Managing the Virtual Workforce Requires Knowledge of Communication Behavior

By Gillis, Tamara L. | Communication World, August-September 2003 | Go to article overview

Managing the Virtual Workforce Requires Knowledge of Communication Behavior


Gillis, Tamara L., Communication World


Over the past decade, working remotely from clients' offices, telecommuting and working on the road have become common work arrangements, according to Ann M. Mayer-Guell, author of "Characteristics, Communication Patterns and Organizational Identification Levels of Remote Workers."

As the number of remote workers increases globally, assumptions are often made about their work habits, behaviors and preferences.

In her research, Mayer Guell found significant differences between remote and non-remote workers concerning organizational identification and other factors. She identified training as an important variable in overcoming communication problems and in solving other issues common to the virtual workforce.

The IABC Research Foundation's newest release, "Communication Behavior of Virtual Workforces," can help managers solve some of these concerns that arise in managing the virtual workforce.

The research team for this project includes academic scholars and communication practitioners: Mayer-Guell, Krishna Kandath, Ph.D., Everett M. Rogers and John Oetzel. Their final report, available from IABC, includes a review of current intelligence concerning the behavior, attitudes and work patterns of virtual workers, as well as a training manual for managers who currently supervise or will be supervising remote employees.

MANAGING VIRTUAL EMPLOYEES

For those seeking understanding of virtual workforce issues in depth, the new report provides an annotated bibliography of current scholarly literature, including perspectives from communication, management, organizational development and management of information systems, as well as insights into the research team's approach to this project.

The team conducted a content analysis of the scholarly literature to enhance understanding of communication in virtual workforces. Their extensive research ultimately led to creation of the training manual that accompanies this report.

Based on an exhaustive inventory of propositions, the preliminary propositional inventory was developed through a content analysis of the identified literature. In creating the training manual, the researchers focused on the issues of immediate importance to the workplace and identified five principal areas/topics of interest:

* comparative advantages of using computer-mediated communication and face-to-face communication

* comparative disadvantages of using computer-mediated communication and face-to-face communication

* similarities between computer-mediated communication and face-to-face communication

* outcomes of training on communication in virtual workforces

* gender differences and their influence on communication in virtual organizations.

DEVELOPING THE TRAINING MANUAL

According to the research team, organizations that rely on virtual workers have five main areas of concern: managing interpersonal conflicts; building trust, commitment and self-efficacy; and managing gender and cultural differences among the virtual workforce and their in-office co-workers.

The manual delves into those concerns by providing communication practitioners with presentations and training exercises, discussion questions and a questionnaire for assessing the communication behavior of virtual employees. …

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