2010 HR Trends: Vanishing boundaries

Every crisis has a tendency to act as a catalyst and bring to the surface issues, which are in need of resolution. Crises bring uncertainty and disruption to the normal way of working, forcing people to be creative in how they look for solutions, either by utilizing what is already in place or combining existing solutions to form new ones. This can bring about rapid changes and improvements in working practices, delivering flexibility and useful new applications. For HR, this crisis is all about the disappearance of borders and boundaries, and the creation of a new hybrid HR delivery model.

In the external world, the shifting and blurring of borders and boundaries has been imminent for a while. We are now in the process of eliminating boundaries of all kinds:

Boundaries of time

The rapidly expanding online world has enabled us to relentlessly pursue our thirst for real-time information and communication. The Internet is always on and offers instant gratification. When we send an email, we expect people to answer it right away, not the day after. When we tweet, we expect immediate response. And since we do not want to wait any more, Generation Y-ers abandon email in favor of instant chat applications, allowing them to communicate in real-time. The digital world has become synonymous with immediacy: real-time news, real-time purchasing, real-time publishing, real-time search, real-time reviews, real-time conversations and more. Customer experience is more important than ever in a world where speed and convenience are king and queen.

Boundaries of space

In 2005, “The world is flat” (Thomas Friedman) described a world without borders. A few years later, we now know that this flattened world was probably somewhat optimistic. Cultural habits and national legislation are deeply ingrained in people: the flat world applies more to economic markets and technology than to human behavior. We use the same tools, but that does not mean we use them in the same way. Innovations in technology allow us to connect, work and communicate wherever we like, as long as we can access the Internet. This has a vast impact on mobility: in order to work for a company, you no longer have to reside close to headquarters or an office location; you do not even have to live in the same country. The first completely virtual companies have been established: they no longer have physical offices and rely heavily on communication and Internet technology to communicate and enable collaboration among employees.

External and internal boundaries

The rapid advances in technology that allow us to work when and where we choose also influence external and internal company boundaries. Where we used to go to the office to carry out our assignments, we can now answer emails while watching TV, or finalize a presentation after the kids have gone to bed. Through technology, homes are becoming connected and integrated, with consumer content and technology crossing over into the workplace. In other words, pervasive connectivity and less expensive communication devices blur the lines between personal and professional technology. Work and life are becoming more intertwined, giving people more flexibility regarding working hours. There is, however, a downside to this, and that is the creation of an “always on” mentality, where people are expected to be available at all times to address important and less-important work-related issues.

At the same time we observe the creation of the extended enterprise, which consists of a business and its employees, customers, suppliers and partners. Who is and who isn’t employed by a company is not as clear as before: employees are assigned to projects for fixed periods of time and missing skill sets are catered for with external hires, while partners and customers collaborate in the development of products and services. As certain skills are in high demand, many employees go out on their own, offering their services to any company that needs them on a temporary base. Boundaries between the internal and external network are becoming blurred, in favor of a more integrated approach. The structure of an organization is constantly shifting and is no longer limited solely to employees on the payroll.

Boundaries between supply and demand

It wasn’t long ago that consumers went to a shop and chose from the products on the shelves. Since the emergence of the Internet however, barriers between suppliers and buyers have become blurred. Suppliers set up communities to actively engage customers in the creation of products and services. Products are offered as building blocks, so customers can create individual solutions tailored to suit their unique needs. Especially when offering services, you do not need a large investment to start a business: anyone with a good idea can start a marketplace and reach millions online. Suppliers factor the active participation of buyers into the success of their products: just think of the iPhone, which has become so successful largely due to the thousands of “Apps” supplied by the worldwide community of developers, or the AppExchange belonging to Salesforce.com.

The bottom line: while the appeal and influence of ‘now’ has been building for years, societal attitudes, customer expectations and new technologies are currently converging so quickly that you have no choice but to “go real-time”: on your website, when offering customer service, in your business intelligence processes, your distribution, your sales and marketing departments. And it is no different when it comes to HR services. Real-time is setting employee expectations over what HR must offer too. Is your department offering easy to use self-service options yet? Many HR organizations have delayed the introduction of self-service applications out of fear that employees will not be happy doing things themselves and even consider it a lack of service. However, in the external world, they do everything themselves online, and as long as they can do that real-time, they consider that to be great customer-service. The moment has come to embrace the advancements of the external world and create a real-time, integrated HR offering.