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A virtual workplace is a workplace that is not located in any one physical space. It is usually in a network of several workplaces technologically connected (via the Internet) without regard to geographic boundaries. Employees are thus able to interact in a collaborated environment regardless of where they may happen to be in the world. A virtual workplace integrates hardware, people, and online processes.
With information technology playing a greater role in the daily operations of organizations today, virtual workplaces are beginning to augment traditional work environments of rooms, cubicles and office buildings. International organizations have seen a significant increase in business in the past decade due to globalization and the widespread use of technology. By 2008, it is estimated that 41 million corporate employees worldwide will work at least one day per week virtually. According to some surveys, 65% of virtual workplace team members have said they have never been involved in a physical team-building meeting, and 36% had never met their co-workers face-to-face.
Types of workplaces
Individual virtual workplaces vary in how they apply existing technology to facilitate team cooperation. Three popular approaches are:
2. Hot desk environment: employees do not have individual desks but are rather each day allocated to a desk where they can access the internet, email and computer network files. This is similar to hotelling: recognizing that employees spend more time at clients' offices than at the employer's office, they are not assigned a permanent desk.
3. Virtual team: employees collaborate by working closely together and in regular contact, although physically located in different parts of the world.
The pace of change: Not only is the work environment changing fast but the rate of change is accelerating. New technologies are only part of the challenge; some companies are finding that their three-year business plans need refining within months.
Productivity: Companies are under increasing pressure to deliver better quality products and services faster. Competition from Asian countries is already intense and it will not be long before similar competition is felt from other regions.
Office space and its cost: Office space has become a major expense for many organisations. One response has been to reduce the amount of space each employee occupies. Another is to increase the flexibility of the office’s layout and design. It is not easy to make the most of these approaches and keep employees happy—unless flexible work practices are also used.
Demographic change: There are more women in the workforce, more employees of other nationalities, increased participation from indigenous people and the average age of employees is increasing. These trends are forcing employers to rethink how they employ and manage staff and how they respond to employee interests and demands.
Fuel and energy costs: The costs of the energy needed to commute, live and work are increasing rapidly. Urban forms are expected to change as a result.
Virtual workplaces are advantageous in an information age where technology is expanding rapidly and consumer needs are being met from around the world. A virtual workplace enables individuals to work from any place in the world at anytime. This is convenient not only for the employee, but for the consumer as well. For an international organization it fits the need for excellent and timely customer service.
The most persuasive argument for any organization is cost. Virtual workplaces streamline systems from multiple facets of work into a single unified unit easily accessible by both the consumer and the employee. Decreasing costs as well as increasing efficiency, due to the single system, is an instantaneous advantage. A virtual workplace is easier for employees because it often reduces business travel, consolidates services, and assists in the communication process. Two examples of costs saved by IBM clients' virtual workplace implementation are:
- A global technology organization reported savings of $54 million in the first year of integrating the virtual workplace concept into the organization.
- An international financial organization estimated savings of over €270 million within five years
Productivity is crucial to any organization. With the implementation of a virtual workplace, productivity is increased immensely because employees are more focused on business related projects with only one system to overview. Also, collaborating with team members is made easy with a virtual workplace. The world is literally at their fingertips. With the internet, projects can be completed with increased speed and effectiveness, resulting in saved time. Most important, the needs of consumers are being met with a virtual workplace since it is more convenient for employees to access organizations.
Virtual workplaces allow a company to reach more of its employees via meeting workspaces and virtual training sessions. A company may choose to send only a handful of regional managers to a conference it sponsors annually to receive training in a new product. It may then rely on the managers to pass that knowledge on to its employees. Having a virtual training session saves a company money, not only the cost of travel where only a small handful of its employees receive proper training, but in the long run where all of its employees can receive the proper training and be more productive with a sharper learning curve.
In addition, the employees can more easily accommodate both personal and professional lives.
There are many challenges associated with the implementation of virtual workplaces, and if not carefully analyzed, organizations can be threatened by not fully realizing the enormous benefits that can be achieved. Some common challenges are:
1. Failure to leverage the technology that supports virtual workplaces, resulting in decrease in productivity
2. Lack of human contact could cause decreased team spirit, trust and productivity
3. Increased sensitivity to communication, interpersonal and cultural factors
All of these challenges can be overcome by recognizing the issue and finding the appropriate solution. For example, many of these challenges can be overcome by having good leadership applied in the virtual workplace. Good workplace leadership has been said to increase the probability of success in virtual workplaces and within virtual teams.
Grupo Siro case example
Grupo Siro is a Spanish food manufacturer headquartered in central Spain. The organization needed to condense its multiple systems into a core unit. To increase company efficiency Grupo Siro implemented a virtual workplace with the help of IBM. The use of one integrated system facilitated a more efficient and effective system for the organization. The implementation of a virtual workplace enables Grupo Siro to anticipate 100% return on investment in less than two years, higher employee productivity and increased responsiveness to customers.
Psychological and geographic effects
The long term effects of the virtual workplace are hard to predict. Using a remote and isolated work environment may be extremely conducive to productivity when writing a book, finishing a symphony, or coding a computer program. At the same time, narrow viewpoints, imagined customer responses, and subtle human tendencies may create psychological and professional conditions that have yet to be anticipated. The science of collaboration needs to be applied to the virtual workplace.
Another effect of the virtual workplace is geographic. If a job provides a certain level of pay and the location is not defined, it is advantageous for the worker to work in his or her hometown rather than a suburbtropolis. Recently for instance, Kokomo, Indiana suffered a crippling economic effect from the debilitating effects of the Chrysler and General Motors financial state. If a former resident of Kokomo wanted to move back there, buy a house at half of the previous price and earn a living designed for Houston or Chicago, his virtual workplace would not only decrease traffic congestion of Houston or Chicago, but also boost the economy of Kokomo to a large extent; the former resident would be back with family and friends, and the local economy would have greater diversification.
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (February 2008)|
- Dempster, Mike Team - Building key for virtual workplace Retrieved on June 26, 2006
- Powell, Anne Virtual Teams - A review of current literature and directions for future research Retrieved on June 26, 2006
- Yager, Susan Everything's coming up virtual Retrieved on June 26, 2006
- Greenlee, Dana Building a community in the virtual workplace Retrieved on June 26, 2006
- Stephen Haag, Maeve Cummings, Donald McCubbrey, Alain Pinsonneault and Richard Donovan Third Canadian Edition Management Information Systems for the Information Age Mcgraw-Hill Ryerson, Canada, 2006
- Prudz, Patryk VirtualWorkspace the drivers, opportunities and solutions November 6, 2012