Culture Leadership

Embrace the New Rules of Work

Today begins a new series of posts related to distance leadership. If you’re currently participating on any type of a distributed team or work group, I hope you’ll share some of your experiences.

Why the New Rules?

Our world has changed dramatically in the past decade. An explosion of broadband networks, mobile devices, social networking, and cloud computing has reshaped our mental landscapes. These shifts have changed the way we live, work, think, learn, and relate to family and friends. Our expectations have also changed; we expect information and people to be available whenever we want them. The boundaryless global economy allows buyers and sellers to conduct business non-stop, 24/7. It is easier and cheaper to order books, bike parts and Mother’s day gifts from a mobile phone than it is to wait until the next free weekend to shop around in brick-and-mortar stores. If doubts remain, perhaps one could ask any political leader of the dozen or so Mideast countries that recently changed governments how his or her views on the power of social networking have transformed in the past four months.

Companies and institutions struggle to keep up with this pace of change. In today’s 21st century workplace, technological advances have forced most companies to embrace some form of distributed teaming. In fact, the presence of purely colocated teams is decreasing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the proportion of U.S. workers taking advantage of flexible work schedules has more than doubled since 1985. Cisco estimated, in a 2007 study entitled “Understanding and Managing the Mobile Workforce,” that by 2009 over 870 million mobile workers would connect to their corporate headquarters online or via mobile devices. Reasons for this shift include the need for diverse talents and skills, cheap telecommunications technology and dynamically shifting marketplace that expects higher quality products and services that are delivered faster, better, and cheaper. Leadership in this environment, explains Michael Hammer, “is about vision and commitment, but it is also about taking difficult and even painful steps to ensure your company gets to where it needs to be.”

Embrace the New Rules of Work

Some of these painful steps include helping our organizations rethink the way we view work. How will we, as servant leaders, identify the paradigm shifts necessary to remain relevant, model new attitudes and behaviors, and embrace new ways to accomplish our mission?

Old Rules (Assumptions) New Rules
Work is a physical place Work is something you do or accomplish
Work takes place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Work takes place between when it is assigned and when it is due
Employees, staff or volunteers need to be controlled Employees, staff or volunteers are responsible for results
Work must be completed where the worker is located Work (e.g. surgery, personal evangelism, follow up, mentoring, leadership decision-making) can occur far from the worker’s location
Relationships are limited to whom I can meet personally I can interact with almost anyone I want to online and develop deep relationships with people I’ve never met face-to-face


How are you doing at embracing the new rules of work? Do you have any tips you’d like to offer?

Clemons, David, and Michael S. Kroth. Managing the Mobile Workforce: Leading, Building, and Sustaining Virtual Teams. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Hammer, Michael, and Lisa W. Hershman. Faster, Cheaper, Better. Kindle ed. New York: Crown Business, 2010.




By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

8 replies on “Embrace the New Rules of Work”

Ken, Great stuff-really like the “rules” and how it is laid out. My sense is that we as an organization are not making the changes so quickly. We seemed very location bound. What do you think?

I`m Gusti from albania
I am the team leader for the Tirane campuses (our capital city)
I had a question concerning the tremendous advancement of tech and the normal way we had been connecting and discipleship students…

what is the trend here should we pas the discovery, discipleship,and action group or should we try something else…

blessings from Tirane

I am aware of compass and other stuff but still we lack a litle bit being behind (we do have examples in our materials like have you read the newspaper today…man who does read the news on paper….

Great article, Ken. I have seen this trend in my own experiences with my job. As an organization, we also have a high value for “team”. I think that it is important to look at the affects of these new rules on how we function as teams. For instance, we need to love one another and practice appropriate authenticity and transparency in our team relationships. What does this look like in a context where the team members are spread out? I think that younger generations are much more savvy at developing these types of healthy team relationships over a distance. There are some unhealthy practices we need to guard against, but I generally hear more criticisms of them and a lack of willingness to learn this new skill. Here’s to those of us who are old dogs learning new tricks!

@Gary: great observation that we seem fairly ‘location bound’ as an org. We highly value relationships, which many people assume requires being face to face. But why are there 700 million users on Facebook, 50% of whom log in every day?

@Gusti: great to meet you! What a great question – who does read the news on paper?

@Cheryl: your insights on our value for “team” (in quotes, which I take to mean more than what is on the surface?). Distributed, or virtual, teams are really becoming the norm in almost any organization or institution that has more than one location. It’s our new reality and we need to embrace it. My sense is that people do embrace this *as individuals* every day via Skype, FB, Twitter, phone calls home to mom, etc. Yet it still makes team members and managers nervous if they can’t “see” everyone. More on this in future posts. You’ve led this way for years, so I look forward to hearing more from your experience.

Hey Ken – good stuff. Been thinking through my personal experience about the impact on technology and the “rules of work.” IM is invaluable. Email is the workhorse. Cell phones and mobile broadband change location where work is performed. Points #2 and #4 face an uphill battle against human nature and pessimism (are you really working if I don’t see you)?

I’ve managed teams in China, India, Czech Republic, UK, and throughout US. Some of the work was done 100% remote, and some 100% onsite. Performance and value were created – but that was dependent on the individual, regardless of age.

However, nothing beat face-to-face interaction to impart leadership and change.

I think Cisco’s quote is overblown and self-serving – they want to sell more gear (not saying they made up the numbers). Michael Hammer is trying to make his comeback after his “BPR” work. I used to soak in these management books – now, I’m more interested in building on what I’ve read all these years and making them my own.

@walter: You have a huge amount of relevant experience in working virtually, Walter. I like your point: “#2 and #4 face an uphill battle against human nature … are you really working if I can’t see you?” This reveals our belief in the illusion of control. There is some strength to visual accountability, but in most lines of knowledge work we can’t measure productivity simply by brief observations of people looking frantically busy when the manager is around.

Hi Ken – I think the biggest hurdle that remains (and haven’t seen a good solution for) is “compensation.” In order to free up the need to control (or illusion of control!), companies will need to tie performance/value to compensation. For some jobs, especially technology related, there are logical ways to free up folks from desks/offices/walls/hours (e.g., pay per lines of code or modules delivered). The only group in most companies that have this is sales (base pay/commission continuum).

Couldn’t agree with you more re: “frantically looking busy when manager is around.” I’m guilty of that as well as the folks I work with at client sites.

Applying this topic to groups like CCC, the radical notion would be # of Bible Studies led per month or # of professions of faith or # of blog entries :-). Tying compensation to results is probably a non-starter in a Christian ministry, but it does raise interesting questions.

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