The NEXUS

Increasingly we find that we are co-existing in a Nexus – connected to one another by technologies that didn’t even exist just a few decades ago. Internet, satellite, cellular and wireless service continue to grow and expand globally. As a result, our computers, phones, PDAs and other devices can connect us to anyone, at anytime – almost anywhere in the world.

As Jarche (2013) wrote, “Connected individuals can now do what once only large organizations could.” The impact of this growing reality has been most significant in the workplace where networked employees can work independently and effectively thanks to a wide array of technological assets they can access (Madden, 2008).

The Internet and the myriad of information, management and communication tools it helped launch have vastly improved the workplace for networked employees. These “Wired and Ready Workers” (Madden, 2008) now have more flexibility in the hours they work, the creative ideas they can share and the workplace systems, files and data they can access. According to Madden (2008), 80 percent of networked employees declare that these technologies “have improved their ability to do their job.”

Educational institutions most certainly rely on networked employees. Georgetown is no exception. In fact, a major initiative that our school recently launched could not have succeeded without the active participation of our networked employees.

When the federal government shutdown occurred, the impact on the Washington D.C.-area was significant. Hotels, restaurants and businesses that would regularly be frequented by government employees and contractors experienced an immediate decline in activity. Moreover, thousands of federal employees were sent home where they could do little more than wait and see when and if Congress took action to re-open the government and thus allow them to return to work.

Our Dean decided that we should take this unique opportunity to engage the federal workforce and provide an opportunity for furloughed employees to make better use of their unscheduled leave. He wanted to create and offer free short-term courses for furloughed federal employees. This was unchartered territory for our school and our employees. We had little experience with creating such a program and we had no idea when the shutdown would end. One thing was certain, we had to move quickly to develop and launch this initiative if it was to succeed.

Working into the evening and over the weekend, our dedicated networked employees used every available technology to make this program a reality. Working from home on laptops enabled with VPN access, networked employees were able to create our website URL, develop registration forms and website contacts, launch course links, contract and hire faculty and assign classrooms.

A program that would have previously taken weeks or months to develop within our university took only days thanks to our networked employees and work environment. Initially our goal was to offer courses that served 100 furloughed federal employees. In the end, more than 700 federal employees took advantage of our program – and many have returned to take additional discounted coursework since the closure (Georgetown University, 2013).

While the positive impact of networked employees is evident in this example, concerns about such networks remain. Many employees surveyed indicate that the increased connectivity and flexibility that technology allows make it more difficult for them to disconnect at home. The increased stress and demands they cite make it more challenging to manage their lives (Madden, 2008).

Additionally, as with any new technology or platform, such networked environments can be used for less noble pursuits. As Friedman (2007) noted, “The internet also grants terrorists a cheap and efficient means of networking. Many terrorist groups, among them Hamas and al-Qaeda, have undergone a transformation from strictly hierarchical organizations with designated leaders to affiliations of semi-independent cells that have no single commanding hierarchy” (p. 601).

Technology and the networked environment it fuels can indeed be used to both create and destroy. As Friedman (2007) noted, “We are all stewards of this planet, and the test for our generation is whether we will pass on this planet in as good or better shape than we found it. The flattening process is going to challenge that responsibility” (p. 576).

References:

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

Jarche, H. (2013, November 5). Networks are the new companies. Retrieved November 21, 2013, fromhttp://www.jarche.com/2013/11/networks-are-the-new-companies/.

Georgetown University Furloughed Employee Program. (2013). Retrieved from http://scs.georgetown.edu/departments/5/center-for-continuing-and-professional-education/article.cfm?eid=831

Madden, M., Jones, S. (28 September 2008). Networked Workers. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved fromhttp://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Workers.aspx

Georgetown offers free classes for furloughed employees (October 13, 2013). WJLA-ABC 7 News. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/10/georgetown-offers-free-classes-for-furloughed-employees-95315.html

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4 thoughts on “The NEXUS

  1. swaggin94 says:

    Hi Jim,

    I enjoyed reading your posting and you did an excellent job! Friedman (2007) subscribes that our imaginations are the one thing that cannot be commoditized! The program for furloughed employees is an exemplar for what Friedman (2007) creativity. Georgetown say an opportunity out of what some would say is a challenge! I am curious as to what the program content entailed? Also, what was the biggest challenge you saw in getting the program up in running? Given the cycle time decreased, are there things the school learned that it can apply to its traditional programs? Look forward to your thoughts! Regards, Peter

    References
    Friedman, T. L. (2007). The world is flat (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Picador.

  2. Wow! Very cool example of quick turnaround possible through networked (and motivated) workers. Hats off to your dean for spearheading this initiative.

    • jvap2013 says:

      We are very fortunate to have such a motivated team within our school, Dr. Watwood. Most of our administrative staff tend to be younger – with 10 or less years in higher education. They are all very comfortable with technology and quite creative. Also, with just a few exceptions, all of our faculty are adjuncts. They all possess the academic credentials necessary to teach at the University and they also bring very unique experience in the public and private sectors to the classroom. They, too, are very engaged with technology. We have found that such an environment contributes significantly to our ability to be flexible, nimble and creative.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Your example of how networked workers can accomplish results in a very short time period is spot on. I found your university’s outside the box thinking and creativity in a negative situation and turning it not only into a positive situation but also turning into potential revenue was excellent. Communication on a global level probably occurred from the university administration in order to prevent some of the negative factors associated with networked workers. Since there were hours put in from home, outside normal working hours, and probably additional to the normal work week, it is critical to get buy-in from all levels so that the mission of the project is evident throughout the process (Madden & Jones, 2007). This situation is probably not going to occur on a regular basis, which should reduce the negative impacts on staff since it is short term. This does raise a question for me with the hopes of potentially addressing this type of situation by developing preventative measures. Do you think your university can develop teams or protocols to help address potential situations that could occur similar to the government shutdown where staff need to hyper-connected?

    References:

    Madden, M., & Jones, S. (2008). Networked workers. Washington D.C.: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Networked-Workers/1-Summary-of-Findings.aspx

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