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The modern workforce is shifting to a more egalitarian style of work, partly due to mobility. The changes are creating the 3D workforce: distributed, discontinuous and decentralized. This article explores the trend its current impact & future consequences for every level of business.

The traditional office workspace is being disrupted. New technology innovations are changing work values and creating new approaches to business. Millennials (18-29 years of age) represent the newest plugged-in generation to enter the workforce and because they understand and often use the new technology at their fingertips, these workers take a decidedly different approach to many typical business methods and procedures.

The growing "millennial" demographic is fast becoming what's been termed the three D workforce: distributed, discontinuous and decentralized. This younger workforce is creating unique models for meeting performance requirements and attaining business goals.

See Also: A Blueprint for the Mobile Computing Revolution

In the meantime, managers are attempting to accommodate these  novel approaches to working. They're frequently challenged by how best to retain millennial employees, often predicted to follow numerous career paths throughout their working life.

While sometimes perceived as wayward and noncommittal, such a tendency is seen by millennials as improving the chances of finding their "true calling." That is, employment that's more compatible, flexible, higher paying, personally rewarding and, in some cases, socially committed.

How millennials fit in to the current working environment may have profound implications for future business practices. For these reasons, it's useful to look at the motivations driving the 3D workforce:

Distributed: Anywhere, Anytime Capabilities

The new workforce is more mobile than ever and most comfortable with virtual, contextual collaborations. Whether in an office or a corner Starbucks, these workers are always connected and responsive.

The line between daily life and work is often blurred for millennials, where every day is ‘casual Friday.' They offer the know-how to increase both productivity and business competency.

See Also: 10 Surefire Signs You're a Supertasker

As first adopters of the most useful mobile apps, businesses and older workers eventually follow their lead. But by then, they've probably moved on to some other useful but relatively obscure tool.

In the new economy, companies need to achieve more agile business models to remain competitive. Millennials offer a unique perspective. The entrepreneurial culture, largely driven by young workers, offers a dynamic model that's geared to a distributed and inclusive means for attaining goals.

In addition to maintaining ease and competency in fluid work environments, this demographic relies on the flexibility of freelance employment.  Independent research firm Edelman Berland, commissioned by Freelancers Union, recently found that a key segment of growth in the freelance sector can be attributed to millennials (38 percent of millennials are freelancing compared to 32 percent of those over 35).

Freelance work enables mobile millennials to be geographically dispersed and still participate regardless of their location. While it offers advantages, it's important to note that freelance work has its drawbacks. Low wages, insufficient benefits, and less employee control are issues that millennials will encounter as they increasingly choose freelance roles.

Openness to diversity represents a key touchstone for millennials. Their early development was marked by a cultural trend toward inclusiveness. An ease around individual differences finds this generation better equipped to work together toward common goals. Such traits are invaluable in today's economy.

Discontinuous: Flex-time, Freedom and Tours of Duty

For most companies, gaining the loyalty of millennials may hinge on providing them free rein and ample flexibility. Earlier generations had limited, if any, remote options due to the pace of technology, and value was placed on the amount of time spent in the office.

In contrast, millennials often wonder why it's necessary to be bound to an office desk at all when tasks can be easily accomplished remotely. As a result, the establishment of new work policies has spread. In an effort to promote flextime and job-sharing, results only work environments (ROWE) are starting to take hold.

See Also: The Future of Work and Collaboration

The system evaluates employees on their actual productivity, not the hours they keep. Even in rigid corporate cultures, such an approach has advantages since increasing the margin of success requires companies to be ever more resourceful.

Another trend that's increasingly gaining acceptance across the corporate world is Tours of Duty. These are time-based projects with specific sets of goals to be achieved. They consist of mutually beneficial, short-term agreements between employer and employee.

However, companies face dilemmas as they try to meet millennials' desire for flexibility. In the past, long-serving employees provided the organizational backbone and assurance of continuity.

How companies will pass on those values and a sense of purpose based on longevity to younger, transient workers may become a vexing issue.

Decentralized: Independent, Collaborative and Outspoken

As mentioned earlier, millennials are committed to virtual involvement for business interests, issues, and location. This also entails new approaches to participation as well as advancement.

Collaborations are increasingly virtualized, enabled by the Internet and involving multiple online tools (e.g., file sync and share, cloud storage, video conferencing, social media, etc.). As corporate management gradually shifts toward becoming more egalitarian, businesses are picking and choosing entrepreneurial aspects to meet the needs of workers.

This plays to the strengths of outspoken, independent-minded millennials enabling less oversight and emphasizing results-based work. To be sure, the changing corporate environment will enable businesses to better meet the needs of customers as well as its newer workforce.

But with an increase in virtual networks of collaborations and transient, independent workers, it may be increasingly difficult to create a work environment where employees feel a sense of "belonging." What will be the effect of an increasingly nebulous and undefined corporate culture? Ultimately, change is inevitable and it's questions like these that future generations will have to confront. 

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About Kerry Doyle

Kerry Doyle has covered business and technology issues for over a decade and was senior editor at ZDNet.com.