Are you a modern soldier of fortune?

Gone are the days of a job for life, toadying your way up the corporate ladder and keeping your head down.

Gone are the days of a job for life, toadying your way up the corporate ladder and keeping your head down.

Dr David Pauleen, an associate professor at Massey University’s School of Management, has confirmed, through research, something that Idealog readers probably already know.

Out there among us are professionals operating well off the well-worn paths of the conventional, and redefining the meaning of traditional work. They’re not just any old teleworker, but capable of a wider range of complex tasks than most employees.

Speaking at the Anywhere Working seminar at AUT yesterday, he said these ‘off-roaders’ tend to be high performers, worthy of special efforts for organisations to accommodate.

So, what makes an off-roader? There are a few telling characteristics:

* They are nearly always ‘on’, working from wherever they happen to be, making use of advanced technology

* They are highly motivated and find intrinsic value in the tasks they undertake - there’s a single-minded focus: “Time doesn’t play much of a role. They can go on for hours and hours if necessary.” They’re driven by the opportunity to reinforce their own sense of self through work – as someone with positively distinctive capabilities, solving complex non-routine problems. Achievement is an end in itself

* They tend to self manage – they prefer a high degree of autonomy free of direct management

(That probably defines some of you right now! Here at Idealog we’ve mused several times on the topic of happiness in the workplace, and we’d like to hear from off-roaders and wannabe off-roaders in the comments below)

Pauleen says off-roaders are specialists, with some parallels to ‘soldiers of fortune’, only accountable to deliver a required outcome at an agreed time and cost. So they’re not necessarily fresh young guns: “I think these people are in their 30s and 40s, starting to get everything together.”

When you’re being contracted on large projects, it’s vital to have a reputation for trust, confidence and communication.

 “It’s really important that the people you are working with trust your ability to get things done,” he points out. That includes the business maturity to make good decisions for a client, the wisdom to know when you don’t know and refer back to those who do, and the work ethic to devote appropriate time and resources to the job.

Off-roaders can be attractive to employers at various levels, offering flexibility and expertise. Pauleen warns against “betting the farm” on any one offroader however, and to look for a track record of similar successes.

Most conventionally bureaucratic organisations haven’t yet tapped into the potential of fully incorporating offroaders into their companies. His research found that most off-roaders are acting in ad hoc mode, creating working environments, structures and expectations as they go along.

Ultimately he says extensive adoption of the new breed of off-roader is most likely in organisations willing to radically redesign to accommodate them, or in organisations designed specifically around them – small, agile virtual companies, with relationships more akin to contractor than employee.

So there are probably more off-roaders out there than companies that can accommodate them. Time for a wakeup call?