Fundamental shifts in our social and economic landscape are producing seismic changes in the world of work.
The facts speak for themselves - by 2006, according to the Henley Centre for Forecasting, just less than a third of the population will be working from home, and if we include the mobile worker, the figures are greater still. Already, 46 per cent of business people have an office or work area in their home.
These new ways of working are producing a breed of Internet-enabled mobile worker - the elancer. The typical elancer works from home and is most likely to be self-employed. But tomorrow's elancer may be a mobile worker and, increasingly, is likely to be a virtual employee. Interestingly, HR professionals - being knowledge workers - have this way of working open to them.
As elancing moves into the mainstream, it poses new managerial challenges. Businesses such as Orange have understood the implications of the emerging landscape, running marketing campaigns on the virtues of "wirefree working", with advert straplines focusing on teamwork even when colleagues are miles apart.
Technology is presented as the great liberator, enabling people to work flexibly wherever, whenever and however they choose.
But organisations need to be mindful that they do not rely on the technology fix to solve what is essentially a people problem.
Elancentric's research suggests that "virtual employees" can often find the elancing experience isolating unless attempts are made to bring them into the lifeblood of the organisation. It is too easy for the elancer to view their relationship with their organisation as "virtual" in practice as well as in name.
For managers, regular contact is a must. E-mail is a vital tool, and intranets are essential for community-building as they facilitate the free exchange of ideas, rendering the boundaries between employee, freelancers and consultants less clear cut.
Technology is also great for communication, but it can never replace face-to-face contact.
Managers must beware of using technology to avoid problems