Working Virtually

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Overview

With the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of millions of workers worldwide had to do some or all of their job tasks virtually, away from a physical office. While this was an unexpected shock, it has followed a trend that has been growing over the last 20 years of more people working remotely in this way. The pandemic accelerated this trend. And while post-pandemic it is expected that many people will return to face-to-face work, it is also expected that virtual work will become more of a norm in general across jobs and most jobs will have some elements of being virtual. Many jobs already have built in elements to promote virtual work with email connecting people wherever they are and the internet providing means for doing work anywhere. Thus, working virtually is an important skill for success for working today and in the future. This Skill will help you to consider the nature of working virtually and improve how you yourself work virtually.

The ability of people to work remotely has been facilitated by various information technology such as email, smart phones, computers, the internet, and a wide range of online applications. People are asked to work virtually on their own using such technology. This Skill will offer a number of strategies and considerations you should take into account to become a better virtual worker.

Organizations will also often ask you to work virtually with others. Such teams have been called “virtual teams” and involve a team that has members who are dispersed across different locations who use technology as the major way to communicate with each other (Schaubroeck & Yu, 2017). Teams vary in virtuality, that is, the degree to which they are geographically dispersed and use technology to communicate (Gilson et al., 2015). Virtual teams present unique challenges, as people need to figure out how best to communicate with and get to know each other. For a virtual team to be successful, they need to have a shared understanding of what each person needs to do and how each person fits. Trust is also crucial, as team members need to trust each other to accomplish group goals (Gilson et al., 2015). This Skill will talk about these considerations and how you can work best on a virtual team.

It is also important to note that communication mediums can help teams but also lead to work related problems. One important issue here is that information technology can lead to the exposure of personal information that is detrimental to a person’s career. Many people have been fired or punished by an organization due to their personal content online, a phenomenon that has been called “Facebook Fired” (O’Connor et al., 2016). This happens when content is seen as not fitting with organizational interests or reputation. When working virtually, this type of content is even more likely to be found and have a negative impact. This Skill will discuss such concerns and what you can do to avoid being “Facebook Fired.”

Finally, we will look at how this information technology has led to a new type of virtual work through the gig economy. The gig economy is a type of work that uses online platforms to digitally connect workers with consumers, with the individual online platform as the facilitator of work (Duggan et al., 2020). Common examples are Uber, Instacart, and Amazon Mechanical Turk. The gig economy involves gig workers paid for the particular task rather than hourly or via a stable salary. So if you drive for Uber, you drive a passenger to their destination while Uber provides the medium for connecting you with the passenger and all of the logistics of payment and other factors like evaluation. While these jobs officially have people working individually, in practice gig workers have connected together through websites and applications to help each other and share what gigs are worthwhile to do (Schmidt & Jettinghoff, 2016). In this Skill, you will learn more about the gig economy and how you might be successful as a gig worker.

Further Reading

Duggan, J., Sherman, U., Carbery, R., & McDonnell, A. (2020). Algorithmic management and app‐work in the gig economy: A research agenda for employment relations and HRM. Human Resource Management Journal, 30(1), 114132.
Gilson, L. L., Maynard, M. T., Young, N. C. J., Vartiainen, M., & Hakonen, M. (2015). Virtual teams research: 10 years, 10 themes, and 10 opportunities. Journal of Management, 41, 13131337.
O’Connor, K. W., Schmidt, G. B., & Drouin, M. (2016). Helping workers understand and follow social media policies. Business Horizons, 59, 205211.
Schmidt, G. B., & Jettinghoff, W. (2016). Using Amazon Mechanical Turk and other compensated crowdsourcing sites. Business Horizons, 59, 391400.
Schaubroeck, J. M., & Yu, A. (2017). When does virtuality help or hinder teams? Core team characteristics as contingency factors. Human Resource Management Review, 27, 635647.
Tennenbaum, S., & Salas, E. (2020). Teams that work: The seven drivers of team effectiveness. Oxford University Press.
Wysocki, R. K. (2019). Effective project management: Traditional, agile, extreme,
hybrid
(
8th ed.
). Wiley.