I have been giving my “Born to be Wired” presentation for almost two years now and one of the most discussed themes is the effect that the communications revolution will have on where and how we work. One of the 26 trends mentioned in the “Death of Distance” is the “inversion of home and office” and how the distinction between the two will become blurry.

The front page article in the latest issue of BusinessWeek is called Smashing the Clock and explains the radical transformation of the workplace at Best Buy. This goes way beyond the concept of telecommuting and flextime. Instead, the focus is on production rather than hours. Known as ROWE for “results only work environment”, it “seeks to demolish the decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity”. Here are some quick stats from the article:

  • Average rise in ROWE worker productivity is 35%
  • AT IBM, 40% of the workforce has no official office
  • Sun Microsystems calculates that they save $300 million a year in real estate costs by allowing nearly half of their employees to work anywhere they want

Will this idea ever reach higher education? I think it will, eventually. What will drive this is student demand. Millennial students have grown up in a 24/7, always-on, always connected service culture. Their service expectations go well beyond the traditional work day and work week. If they can go to JCrew on a Saturday night at 2:00 am to buy a sweatshirt, why can’t they check their grades or pay a bill or even correspond with an advisor during non-business hours? Recruiting and retaining top employees is a challenge. As the private sector starts to rethink the workplace, higher education will need to as well to stay competitive for the best talent. The key is determining how to measure performance.