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Visions: Rimas Buinevicius, CEO of Sonic Foundry

Madison, Wis. - Recently, as I sat at lunch sending off a series of Blackberry messages, I couldn't help but reflect on how our professional lives continue to evolve dramatically, and in my opinion, for the better.

As the CEO of a company that is driving the adoption of Internet communication technology and on-demand knowledge, I remain impressed with how quickly technological change continues to transform and enhance our professional lives, while simultaneously improving organizational efficiency.

Think of the virtual workplace, which is the concept of not necessarily being at work, but conversely, work finding you. More individuals are working at home, working on vacation, working at night, working in airports, working at the gym, and working at Starbucks. And it's all being driven by technology that is changing the process of how we communicate. As a result, the centralized office is on the brink of extinction with few reasons remaining for why we must be tethered to a fixed location.

Today's savvy working professional is an armed communications expert, able to e-mail, instant message, and voicemail at a drop of a hat. This state of being perpetually connected is creating a worker who is more like a mercenary, continuously honing and delivering his professional skills to make himself the ultimate competitor in a rapidly growing global marketplace. New-age communication technologies are his weapons of choice, offering a competitive advantage in how he operates and how his organization performs. His work day is no longer defined as a fixed set of hours constrained within a set office boundary. More individuals are expected to be connected all the time, 24/7.

24/7 time clock
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Recently, 60 Minutes ran a story titled "Working 24/7" and featured a married couple that is highly wired, highly connected, and gadget frenzied. They epitomize the face of the changing working professional, sometimes putting in 12 to 15 hour days, often working in the middle of the night, and operating mostly within the confines of their home.

During the course of the same interview, the corporation Best Buy highlighted an experimental program meant to alleviate stress and health issues by allowing employees to work anywhere as long as the job got done. The results were remarkable and perhaps counterintuitive. Given the virtual workplace option, employees worked even more hours but became happier, healthier and concurrently, productivity increased 35 percent, certainly making Best Buy's management happy.

These examples embody the rapid change now happening in day to day professional life. Individuals who adapt can find an immediate competitive advantage in advancing their professional careers. These professionals are redefining the rules of what constitutes a day of work and offering their organizations a tremendous competitive advantage. There's no question that information technology allows this to happen.

The old way of doing business relies on in-person meetings, flights, faxes and dinners. The new way involves doing business virtually. Just give me a Blackberry and away we go. Technology gave life to the virtual office, which in turn has reduced the cost of doing business exponentially. We see organizations expanding their use of distributed expertise, outsourcing, remote software and services, online learning, and collaboration. Clearly, everyone better keep adapting, changing and adjusting to this new way of work, or be left behind.

Virtual workers are also changing the way professional social networks function. Social networking sites like myspace.com or business networking sites like linkedin.com provide early evidence of what will happen when individuals take advantage of networked communication power to enhance their personal and professional lives. In essence, a highly collaborative, trusted network will evolve, keeping people connected and aware of opportunities like never before.

There will be a day when the physical organization becomes irrelevant. In its place will stand the community you belong to, the professional services you can provide or need accomplished, all negotiated through your trusted provider network of "linked in" mercenary contacts. This shift of power to community networking may combine various elements of technology and the Internet into a supercharged market for professional services where we search, bid, and deliver business in a completely virtual world.

So consider the 9 to 5 work week toast. In the virtual world, there are no time clocks. It's all about the company you keep - virtually.

Rimas Buinevicius is the Chairman and CEO of Sonic Foundry, Inc., in Madison, maker of the rich media product Mediasite.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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