The rapid introduction and acceptance of technology in the workplace has enabled mobile connectivity for people around the world and has affected all aspects of management. As the “baby boomers” retire, the workforce demographic is transitioning to a younger, more technologically adapt set of users. With an “always on” mentality, the younger workforce is connected via mobile technology, and this social characteristic is showing up in the workplace as well. As Ken J. McLennan notes (2008), “Flexibility is replacing predictable schedules and management is transitioning its focus from people and time to effort and output.” With the increasing demand for workplace flexibility, and the explosion of technological and globalization advancements, the virtual workplace is here to stay. This essay will focus on how technology and the rise of the virtual workplace impacts workplace communication and globalization, performance expectations, and how managers can adapt to build successful virtual teams.
Impacts of Business Communication
Advances in technology have forever changed how businesses communicate. From computers and email, to mobile computers, instant messaging, hand-held smart phones, wearable devices, and secure communication networks—communication has become instantaneous. Additionally, advances in technology led to the reduction of physical and geopolitical boundaries, “enabling the integration of national economies into a truly global economy—providing new markets, knowhow, innovation, resources, [and] opportunities” (McLennan, 2008). Globalization and advances in communication technology are two important factors that led to the rise of the virtual workplace and virtual team.
For the purpose of this essay, a virtual team is defined as “a group of people who are geographically dispersed and culturally diverse, working together through webs of communication technologies to complete a specific project” (Chang, Chuang & Chao, 2011). A virtual workplace is defined as “a technology centric flexible work environment that can be efficiently and effectively utilized by information workers whether they are at the traditional office, traveling, or located at their primary workplace in the home” (McLennan, 2008).
With a virtual team or virtual workplace, geographic boundaries are removed, thus resulting in an increase in global recruiting and a competitive workforce. In order to adapt, “successful organizations will reach out to the rest of the world and offer new business arrangements for the performance of work without the requirement to immigrate” (McLennan, 2008). For example, organizations may shift their focus to outsourcing certain activities to reduce costs and building strategic competencies with external partners in key geographic areas (Lindner & O’Brien, 2019). Virtual teams could be the solution organizations are looking for to their evolving needs due to the barriers broken down by advances in communication technology.
Impacts of Globalization
In addition to communication, technological advances have impacted performance expectations, especially in the virtual workplace. As previously mentioned, globalization and the rise of virtual teams have opened the doors for global recruiting. With more candidates in the recruiting pool, selection is more competitive.
Once an employee is selected and on-boarded, performance will be evaluated across the team which could include employees from varying cultures, skillsets, and backgrounds, and could increase performance expectations due to the opportunity to select from the best candidates. Additionally, the skillset required to manage virtual employees has changed drastically with the induction of virtual workplace technologies.
Managers of virtual employees need to do three things well: define performance and responsibilities, eliminate roadblocks and provide resources, and encourage performance (Cascio, 2000). As managers of virtual employees shift from managing an employee’s time to managing projects and results, performance and expectations also shift to be more results oriented. In the traditional work environment performance could be measured partly on soft-skills and interpersonal relationships, however the focus of performance shifts to effort and output in the virtual workplace. Technology and the virtual workplace have increased performance expectations due to higher competition in the workforce, but technology has also changed the parameters of how managers evaluate their virtual employees.
How to Adapt to the Virtual Workplace
The new flexible virtual workplace requires managers to adjust their style in order for teams to be successful. Cultural clashes and lack of trust are two main factors that negatively impact global virtual teams but can be offset by managerial support. In a virtual team, “work can be accomplished individually, but increasingly most work is done using collaborative methods, techniques and technologies (McLennan, 2008). Therefore, the quality of communication and whether or not the content is communicated and correctly understood by the other party is paramount (Chang, Chuang & Chao, 2011).
In a virtual team, it is common to have team members dispersed across the globe, adding different cultures to the mix and increasing the complexity of communication amongst the team. “Cultural sensitivity intervention is one important way to solve the problem of cultural diversity…The overall purposes of the intervention are to legitimize cultural differences and to encourage the team to capitalize on those differences, rather than suppress or ignore them” (Chang, Chuang & Chao, 2011). Organizations may include cultural training, cultural awareness initiatives, and team-building exercises as part of their on-boarding curriculum, for example. Additionally, virtual organizations and teams will increasingly need to rely on trust, since the physical proximity of the traditional office space is removed. As Chang, Chuang, and Chao (2011) note, “to cooperate well, team members do not need to be best friends but to trust, respect, and be confident of each other’s competency.” Trust is built when one party has confidence in the other party’s dependability and integrity. Managers can facilitate building trust by giving team members the opportunity to meet face-to-face and understand each other’s viewpoints and ideas (Chang, Chuang & Chao, 2011). Managers can also introduce virtual chat rooms, white boards, video conferencing, and other technology tools to encourage collaboration and trust building. Ten years ago, a conference call included voice only, a poor connection, and disengaged attendees. Today, due to advances in technology, a conference call can include video conferencing, slide or screen shares, and multimedia components to keep attendees engaged and meetings productive. Virtual team members and their managers will need to continually adapt to the new collaborative and culturally diverse way of doing business due to the advances of technology.
To summarize, advances in technology have made workers
more mobile and connected, which translates into a desire for more flexibility
in the workplace. As a solution to their evolving needs, organizations turned
to virtual workplaces and virtual teams which are now possible due to advances
in communication technology and globalization. Organizations have reduced
geographical and cultural barriers due to video conferencing, screen shares,
and other means of instant communication. Performance expectations have shifted
with the rise of globalization and the increase in competition within the
workforce. However, managers need to adapt to managing remote employees by
focusing on well-defined objectives and results, rather than time-oriented
measurements. Due to advances in technology, organizations and workers now have
the opportunity to network together any number of people regardless of
location, time, language, or other cultural boundaries.
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