Managing IT Professional in Virtual Environment Term Paper

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Managing Professionals in Virtual Environment

As technology has evolved, the reality of virtual organizations has begun to take hold in a variety of industries. It is now commonplace for employees to work, at least in part, from offsite. Telecommuting is a reality that has allowed companies to reduce costs, become more competitive, and facilitate happier more productive employees. Virtual employees, or "telework is one of the most radical departures from standard working conditions in the suite of flexible work practices now gaining widespread acceptance." (Daniels, Lamond, & Standen, 2001)

Managing Professionals in Virtual Environment

As technology has evolved, the reality of virtual organizations has begun to take hold in a variety of industries. It is now commonplace for employees to work, at least in part, from offsite. Telecommuting is a reality that has allowed companies to reduce costs, become more competitive, and facilitate happier more productive employees. Virtual employees, or "telework is one of the most radical departures from standard working conditions in the suite of flexible work practices now gaining widespread acceptance." (Daniels, Lamond, & Standen, 2001)

In addition, it has allowed employers assist their employees in meeting that ever so delicate work-life balance. As Tronco (2001) notes, "an increasing number of companies are finding that, for some of its employees, working from home just makes sense." In 2000, Cascio noted, "Virtual workplaces, in which employees operate remotely from each other and from managers, are a reality, and will become even more common in the future."

Information Technology team members are particularly well suited for virtual positions. Technology today allows IT professionals to remotely assist users, at any hour of the day. Innovations such as web cams have even added a personal touch to remote IT staff. However, managing virtual employees requires new strategies, to ensure they are performing as effectively and efficiently as possible. Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk, & McPherson (2002) note the challenges virtual employees my face, especially as members of virtual teams. They identify "five challenges that organizations can expect to encounter in establishing, maintaining, and supporting virtual teams, e.g., building trust, cohesion, and team identity, and overcoming isolation among virtual team members." Watson-Manheim, Chudoba, and Crowston (2002) note that virtual work environments create "discontinuities (which) are gaps or a lack of coherence in aspects of work."

The following literature review discusses previous research on the topic of virtual employees in the workforce, and was more narrowly defined to the topic of the challenges that are faced in managing these new workers. Surprisingly, there was no relevant research available dealing with the management of virtual IT personnel specifically; yet, much of the research done on managing virtual employees, in general, was relevant to IT professionals and informative.

However, the lack of IT profession specific research clearly emphasizes an area where research is currently lacking.

Literature Review:

Tronco (2001) discusses the challenges often faced by managers in ensuring that employees are functioning as productively as possible when working virtually. He notes, "An increasing number of companies are finding that, for some of its employees, working from home just makes sense. Employees who are entrepreneurial, independent, dependable and creative by nature often work best as virtual employees." (Tronco, 2001) However, in addition to these benefits, there are challenges as well.

To overcome these challenges, Tronco suggests ensuring that several steps are being taken. First, he emphasizes the importance of regular communication with virtual employees. Expressed appreciation is also key to successful virtual employee management. And, finally, ensure that technology is being utilized to its fullest to facilitate communication. For example, organizations can use tools such as instant messaging, and a free voice-mail/fax/email service to receive faxes. Complimentary technology, such as, a free Web bulletin-board service, can archive employee conversations for review and reference later. (Tronco, 2001)

Tronco's credentials were not discussed, but some very valuable information was put forth. A valid point was made about communication and appreciation, as oftentimes employees in all fields that are working virtually feel disconnected from the rest of the organization. And, it may be easier for managers not to express their appreciation without physically seeing the employee day in and out.

Cascio (2000), a professor of management at University of Colorado at Denver, agrees with Tronco in that communication is of critical importance; however he goes on to discuss in more detail the benefits and challenges that are often encountered in virtual workplaces. Reductions in real estate expenses, increased productivity, increased profits, improved customer service, access to global markets, and environmental benefits are some of the reasons why organizations turn to telecommuting. (Cascio, 2000) However, despite the sound business reasons for implementing virtual employees, difficulties abound. Set up and maintenance costs are one such challenge that an organization must consider. In addition, cultural clashes, isolation and lack of trust, can make the arrangement less cost efficient then housing an employee in-house.

These challenges are emphasized by the physical separation of workers from their managers. This is a new world for managers, managing people they cannot physically see. In addition, management must realize that their skills are needed more than ever, despite the lack of warm bodies sitting in their immediate office. (Cascio, 2000)

To counter these challenges, Cascio (2000) notes that managers need to shift their focal point. Instead of focusing on time in which tasks are accomplished, they must concentrate on actual results achieved. As mentioned, formal and informal effective communication skills have to be a part of the manager's repertoire, as well as the ability to delegate effectively. In addition, managers must have an open, positive attitude when it comes to finding solutions to the challenges that will inevitable occur in virtual-work arrangements. In the end, it's a fairly thorough discussion of the benefits, challenges, and methods of management important to virtual employers.

Gabel and Mansfield (2003), both Associate Professors of Legal Studies, Risk Management and Insurance Department, J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University, discuss a completely defend aspect of virtual employees that affects management, the legal ramifications of virtual employees. With employees telecommuting, managers are not able to control the time, method or manner tasks are accomplished, as they are when employees are onsite. In addition, the distinction between employees and independent contractors becomes less clear. And, lastly, the authors note that there is question of jurisdiction and venue when workplace disputes occur with virtual employees. They feel that Congress needs to clarify these issues, and management needs to be aware of them, in order to protect both the employee's and the organization's rights. (Gabel & Mansfield, 2003)

Their article sheds opens up the discussion of managing virtual employees to include a facet many would not initially consider. Issues, in which managers are typically well versed, such as the Family Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Workmen's Compensation laws, are not written to take into account virtual employees.

Other more practical managerial challenges arise as well, that goes alongside these other employment law issues. Taxation issues are another legal challenge for virtual employees. Fair methods of taxation must be insured when a virtual employee lives in one state, while an employer is located in another. (Dean, 2002)

The three seemingly evident paradoxes to virtual employees were researched by Pearlson and Saunders (2001). Pearlson is the President of KP Partners and Zero Time Institute, and is the co-author of Zero Time: Providing Instant Customer Value. Saunders is a Professor of MIS at the University of Oklahoma, and is the associate editor of MIS Quarterly, Decision Sciences Journal, Information Systems Research, and Information Resources Management Journal.

The three paradoxes explored in their study was how telecommuting has both an increase in structure and flexibility, focuses on the individual and teams, and has both an increase and decrease in control. They see four solutions, for managers, to surviving these paradoxes. The first is to accept the paradox. The second thing a manager can do is clarify the employee's point-of-view. Third, a manager must have an accounting for time from the virtual employee. And, fourth, the manager must use new perspectives, as the tried and true of yesterday simply does not apply. (Pearlson & Saunders, 2001)

The use of actual companies that utilize virtual employees extensively was helpful in driving home the importance of these paradoxes. In addition, they helped bring to light actual examples of the theoretical solutions posed. In the end, it complimented other research performed, as flexibility is not often discussed in other author's works, and is key to managing virtual employees successfully.

The comparison of the traditional office to the 8-track tape was made by Davenport and Pearlson (1998). Davenport is a professor of information systems at Boston University School of Management, while Pearlson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Graduate School of Business. With the demise of the traditional notion of an office, new approaches to evaluating, educating and organizing virtual employees are necessary. For many companies, work is becoming something you do, not simply just a place one…[continue]

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