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« Special Guest Post: Courtney Hunt | Main | Guest Blogger: Thank You Courtney Hunt! »

October 04, 2011


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Thanks, Courtney. FWIW, with regard to point 4 in your reply (4. Leadership support and promotion), I recall a story about Jack Welch wanting his business sector presidents to use email, so he hired a cadre of the best computer science new grads and assigned each to the staff of a president, charged to get that person on email. They succeeded, while getting terrific career-enhancing exposure to top management. And of course Neutron Jack got what he wanted. Yes, leadership support and promotion is a HUGE key.

Another great question, Michael. I'm going to take a different perspective on your office mate's findings (and I'm curious to know how long ago he did his research).

Most workers today are distant from their organizational leaders. Even if they may be physically co-located, there's little chance they actually see each other face-to-face - except for perhaps the occasional town hall meeting. Regardless of whether they're transactional or transformational, all leaders have to rely on asynchronous, digital channels to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders. Those channels include video, of course, which may be better suited to transformational leaders/messages. But cyberspace is full of charismatic thought leaders who have developed large, passionate followings of people who have never "shared air" with them. To name a few: Gary Vaynerchuk (sp?), Scott Monty, Chris Brogan, Beth Kanter, Seth Godin, Mari Smith...

Your comment raises some important issues about what it means to lead in the Digital Era, and what the requirements for successful leadership are. Last December I wrote the following blog post about the notion of "social leadership:"


And more recently I started collecting people's thoughts for a piece on the defining characteristics of Digital Era leaders:


The subject of Digital Era leadership is ripe for new exploration and thinking. It's a great topic for I-O psychologists to pursue.

Andy: I would refer you to Kyra Cavanaugh and her company, Life Meets Work. She's dedicated herself to helping organizations define effective strategies for managing flexible work arrangements, and has a wealth of resources and best practice examples to share. Here's a link to their website:


Kurt: great point. Do you have a link to the interview you can share?

I'll add another dimension to your point: Though we're living - and working - in the Digital Era, most of our systems are built on Industrial Era models and assumptions. For example, digital activity is inherently nonlinear - whether we're talking people or data, it's all about networks and interconnections. Industrial activity, by contrast, is inherently linear (think assembly lines). One of the interesting ironies is that although our brains still work in non-linear, unstructured ways (think about how you conduct internet searches), we've been so strongly socialized by school and work to force structure that we have a hard time thinking about how to approach work in more natural ways.

This is another critical Digital Era issue that requires some serious thought and investigation. How do we get out of our own way?!?!

Jose: great example of real-world problems and how those problems can be explored by researchers. I'd love to know what recommendations have emerged from Tine's research.

Milt: great question. I am a big proponent of private digital networks, and I think/hope adoption of them will increase. There are already lots of great tools/platforms available, but adoption is still relatively low. Some of that can be attributed to the current state of world's economies, which seem to keep people focused on yesterday/today rather than tomorrow, but another significant factor is a lack of understanding of new digital technologies and how they can be used to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

A lot of 2.0 proponents talk about egalitarian, bottom-up adoption movements, but I don't think that's practical, for some of the reasons you mention. At the individual user level, there definitely needs to be a clear sense of WIIFM (what's in it for me). When people understand the potential benefits of using a new tool, they are much more willing to slog through the frustration of climbing through the necessary learning curves.

There are probably four critical components to increased and more successful adoptions of 2.0 technologies in organizations:

1. Education
2. Communication
3. Leveraging influencers
4. Leadership support and promotion

Sound familiar? These are some of the common components in any change initiative. In the case of 2.0 technologies in particular, I differ from many because I think the 4th element has to come first. Organic, bottom-up growth is great, but in most organizations it's not practical. There also needs to be a strategic, top-down, deliberate push to move things forward in the desired direction. Unfortunately, most leaders are followers when it comes to new technologies, and they're waiting for someone else to take the first-mover risks. This is a HUGE issue, and one we could talk about for hours...

Thanks for adding to the conversation, Lisa, Milt, Jose & Kurt. I'll respond to each of your comments individually...

Lisa: I can understand your concern about the public sharing issues associated with projecting a live Twitter feed/tweets in a central location at a meeting, but the potential audience is even bigger than that. Anyone who is on Twitter (but not at the conference) can see the tweets as well if they either follow the hashtag and/or follow individuals at the conference who are tweeting. There are definite benefits to this global sharing (e.g., getting folks interested in the organization and/or conference), but I've also witnessed the downside when some tweeters passionately shared their criticisms of a pair of speakers - live! Not only could the speakers not defend themselves in the moment, they also had no substantive recourse after the fact. There are a host of other issues associated with live tweeting as well. It's a practice that really appeals to some people but is not as simple to manage as some advocates like to think.

On the research side, I think all your questions are great. I think we need to be very thoughtful about how we define "virtual worker" however. In your sample questions, the virtual worker is essentially a telecommuter. But many people who collaborate with each other today do so without the benefits of being physically co-located. So even people who work in an office rather than out of their own homes engage in virtual work more often than not. Faculty members, for example, are essentially virtual workers - and they have been for many years. So are folks in outside sales and service, and a variety of knowledge workers...

One final thought on the incivility issue. Many of the organizations that have upgraded their intranets to include 2.0 functionality have experienced no issues with incivility. The lack of anonymity and the need to manage one's career/professional brand seem to minimize the problem of inappropriate engagement. Of course, the data is mostly anecdotal, so it's definitely a topic worthy of rigorous study.

Sorry to hear you won't be in Louisville. It would have been great to see you.

Hi Courtney,

One of the questions I have is how leadership is affected by digital tools. Because communicating digitally is relatively information-poor compared to communicating face to face, it seems to be difficult for leaders to be inspirational or charismatic in digital environments. In fact, my old office mate in grad school did his dissertation on this, suggesting that transactional leadership is better suited to leading virtual teams than transformational leadership.

The implication might be that people who work virtually feel less socially connected to their organizations, coworkers, and leaders, and view their work only as a transaction of labor for compensation. In contrast, people who work co-located may be more likely to develop stronger ties with each other and the organization. What do you think?


My company currently is developing a policy outlining a comprehensive "alternative work arrangement" initiative (telecommuting, compressed work weeks, flex schedules, etc.). While we've done a fair amount of research on this, in your opinion, which organizations might we look to for "best practice" ideas?

Hi Courtney,
I'm looking forward to hearing your presentation at the LEC.
I have a link to an interview I did locally on both the LEC and the topic of virtual work. One of the points I made is that we have to begin by rethinking all of the assumptions we hold about what a job is, what work is, what it means to meet, etc.
But knowing what is an assumption v. what is habit is difficult for a lot of organizational leaders. Hoping you'll challenge our thinking.

Hi Courtney et al. Really interesting stuff. It reminds me that one of my former students, Tine Koehler, is doing work on the challenges faced by internationally distributed teams (IDTs). For obvious reasons, most if not all of their work is done virtually, which creates unique communication and coordination challenges. In IDTs, the situation is made more complex by the fact that different cultures have different norms with respect to coordination and communcation. She found, for example, that Germans and Finns often find the sharing of personal information in IDTs to be unprofessional, whereas Americans see the reticence of Germans and Finns as cold or even rude. These are difficult issues to resolve in f2f interactions, but they are even more challenging in the faceless, time-restricted virtual environment.

Having spent a decade trying to get my university and many others to adopt electronic portfolios as a means thru which students can document their accomplishments ("learning goes beyond knowing to being able to do what one knows"), a key challenge is getting real workers to open their minds to the possibilities afforded by Web 2.0 tools. Do you see any signs that the rapid evolution of new information technologies will slow down enough to permit real workers beyond the early adopters to invest in learning to use web applications and thus enter the world of virtual work?

Hi Courtney! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the SIOP community today. I have just a couple of comments.

From my vantage point as Conference Chair, I share some of Dave's concerns and excitement regarding how we use social media at the conference. We were talking about having a twitter board (Is that what it's called? I don't use Twitter!) up in the virtual lounge area at the conference and though I generally liked the idea, I do know that people are quick to post criticisms and complaints and I didn't know how/if a public display of that would produce some negative energy/vibes at the conference which is usually buzzing with positive energy. At the same time, I really do think it does allow us to respond quickly to real problems and prevent them from getting out of hand.

My second set of thoughts were about research in the virtual workplace. I think there are so many questions that need to be answered with rigorous empirical examination, and best with academic-practitioner partnerships. Some of the questions I think about include: How do we best keep virtual workers engaged in their job? How does the socialization process change for virtual employees? Which individual difference variables help predict success with virtual work? And, probably one I'm most interested in, how do workplace relationships develop differently among virtual workers (including supervisor/subordinate and mentor/mentee relationships) due to the different communication procedures, and under what conditions is there a greater vs. lower likelihood of incivility in those relationships due to either increased social boldness/reduced inhibitions in virtual communication, or the opposite, increased likelihood of tracking communications.

Just a few thoughts. Thanks again. Sorry I can't be at the LEC but I'm eager to hear more about it.

Thanks for kicking things off, Dave and Noelle.

Dave, you provide some great examples of real-time intelligence - and there are scads more. You also bring up one of the key challenges, which is something that causes a lot of leaders concern and makes them hesitant to engage. As I discuss in Part 3 of the Social Media Primer, the risk of negative/inappropriate comments exists regardless. If an organization is digitally engaged, it can address and manage any potentially damaging comments much more quickly and effectively than it can by not being engaged. You can't avoid risk, but there are effective ways to manage it.

One other challenge that your comment hints at is the issue of privacy. Because Twitter is a public channel, the feedback and comments people make (while at a conference for example) are potentially heard by a very large group. We need to start thinking about better ways to manage the public/private distinctions in our digital conversations.

Noelle - your issue is likely to become increasingly common as it extends beyond telecommuters to workers of all types. Mobile devices in particular mean that it's virtually impossible to escape work. I too would like to hear some best practice suggestions based on existing research.

Courtney - I wanted to share a couple thoughts from my vantage point as SIOP Executive Director. One way that digital technology can be applied to improve efficiency is through the gathering of real-time intelligence. For example, we had more SIOP members using Twitter at the 2011 SIOP conference than ever before. By monitoring the Twitter feed, you can detect and respond to potential problems (out of coffee, room too hot or too cold, overcrowding)rapidly. In the past, we wouldn't learn about some of these issues until receiving the post-conference evaluations.

One of the great challenges we face is the unfiltered nature of social media. While blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter give an opportunity for free-flowing discussion, this is a two-edged sword. Negative or inappropriate comments can spread virally in a very short period.

I've been telecommuting in some fashion for several years now. In my current position, I work from my home office 95% of the time. One of the challenges that I face currently is that it's hard to be "offline" when your office is always just a few steps away from home. I think one of the key challenges and issues I/O psychologists should address is how to best manage virtual workers to be high performers while avoiding burnout. This is something I struggle with every day. Any thoughts you have on this issue would be greatly appreciated! Thanks much!

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