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Why We Need Skype Now More than Ever

Perhaps many of you have been Skype-ing for a while, but I’m a recent convert.  I mentioned in one of my first posts that I’m a big fan of technology and often an early adopter.  Skype’s been around for a while in the UK, but only recently began advertising in the US.  I’d heard about it a couple of years ago, but didn’t get serious about trying it until my daughter went to London for the semester and the reality of long distance phone call bills drove us to this VOIP wonder.

Skype allows you to make free (yes, that’s right, free) telephone calls via the Internet.  You download Skype to your computer and can connect for free with anyone else who’s got Skype installed on his/her computer.  You can also make competitively priced calls to cell phone or landlines from your computer via Skype.  If your computer doesn’t have a built in microphone, you need to add that, but otherwise you’re good to go with no big investment.  The best part of all – add video!  With a cheap webcam attached to your computer,  you get a pretty good real time video of the person you’re talking to.

Why now more than ever?

  1. Whether you’ve got kids living abroad or not, pinching pennies is becoming second nature for all of us whose savings may be shrinking as a result of the current turmoil in the world markets.
  2. In tough times, it’s more important than ever to stay connected to those we care about – and Skype makes that easy to do.
  3. As more and more workers are working remotely from their management, this could be a great tool to forge and sustain a more personal relationship with co-workers than the phone alone permits.

Are any of you using Skype (or similar VOIP) technologies at work to support remote workers?

Treating Hourly Workers like Professional Employees

Today’s post is courtesy of our board member,  Steven T. Hunt, Ph.D, SPHR.

A recent study found that many American workers between 18 and 29 plan to remain in hourly jobs for the majority of their careers (Gurchiek, 2008). This includes careers in what are sometimes viewed as “entry-level” hourly jobs found in the retail, service, and hospitality industries. Even more surprising, at least to me, 25% of the employees surveyed who possessed college degrees intend to pursue careers in hourly jobs. This goes against the widely held assumption that college educated hourly employees are just biding their time until they can find a “real job” in the salaried workforce. As the study points out, there appears to be a shift among younger workers in what they consider viable and rewarding long-term career options.

There are many reasons why hourly work might be seen as a good long-term career option. First, many hourly jobs now provide healthcare benefits so this is not as major an issue as it once was. Some hourly jobs have quite impressive benefits including childcare, educational reimbursements, and paid vacation. Second, many hourly jobs are fairly stable in terms of their position in the economy. Salaried jobs can often be “offshored” to other countries, but many hourly jobs, particularly those in the hospitality, retail and healthcare industry require providing personal service to customers which makes them generally immune to being taken offshore. For example, if you have skills as a waiter then you will always have local job opportunities as long as people go to restaurants where you live. Third, hourly jobs by definition do not require working outside of scheduled work hours. This is a very attractive for people who wish to maintain an active and full life outside of work. Perhaps the single most widespread drawback to hourly jobs is they tend to pay less than salaried work. But people may accept lower paying hourly employment if it allows them to “work to live” rather than requiring them to “live to work”.

So what does this mean for hourly employers?

A shift toward more people pursuing hourly careers suggests several implications for employers. First, it increases the potential to create longer-tenured, increasingly stable hourly workforces. The benefits of reducing hourly turnover have been widely written about so I won’t rehash them here. But I will call attention to another opportunity that comes from having longer tenured employees: the chance to significantly increase employee performance levels over time.

Historically, companies have invested relatively few resources into maximizing the performance of hourly employees. Hourly workers tended to have access to far fewer resources than salaried or “professional” employees working in the same companies. The thinking was, “hourly employees will only be here a short time so why spend money to improve their performance”. But this thinking may no longer be true as more people choose to remain in hourly jobs indefinitely. As companies experience longer levels of hourly tenure, more emphasis should be placed on providing frontline managers and supervisors with tools and training to maximize employee performance. Even small shifts in hourly performance can result in massive bottom line impact given the size of many hourly workforces. Equipping managers with knowledge and tools to provide frontline employees with clear direction, effective feedback, and fair and consistent rewards and recognition will provide major dividends in terms of higher levels of employee loyalty, engagement, and productivity


Gurchiek, K. (2008). “New collar” workers choose hourly careers. HR Magazine, September, p. 24.

My Chat with Robert Reich

I recently had the opportunity to interview Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Professor Reich has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Professor Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and his weekly commentaries on public radio’s “Marketplace” are heard by nearly five million people.

Our conversation focused on his book, Supercapitalism, in which he dissects how globalization and technology have simultaneously expanded Americans’ roles as investors and consumers while negatively impacting the ability of many Americans to earn a living wage.   We talked about what we can do as individuals, as well as what we should require as citizens in a democracy, to ensure an adequate wage and standard of living for all Americans.

You can hear a podcast of our discussion here:

Workforce Institute Interview with Robert Reich