Two seemingly unrelated events.
- Around 1900, my grandfather bought half a share of Princeton (PA) Telephone Company stock for around $10.00. That has turned into, without any additional investment, over 1,300 shares of Verizon stock.
- A couple of years ago we celebrated Bill Brown’s 50th anniversary with Unisys. Even then a fairly unusual event with a large company, but not unbelievable.
While you toiled, the world changed (with apologies to an old set of Unisys ads). To a large extent, the message in those old ads is the cause: the easy inter-connection of computers has changed everything. For many companies, their “local” market is the world, their suppliers are everywhere and anywhere, and so are their employees. Except in many cases they aren’t “employees” in the traditional sense. Many of them are contractors or outsourcers or work for partner companies. Even senior executives are really just contract employees, with benefits, a fixed time frame and a parachute.
Companies are no longer loyal to their employees, and vice versa. I’m not sure which trend came first, but don’t feel that your company thinks it owes you anything, unless you own the company. That works the other way to. If you find a better opportunity, take it. Give your current employer appropriate notice, but not more than two weeks. Take care of you.
For kids coming out of school looking for their first job, they can expect they will average only 37 months in a company. Thus they will have around a dozen different careers before they retire. More and more people are moving towards what a friend of mine calls patchwork careers, also called portfolio careers: multiple assignments from multiple companies, often at the same time. Changing jobs will become the norm, not the exception. Expect it, plan for it, deal with it financially and mentally. Most jobs are found through the people you know, not want ads or job boards. Your network is critical. Work on it, stay connected, especially while employed. It is too easy to get lost in today’s crisis at the job. Take some time for you and your network every week.
The IT revolution (all 60 years of it), the network revolution (all 30 years of it) and the social network revolution (all 5 years of it) have made location largely irrelevant. The result of these two factors is vibrant and successful companies with no location and no employees. Something important is gained by this model. The company has easy access to knowledgeable and experienced people with widely diverse backgrounds that bring fresh ideas. The relatively short tenure of people means the organization is constantly getting new insights. Contracting allows the organization to rent knowledge and skills for the short term. This gives the organization immediate access to these skills instead of trying to train up someone already in the organization and paying the time and false starts that often causes. Everybody gains in terms of faster time to market and in the ability to work next to a real expert – an excellent way to learn.
The younger folk have grown up using technology to communicate. I’m sure you have seen the kids walking through the mall texting to the person walking next to them, or on a 45 minute phone call to a friend they have never met who is two time zones away. Those of us a little more mature are used to the casual hallway conversation, sometimes called MBWA (Management by Walking Around). We have learned to take advantage of the accidental lunch room conversation, the meeting at the water cooler or coffee pot, and learned how to arrange those accidental meetings when necessary. So much has been designed at the white board with two or six people each with a different color marker adding and improving the picture. I keep a digital camera in my desk to capture the result of those invaluable sessions, but now it is also my phone, and calendar, and email, and ….
It will take us discipline to pick up the phone, use video IM, or text to folk just because we haven’t talked to them for a while. We need to talk about the family, vacations planned and completed, sports teams, and all the “unimportant” things that bring people closer together. We must create the virtual water cooler sessions. We need to learn to use collaboration tools like Google docs and Microsoft Open Office. They are far from perfect, but they do work and they are getting better almost daily.
One facet that will be lost is institutional memory. Like everything else, it is a blessing and a curse. We’ve all been in situations where we have tried to understand some process, and the only reason given for the existing process is “we did it that way last year.” However, there is value in asking longtime Charlie “why” and finding out the really good reason why twenty years ago they did it that way. There are so many new mistakes to make, there isn’t time to repeat the old ones.
Everybody is in a different place in their life and their responsibilities. Find the place you want to be, physically, and get there. That place will change over time, based on the arrival and departure of children, family needs, and the desire for a specific climate or environment. My wife and I moved seven times because of my job and once to consolidate our aging family. The future won’t be like that for most people. Companies can’t afford to move a family, and there is largely no reason to do so.
If like many you work in your “home office” you have to watch for work creep, where you really never stop working. I have a set of “rituals” that I use to frame my work day. In the morning, I say “I’m off to the office.” At the end of the day, it is come out of the office and say “Hey, Suzy, I’m home.” That incantation transforms my “home office” into my “den” and it suddenly has a different set of allowable uses.
The last word:
The old Princeton Phone Company had just a couple of dozen phone lines. Everyone shared their line with others. My grandparents “number” was 32. Three long and two short rings. You soon learned to not “hear” anything but your ring. When I was about six years old, I visited my Uncle John’s house. He wasn’t there and I wanted to tell him something. I twirled the crank on the phone on the wall and when the lady said “How may I connect you” I told her I wanted to “speak to my uncle.” I didn’t need to give either my name or his. She said she just saw him walk into the hardware store, and connected me to my uncle. Everything that is new, like cells phones that follow you everywhere, is really just a return to the past, only faster with more features, but not necessarily easier to use.
Keep your sense of humor.