Study: Organizational Use of The Virtual Workplace

Organizational use of a virtual workplace has increased drastically over the last several years. Despite increases in this work setting, few quantitative studies have been undertaken to assess the overall problems that can occur in virtual workplaces. Overall, investigations into this issue have focused primarily on anecdotal evidence. Utilizing this as a basis for research, this investigation considers the responses of all the employees working in virtual workplaces. In particular, the research focuses on the specific problems encountered by employees working in this environment. Additionally, the survey considers what resources employees need to improve the virtual workplace. Our research concludes by noting that while most employees appear to be satisfied at work in the virtual workplace, there are significant areas of improvement which could notably impact the quality of work that is conducted in this type of environment. Recommendations are made to assist in the development of virtual workplaces such that they can be made more appealing for all employees.

Introduction To The Case

The development and proliferation of technology has had substantial impacts on the development of society. Nowhere is this more evident than in the modern workplace. Here interoffice memos have been replaced with email and many work schedules have been supplemented with telecommuting schedules. While organizations may be looking to reap the benefits of establishing a virtual workplace, the reality is that there are a number of challenges associated with these constructs that need to be taken into consideration before a virtual office is developed.

With the realization that the virtual office can promulgate considerable problems for the organization, there is a clear impetus to consider the problems that can occur in this context. Using this as a basis for investigation, this research considers a review of what has been written about the problems of the virtual workplace. Using this information as a basis for further inquiry, employees working predominantly in virtual environments will be surveyed in an effort to assess the overall scope of the current research on the topic. From this information, it will be possible to garner a more integral understanding of the problems facing employees in the virtual workplace. It will then be possible to make salient recommendations for the development of virtual workplaces.

Literature Review

The Virtual Workplace: An Overview

To understand this investigation it is first helpful to consider the definition of the virtual workplace. Although this term is frequently used to describe a number of situations in which employees replace traditional work schedules with telecommuting or home-based work environments, clarification of this term is necessary such that a more integral understanding of the contexts in which virtual workplaces can be applied. Defining the virtual workplace, Davenport and Pearlson (1998) argue that the virtual workplace can encompass any organization that utilizes remote or mobile environments to support day-to-day operations. Virtual workplaces can exist with or without a bricks-and-mortar organization. As such, any employment opportunity that offers the individual employee the ability to work from home or work outside of the office could be classified as a virtual workplace. Davenport and Pearlson include in their definition practices such as telecommuting and “hoteling.”

In addition to examining the definition of the virtual workplace, it is also helpful to consider the overall extent of the development of virtual workplaces. Davenport and Pearlson in their examination of the virtual workplace go on to note that many large companies in the US are moving to this method of organizational development. 

Clearly, what the data on virtual workplaces indicates is that the number of these environments continues to grow each year. Davenport and Pearlson go on to note that virtual workplaces have become important to both employees and employers because they offer a host of benefits to both groups. In the case of employers, the virtual organization makes it possible for the organization to reduce fixed costs associated with renting and maintaining physical office space. In addition, Davenport and Pearlson note that early conceptions of the virtual workplace argued that providing employees with the ability to work from home, would improve productivity as employees would be more relaxed and focused working from their homes. For employees, the virtual workplace offers the opportunity to work from home without the problems associated with traditional workplaces-for instance, commuting to work, paying for parking, etc. In addition, virtual workplaces offer the employee the flexibility of a more relaxed work schedule.

Problems with the Virtual Workplace

Although the virtual workplace appears to be a panacea for all of the problems that can occur in the context of the workplace, it has not been well examined in the current literature. Despite this however researchers examining the overall development of the virtual workplace have been able to identify key issues that can promulgate distress for both employers and employees utilizing virtual workplaces. For example, Hill, Hawkins, Ferris, and Weitzman (2001) note that some researchers examining the problems associated with virtual workplaces have noted that many employees can find it difficult to balance out home and work life. For many employees, the virtual workplace often means that the activities that traditionally take place in the work environment take place in the home environment. This change can add additional stress for the employee as he or she attempts to separate work and family life.

Other researchers examining the problems engendered in the virtual workplace have noted that gaps in communication can significantly impact the overall ability of the organization to remain successful. Davenport and Pearlson argue that the traditional workplace makes unplanned, frequent communication possible. In the virtual workplace, however, communication does not take place in the same manner. As a direct result, the typical information that is transmitted during unplanned communication in the workplace is lost. This can create considerable gaps in communication making it difficult for employees to remain productive. Although Davenport and Pearlson argue that steps can be taken to mitigate communication problems in the virtual workplace, the problems that persist with respect to this issue are significant problem in the context of developing virtual workplaces. Davenport and Pearlson assert that organizations employing virtual workplaces need to consider developing frequent communications among all employees.

Finally, researchers examining the problems that can arise in the context of the virtual workplace note that significant issues can arise when organizations seek to coordinate efforts across a team environment. Fritz, Narasimhan and Hyeun-Suk (1998) report that when organizations attempt to bring employees together in the virtual workplace for the purposes of collaboration, finding a common ground for these meetings to take place on can prove to be problematic in many instances. The virtual environment serves as the basis to disenfranchise employees not only from the organization but also from one another. Unfortunately, this issue can promulgate considerable problems when the organization must establish teams or workgroups in order to make a project successful. Clearly, these issues must be mitigated if organizations are to successfully develop and implement virtual workplaces.

Although the current research that has been conducted on the issue of developing virtual workplaces demonstrates that there are significant problems with respect to this particular practice, much of the research that has been produced on this issue is anecdotal in nature. With few empirical studies to examine, it is impossible to know which variables will impact the virtual workplace and what impact these variables will have on the development of the organization. With this in mind, it is evident that more qualitative research on this subject is necessary in order to effectively demonstrate what occurs in the context of virtual workplaces. Without a clear understanding of the issues that impact virtual workplaces, it will be difficult for employers to further develop this specific organizational structure. Further, without a clear understanding of how issues raised in the process of developing virtual workplaces impact the organization, companies will have no method for accessing the potential impacts of developing a virtual workplace.

Methods Used In Our Research

The first step in the marketing research process is to choose relevant random subjects

The subjects for this investigation included 32 employees from three different local organizations which had recently implemented virtual workplaces. Of these employees, 17 were male and 15 were female. All had been telecommuting or working from a virtual workplace for at least six months. The median age of the employees was N = 35 with the youngest employee being 25 years of age and the oldest being 49 years of age. All subjects utilized in this investigation had been that working with their current employer for at least two years, with the median number of years with employer equal to 3.7. Job classifications for the subjects followed typical stereotypes of white-collar workers-i.e. all employees working in the organization had received some amount of postsecondary education.

The design of our study

This investigation utilized the collection of survey data from the 32 respondents with respect to their experiences in the virtual workplace. All of the questions utilized in this survey are close-ended ensure that individual responses were garnered from all participants. Based on the specific findings reported in the literature with respect to the problems associated with virtual workplaces, the questions for the survey were formulated in an effort to determine the particular problems being experienced by employees actually engaged in these types of working environments. In addition to assessing the overall impact of the virtual workplace on the individual, the survey also sought to determine what specific changes to the virtual workplace would help improve outcomes for employees using virtual workplaces.

Methods of data collection

In order to collect data for this investigation, it was first necessary to identify organizations working in the local area that utilized virtual workplaces for some aspect of business operations. In total, six organizations were identified and that met the criteria necessary for inclusion in this research study. After careful review of each of the organizations, three were selected as potential candidates for survey administration. From these three organizations, 32 employees volunteered to take place in the study. Survey questionnaires were given to managers or human resource officials at these organizations and distributed to employees. Employees were given one week to complete the survey and turn it in. Because the survey respondents had identified their willingness to participate in the study, it was not necessary to re-administer the survey questionnaires to garner a higher percentage of overall participation in the research. Once the surveys had been returned, the data provided was tabulated and calculated the results of the data collection can be found below.

Results of our study

The results for this investigation are presented both in tabular and graph format and ordered to highlight the importance of the data collected in each of the questions. Table 1 provides a general overview of the demographic data of the sample population.

Conclusions based on the above information

Overall, the data collected in this investigation suggests that a majority of the respondents are satisfied with their working conditions. This is despite the fact that many feel that they have a difficult time balancing work and home lives. Clearly, the reduction of stress in the overall work atmosphere has had a positive impact on the experiences of these employees. Yet, despite overall levels of satisfaction with the virtual workplaces, these employees do indicate that there are specific methods that could be utilized to improve their experiences. More training and more access to resources were noted as the top two methods that organizations could utilize to improve the virtual workplace experience. Although more training and access to resources were the most important needs of employees are research clearly shows that the needs all the employees are somewhat evenly distributed among the four choices provided. What this effectively suggests is that employees entering of the virtual workplace will have a myriad of needs that must be addressed by employers in order to make this process effective.

Recommendations from Unlimited Marketing

Based on the data collected in this investigation, it seems feasible to argue that organizations need to provide their virtual employees with a needs assessment in order to better understand the specific challenges facing employees placed in virtual workplaces. Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the respondents surveyed in this investigation indicated significant satisfaction with virtual workplaces, all identified specific areas that the organization could improve upon to enhance employee’s experiences in the virtual workplace. If employers are to make the most out of the use of virtual workplaces, they must ensure that employees are given all of the tools and resources needed to ensure their success. Organizations that do not effectively meet these needs may find it difficult, if not impossible, to effectively establish virtual workplaces.

Limitations of this research

Although this research provides critical information about how employees are responding to virtual workplaces, it is limited by the number of respondents and the geographical location of data collection. Further research on this topic should include a larger sample population from various regions of the United States. By increasing the number and diversity of subjects for investigation it may be possible to identify other issues that may promulgate dissatisfaction of employees in the virtual workplace. Only by improving methodologies for examining this subject will it be possible to garner a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges and problems facing employees in the virtual workplace.

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