to call outstationed employees for specific work-related issues. These employees were also aided by new technology that could verify when they were signed on to their agency computers and completing work at home. The reality is that most of us can complete our work 24/7 from anywhere with power and wifi access and, as such, we should be allowed to do so when appropriate and be evaluated on the quality of our work and not on the basis of where such work takes place.

  3. swaggin94 says:

    Hi Jim, I enjoyed reading your Busy Bees posting. Nice work! In reflecting on what you wrote, I saw similarities in your discipline of education and my discipline of business. In particular, your comment on not needing extra shelf space for digital textbooks resonated with me. For my clients, we have plan documents and a host of other documents for each of their 401(k) plans. As background, the plan document states how the plan is administered. My department is moving buildings over this weekend and we spent the last two weeks packing up our stuff. I had eight filing cabinets filed with files for each of my clients including retirement plan documents and other legal materials. All of the plan documents are housed in an online repository; however, I, along with many of my peers, was not comfortable without having physical copies. Our company knew this and put a policy in place that each employee in the new building received two filing cabinets. Because of the lack of space, I knew I had to get rid of my paper. My thought is it was a deliberate move to get resistors like me to change our behavior! Resistance to technology can be a huge barrier to adoption. As you indicated in follow up to your posting, you have resistors to your school’s technology. Similar to my experience, are there creative things such as mandates you can do to change behavior? Look forward to your thoughts! Regards, Peter

    • jvap2013 says:

      Thanks for your question, Peter. We did have many natural resistors. I don’t know whether they were simply resistant to change or to our attempts to limit the amount of paper and the number of necessary filing cabinets. We are at a disadvantage in that we are required by either the University or our accrediting agencies to maintain a significant amount of information on file for our students, faculty and academic programs. So we truly worked to limit the amount of personal filing space. While we provided up to three filing cabinets for each employee in our school, we encouraged them to limit what they had to move from their former office to the new school. We had massive shredders brought in to assist in discarding old – but still confidential – materials. We also arranged to have I.T. staff on hand to assist faculty and staff with scanning documents to eliminate the need for moving files of actual paper records. Most of our faculty and staff took advantage of these options and seemed pleased with the transition to our new space. Others – some of whom I believe may actually be hoarders – chose to move as many paper files as possible to the new location. Three months later, some of these files are still in moving boxes in the corner of these employees offices. Our hope is to continue to stress the benefit of scanning paperwork, ensure the efficient access and safe keeping of scanned documents and to provide training on any and all technology that is intended to make our employees lives easier – not more challenging.

  4. Troy Stearns says:

    I completely agree Professor Watwood. I try to break things up throughout my day as I see things coming on my radar. Some are impromptu conference calls but most are set up a few days in advance. I know when I was in the Navy that I was expected to be available 24/7 as per my contract. Did you have any type of expectation when you worked at the Pentagon? I have been able to do some work-life balance with my current position and I do think it is extremely important to make sure to have time to decompress as well as reconnect with family.


  5. Great post with a lot of incite about the future of working collaboratively on a team through a variety of technological avenues. I also chuckled a little when you were describing your experience on the Amtrak and everyone was on his or her phone, computer, or other technological device. It seems that although we are connecting through a variety of channels of technology, we are using less person-to-person interaction on a regular basis. Even walking down the street or shopping for groceries it seems that everyone’s (including mine) head is down on their phone. I wonder what Shirky (2012) would think about the person-to-person interaction decreasing even while cooperation through technology is on the rise.

    In my organization this past week, I provided webinar training for staff members in three states and eleven offices. Flattening the world has allowed organizations such as mine to save time and money by connecting team members remotely rather than pay for travel, hotel, and a lot of time to bring staff together in one central location (Friedman, 2007). Not only has technology connected staff members for training, but is has also allowed for cooperation and sharing of best practices similarly to what Sharky (2012) described through his talk about cooperation rather than collaboration. You are correct in that workplaces are being transformed, but do you think there will be a loss of human connection with the increased use of technology?


    Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat 3.0: A brief history of the twenty-first century. New York: Picador / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Shirky, Clay. (2012). How the internet will one day change the government. Retrieved from: http://wirearchy.com/what-is-wirearchy/

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