Traditionally employment used to be a place where people went to work but today employment represents an activity instead of a location. Researchers have applied different terminologies to describe virtual work, for example; telecommuting, distributed virtual teams, tele-work, or remote work. After extensive research on this subject I learned that the term virtual workforce was first coined in the 1970s although it was practiced in Europe decades ago. However, in the United States this term seemed futuristic in the 1980s; then in the 1990s it gradually seeped into the lexicon of human resource professionals.
I understand that a primary motivation for businesses to embrace virtual work methods springs from the individual’s desire for a more flexible structure, one which emphasizes quality work-life balance and contributes to business continuity planning measures. Creating a company culture for the staff to work where it suits them promotes higher employee retention. Whether working from home, satellite office, or on the road, I view that today’s workplace is an opportunity for technology, space, processes, and people to achieve business goals and enhance performance.
Since this practice is still new I realize its growth as well as practicality will depend on a progressive and innovative management style. Such innovation will be characterized by greater reliance on technological monitoring of employees’ performance and results along with a higher emphasis on communicating expectations and long-term objectives. Through my readings I am seeing companies like Boeing seeking to capitalize on this distinction by leveraging technology to support a distributed workforce.
I recently read a book titled, Uniting the Virtual Workforce: transforming leadership and innovation in the globally integrated enterprise by Sobel-Lojeski and Reilly that draws a beautiful picture illustrating the challenges of maintaining relationships between virtual and location-based employees.
Are you and your senior leadership team ready to venture out of the comfort-zone?