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The distribution and mobilization of activities in the corporate value chain has increased dramatically over the last decade and will continue to do so as these organizations seek to reduce costs, get closer to their customers, ally themselves with other companies, and engage the best talent, wherever it may be.
Working In Multiple Places
Two Examples: Global Sales Force and Local Maintenance Workers
A Global Sales Force
A sales force is marketing tailored product and system packages in developing countries. The manager has seven local workers and five others in China, Russia, Singapore, India, and the United States. The U.S. representative is responsible for activities in Africa. In addition, every 2 to 3 months an extended steering group, also including product managers, has its meeting. The meetings are supposed to be face-to-face, but often, customer appointments make this impossible, and virtual meetings and call conferences are used instead for communication and decision making.
Employees consider the distribution of their working locations, asynchronous ways of working, and the diversity of the people they meet to be the main complexity factors in their work (see Figure 84.1). They fly to their working destinations, passing through several time zones. Locally, they also use cars and trains. For example, one of the employees described his trips as follows:
I have around 80 travel days yearly. I often go to Latin America. Usually I go there twice a month, each trip lasting around one week. In addition I go to China, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
We typically have trade shows where I meet local clients. Usually during a week I try to focus my work so that for example I visit four countries and cities during the same trip: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. A one-day visit to each to meet the local account team in the morning and to visit customers in the afternoon.
When traveling, they work in the company’s local office, at customers’ premises, in conference venues, and in hotels. The purpose of moving is twofold: first, to meet and cowork with their own local teams, and second, working with customers to promote product sales. Diverse actors such as media people, local politicians, researchers, and company people are met. This brings with it various cultural, religious, and individual influences on the ways and contents of communication. Working times are a challenge. For example, an employee may start to work at 3:00 a.m. local time in order to be able to have a joint call conference with colleagues in Europe. And while working at home, he may participate in a virtual meeting at 9:00 p.m. in order to have a joint meeting with American colleagues. The sales force is mainly occupied with temporary projects; when a task is fulfilled, a project ends and a new one starts. Employees consider face-to-face meetings important, especially for convincing customers. When traveling, sales force employees use electronic connections sparingly.
Figure 84.1 Global Sales Force’s Complexity Factors
Figure 84.2 Mobile Maintenance Workers’ Complexity Factors
Mobile Maintenance Employees in a City
A large-scale engineering and facility management enterprise employs people globally, but its teams work locally. Workers are organized into groups of maintenance workers under one supervisor. In each city, there are several service districts, each with its own responsible supervisor. The service districts are further divided into maintenance areas, each with one maintenance employee. Maintenance work consists of the service tasks defined in the maintenance contract, alarm situations demanding immediate response, and possible on-call and specified tasks (Figure 84.2).
The size of the maintenance area is some 20 to 30 square kilometers. The weekly round per employee is roughly 50 to 100 kilometers. The number of estates to be serviced varies from 150 to 250 per person. Their daily visits vary in number from 10 to 20, depending on how demanding the maintenance tasks are. Sometimes a whole day can be spent at one location. Each employee uses a transit van for transferring spare parts and maintenance equipment from one service location to another.
The maintenance employees receive their work orders and report the completed jobs via a palm computer. On receiving work orders, the employees themselves “commission” monthly service lists into the palm computer, while in acute situations the customer service center sends a message to it. Reporting on the job takes place immediately after the work, directly from the job location. Electronic work reports are the basis of the payroll and act as the basis for client invoices.
Collaboration between the employees and contact between the team members and their supervisor are maintained by telephone, by palm computer, and with text messages. The employee need not carry several tools with him. Service work also involves safety risks. Therefore, if the maintenance employee has not used the software application for one hour, the application sends an inquiry about the situation.
The employees drive directly from home to the service area, where they start work at 7:00 a.m. and work until 4:00 p.m., after which they drive straight home. Employees assist one another in tasks that cannot be completed alone, for instance, for reasons of safety. This adds to their jobs, as they need to move outside their maintenance areas. The factors affecting the time spent on the move are not only the number of kilometers driven but also the 2 or 3 hours wasted in traffic jams in the city.
The maintenance employees visit the main office perhaps once every 2 weeks, mostly to pick up equipment for the maintenance vehicle. Once every 2 months they have a team meeting. Usually during these visits, they also meet their supervisor, with whom they communicate daily over the telephone. Both the employer and the employees are content with this working mode.
Drivers Of Mobile Virtual Work
The challenge of working in multiple places and while moving is not new; some spearhead companies faced up to it early and changed their workplace strategies and policies. However, Andriessen and Vartiainen (2006) remarked that the majority of companies are still grappling with how to deal with this growing phenomenon.
A number of driving forces enable us to understand why these types of work have rapidly gained momentum worldwide. Some of the driving forces are related to reducing costs and increasing economic outcomes. Others grow out of the needs and preferences of employees. The driving forces form an interwoven set of relationships. They can be clustered into (a) societal and economical forces such as competition in markets, (b) developments in technology, and (c) organizational and individual preferences and needs.
A major driving force is the fact that work has shifted from agricultural- and industry-based work to information- and knowledge-processing work. Many objects that are exchanged are digital “objects” that can be sent over large distances in seconds. Many other exchange processes refer to knowledge that is shared between professionals or between experts and clients.
Another important trend is the increase in market competition and the search for expertise and lower labor costs. India now has a large number of well-educated engineers, and China has a large labor market of cheap employees. The availability of sound information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructures, for example, made the outsourcing of software development or call center services to these countries a viable solution some years ago. The ongoing globalization of markets and businesses leads to higher mobility requirements and widely distributed international cooperation. Customers for products or services, and the human resources needed to create a product or a service, are globally dispersed. Products and services are getting more complex and, to an increasing extent, are being based on knowledge from different domains and disciplines. This means that they require growing efforts to bring together and combine multiple expertise and competences in order to create specific customer solutions.
Technology is also a driving force through being an important enabler. Technological changes, particularly the developments in digital and wireless technologies and mobile and internet services, create the possibility of work being done at any place and time. Hamill and Lasen (2005) called this the “digital revolution” and found three key features that characterize digital technology. First, it reduces text, sound, picture, and film information, which leads to the convergence of devices. Second, it is easy to store information, which with increasing miniaturization means that it is cheap to store large quantities of data. Third, information is easy to transmit and reproduce.
Mobile technology provides essential tools for physically mobile employees and groups. Mobile tools are not only devices but also applications and services. A physically mobile employee also benefits from wired technologies in the places he or she visits and works in. Mobile and wireless technologies, however, are not equivalent, as Hayes and Kuchinskas (2003) noted. Mobile is the ability to carry a computing or connectivity device easily from location to location. Wireless is the ability to connect to remote servers to access information and applications via a wireless network. Not all wireless devices are mobile—for example, stationary devices in the office that are connected by Bluetooth or infrared—and not all mobile devices are wireless; sometimes a worker just needs to carry information or applications with him or her on the job but does not need to connect remotely to servers.
Mobile business models aim to provide new ways to benefit from wireless connections and mobile devices and services by redefining standard work processes and by increasing the ability to transfer information quickly to employees, wherever and whenever. In principle, physical and virtual mobility provides employees with the opportunity to be near customers and, at the same time, to be able to access joint enterprise resources, for example, data, guidelines, and work orders, from afar and while moving. In order to work, employees need a wireless network, devices, applications, and support. In mobile business models, mobility uses the capabilities of wireless networks to connect computers, smart phones, cars, and household appliances. Some like to talk about real-time enterprise—a business that eliminates the time lag in receiving critical information and acting on it.
Finally, there are the individual preferences of employees, related for instance to dual-income households with partners who work at distant locations and to international mobility in travel and living including the desire to keep in contact with the office during vacations.
To summarize, market and work processes stimulate the work-demand side—that is, what needs to be done and how. Demographic and social changes influence the work-supply side—that is, the kinds of workers that are available, their preferences, and their behavior. These changes force and enable organizations to develop new business strategies including increased shares of mobile virtual work in business and work. The direct consequence of all this is to be found in the growth of distributed work processes, network organizations, the physical mobility of workers, and intensive mediated interaction. This may bring many advantages for the organization such as greater flexibility, effectiveness, and innovativeness and for the employee such as dynamic and enriched work contents and a more flexible integration of work and private life. But it is not yet clear to what degree the new possibilities can bring risks. They may lead to workaholic behavior, higher stress levels, and lower job satisfaction. The work-life balance at home may be disturbed and interpersonal relations in the workplace loosened. Not much is known about the working conditions and safety of workers at home and when traveling. Therefore, it is beneficial to identify and profile what types of mobile and virtual work (MVW) can be found, before analyzing their implications and success conditions and developing guidelines for MVW settings that are both effective and sustainable.
Types of Mobility
Many things in work can be mobile. It helps to think of work as a system consisting of several interrelated components: an employee or a group working purposefully using tools to handle objects of work in some working environment. Mobility is related to all the components of this work system. The mobility of a team is shown as their physical mobility when they use different locations and move between them. From the perspective of tools, team members may also be virtually and mentally mobile, meaning that they work together in virtual work spaces, exchanging and sharing thoughts and ideas electronically in digital format and externalizing them as products, for example, documents and drawings. The object of work moves as well or is transported from one place to another in physical (material) form or is transformed into electronic (e.g., immaterial, digitalized, or virtual) form. In addition, concrete tools—that is, technologies such as the means of production and communication, for example, mobile phones—are moved.
The physical mobility of employees is realized on at least two levels: Individuals move alone as members of a distributed team or organization, and teams and projects move as a part of a dispersed organization or network using different sites. Moving employees establish their “instant office” by adapting to and using the environment at hand and do so both repeatedly and quickly. If collaboration with distant colleagues is needed, this is possible with mobile, wireless information and communication technologies. Mobile employees travel, using ICT for communicating and collaborating with others at different locations. Therefore, mobile work is also telework in its traditional meaning of being performed out of the main office.
At the individual level, telework and remote work are terms that refer to all kinds of work and work arrangements carried out outside of a main office but related to it. In the traditional terminology, telecommuting means the substitution of physical travel by work. Telecommuting is a special case of the more common remote work, which refers to work performed away from a central work site (Olson & Primps, 1984, p. 98). In Europe, the term e-Work refers to all those work practices that make use of information and communication technologies to increase efficiency, flexibility (in time and place), and sustainability of resource use. It is evident that most of the employees in postindustrial societies are using information technologies in their work. E-Work, however, includes specific types of work (Electronic Commerce and Telework Trends [ECATT] 2000, pp. 8-11).
- Home-based telework is the most widely recognized and best known type of e-Work. The majority of teleworkers divide their time between the home and the office, and they, therefore, are called “alternating teleworkers.” Individuals who spend more than 90% of their working time at home are called “permanent teleworkers.” “Supplementary teleworkers” are those who spend less than one full day per week teleworking from home. They are also called “occasional teleworkers” to distinguish them from regular teleworkers.
- Self-employed teleworkers in SOHOs (small office home office) are private entrepreneurs such as consultants or plumbers working and communicating with their contractors, partners, and clients by means of new technologies. The critical difference between teleworkers in SOHOs and home-based teleworkers is their market position as self-employed.
- Mobile workers are those who agreed with the question: “In the last four weeks, have you spent any of your working time away from your home and from your main place of work, e.g. on business trips, in the field, travelling or on customer’s premises?” (Lilischkis & Meyer, 2003, p. 8). High-intensity mobile workers are those who do so for 10 hours or more per week. In both cases, commuting to work is not included. Mobile e-Work is defined as high-intensity mobile work in the course of which an online connection to the Internet and/or to company computer systems is being used.
Types of Individual Physical Mobility
For the identification of physically mobile employees, Lilischkis (2003) used a topology based on the dimensions of space and time (Figure 84.3). Space criteria are (a) the number of locations, (b) the recurrence of locations, (c) whether there are headquarters to return to, (d) whether work takes place while moving or at a destination, (e) whether work can take place at fixed locations without changing it, (f) whether there is a limitation of the work area, and (g) the distance between locations. Time criteria are (a) the frequency of changing location, (b) the time spent moving between work locations, and (c) the time spent at a certain work location if not moving. Each type of mobile work has its constitutive criterion. On-site movers work in a limited work area, yo-yos return to a main office, pendulums have two recurrent work locations, nomads work in more than two places, and carriers cannot do their work at a fixed location while moving.
The categories of micromobility (desk-based), multi-mobility (campus), and total mobility are also fruitful. The micromobility of an employee—that is, in-house and on-site mobility—increases primarily because of the implementation of the open office “flexispace” concept. Flexispace is a generic, adaptable space that can be used for a wide range of activities. Campus mobility, that is, citylevel mobility, grows from the need for multiple face-to-face meetings with colleagues, clients, subcontractors, and partners in different nearby places. The use of individual wireless tools increases the potential for work in different places. Employees use visitors’ working places at other sites belonging to the company in the district, and work at home as well. Together with flexible working hours, this may also make possible a better work-life balance and result in savings regarding total transportation times and distances. Fully mobile employees are nomadic, moving all the time, for example, journalists, multisite managers, and global sales persons.
Figure 84.3 Types of Physically Mobile Employees
Types of Distributed Collaboration
Whatever the organizational structure, groups and teams are its basic units. Virtual teams are groups of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space and time, using technology to communicate and collaborate (Lipnack & Stamps, 2000). Virtuality is a team characteristic that refers to the degree to which collaboration technologies are used; this is usually related to the degree of geographical distribution. In a similar manner, physical mobility is just one feature of team working. Martins, Gil-son, and Maynard (2004) concluded in their comparison of virtual team definitions that the majority of definitions are founded on the condition that teams rely on technology-mediated communication while crossing different boundaries such as those of geography, time, and organization. Geographical distance refers to different employee locations, time refers to working asynchronously in different time zones, and team refers to team members who often come from different organizations or organizational units.
Virtual teams have many forms as they operate in a variety of environments that have different purposes and internal regulative processes to adapt to their environments. Bell and Kozlowski (2002) proposed that this variety of goals, tasks, contexts, and processes needed for internal regulation “produces” different types of teams. Common goals and tasks vary according to their complexity; that is, tasks are routine or creative, and they are less or more interdependent of each other. The contextual complexity may vary in six characteristics (Vartiainen, 2006, p. 30): (a) location, for example, the geographical distance of employees working in a group; (b) mobility, for example, the number of monthly travel days; (c) time, for example, synchronous or asynchronous collaboration in different time zones; (d) temporariness, for example, employees working temporarily in projects or in a permanent team; (e) diversity, for example, the composition of a team; and (f) the mode of interaction, for example, the frequency of face-to-face meetings. The task content and the context characteristics of a team create needs to organize intragroup processes and social support in such a manner that the team can survive. Next, the differences between different team types are explored in detail by using task and contextual complexities as differentiating factors.
Conventional, Distributed, Virtual, and Mobile Teams
Conventional teams comprise members who work together in the same location and communicate face-to-face. Other terms that have been used as synonyms include traditional teams, face-to-face teams, and colocated teams.
Task complexity itself does not differentiate distributed teams from conventional teams; the variation of task demands from simple to complex and their interdependence may be the same in both. Conventional team members jointly solve problems that are just as demanding and perform tasks that are just as creative as is the case with distributed teams. When studying the differences from the viewpoint of contextual complexity, members of conventional teams, as well as of distributed teams, often multitask and divide their efforts and time between several groups or projects, work only temporarily in a team, and are diverse in terms of their members’ backgrounds and personal characteristics.
The remaining three characteristics of contextual complexity, however, make the difference between distributed teams and conventional teams more clearly visible. These are
(a) geographical distance (i.e., crossing spatial boundaries),
(b) mode of interaction (i.e., the way information, data, and personal communication are exchanged), and (c) the physical mobility of team members. Distributed teams’ members work in multiple locations, communicate mainly electronically, and often move from place to place.
However, distributed groups and teams vary as well. At one end of the scale, distributed teams possess multiple characteristics of conventional work groups such as all members working in fixed places, though they are distributed. At the other end, there are the “ideal types” or prototypical global, highly mobile, virtual teams and projects such as management, marketing and sales teams, and new product design teams whose members may constantly move and may never meet each other face-to-face.
In practice, teams and projects are only seldom fully distributed and “virtual” in the sense of being at the extreme ends of the six characteristics: All members, different in terms of their backgrounds, move and work temporarily and asynchronously together over large distances using only ICT for their communication. The six characteristics of contextual complexity are closely related to and dependent on each other: A change in one of them results in changes in some or all of the others. Two examples are the greater the distance is between distributed employees, the greater the use of ICT is for collaboration, and the greater the physical mobility of an employee is, the more likely he or she is to meet and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds.
In addition to variation in spatial distance, media use, and the mobility of team members, distributed virtual teams may also vary in the three other characteristics of contextual complexity: time asynchronicity, temporariness, and diversity. The combinations of these characteristics yield many possible types of distributed teams, only one of them being a fully virtual team.
In summary, it can be seen that groups and teams are complex entities, because their purposes, tasks, working contexts, and the intragroup processes needed to adapt vary greatly. All these factors are interlinked in such a way that a change in one of them influences others. Therefore, only rough categories of team types can be presented (see Figure 84.4). Conventional groups and teams differ from distributed, virtual, and mobile teams especially in three characteristics: the geographical distance between their members, the mode of interaction, and physical mobility. Conventional groups and teams are colocated, communicate face-to-face, and work toward a joint goal here and now.
Figure 84.4 Types of Groups and Teams by Increasing Contextual Complexity
The main types of nonconventional teams, however, are (a) distributed, (b) virtual, and (c) mobile virtual teams. Team members working in different locations and their geographical distance from each other make a distributed team. A team becomes virtual when group members communicate and collaborate with each other from different locations via electronic media and do not meet each other face-to-face. Physical mobility of group members adds a new feature to distributed work. Mobile, virtual teams are always distributed; however, not all distributed, virtual teams are mobile. Virtuality, as in the use of ICT for communication and collaboration, makes a team into a distributed virtual team or mobile virtual team. In conclusion, it can be said that mobile virtual teams are the most complex types of teams to lead and manage.
Table 84.1 Facilitating Mobile and Virtual Work
Working In Multiple Spaces
The use of different locations characterizes a mobile workforce. Gareis, Lilischkis, and Mentrup (2006) suggested that to categorize teleworkers either as “home-based” or as “mobile” distracts attention from the fact that many teleworkers spend their working time at a number of different locations, among which the home is only one option (Table 84.1). This trend has obviously been made possible by mobile technologies, which have liberated workers from being bound to a particular space and time. For this phenomenon, the term “multilocational telework” is used. It implies that people work wherever it suits their work tasks, business schedule, and/or lifestyle.
Table 84.1 shows the share of those teleworking from one of the locations (columns) who also do telework at each of the other locations (rows). For example, of those persons teleworking from the home (a), 11.5% also work at another location belonging to their employer and use online connections to stay in contact when doing so. As another example, 42.5% of those who telework on the move (e) also spend time teleworking from home.
While staying and working in multiple locations, people are simultaneously embedded in their virtual and social spaces. The working contexts are combinations of these spaces and can be outlined from both individual and collective perspectives. From the individual point of view, each individual exists in a psychological field of forces that determines and limits his or her behavior. This implies and underlines the meaning of personal perceptions and interpretations of the contexts in use. The well-known classic social scientist Lewin (1951) called this psychological field the
“life space.” It is a highly subjective space that deals with the world as the individual sees it. The life space is, however, according to Lewin, embedded in the objective elements of physical and social fields. As life space describes individual contexts, the concept of “ba” (Nonaka, Toyama, & Konno, 2000)1 focuses on shared contexts, in which knowledge is created, shared, and utilized by those who interact and communicate there, as often happens in collaborative knowledge work. Ba does not just mean a physical space, but a specific time and space that integrates layers of spaces. In this way, ba unifies the physical space such as an office premises, the virtual space such as e-mail, and the mental or social space such as common experiences, ideas, values, and ideals shared by people with common goals as a working context. Physical, virtual, and mental or social places are particular areas or positions in spaces in relation to others where individual workers and groups of people collaborate. The workplaces that virtual mobile employees use are described in the following sections by using the three shared space categories.
The physical environments that mobile employees use for working are divided into five categories: (a) home; (b) the main workplace (i.e., main office); (c) moving places such as cars, trains, planes, and ships; (d) a customer’s and partner’s premises or their own company’s other premises (other workplaces); and (e) hotels, cafés, and so forth (third workplaces). As they all can be used for work purposes, they could all be referred to by the general term offices. So the office is a place where work takes place. For example, Van Meel (2000) distinguished locations that knowledge workers use for their work into
- central office, that is, a building where the workplaces of the employees from the same office or department are located;
- telework office, that is, a workplace that is physically disconnected from the central office;
- satellite office, that is, a telework office provided by the employer;
- business office, that is, a telework office provided by a commercial provider;
- guest office, that is, an office located in the building of a principal or client organization;
- home office, that is, a workplace located in the residence of an employee; and
- instant office, that is, a workplace instantly created by the user in a place that is not primarily designed for office work (e.g., airport lounge, train, etc.).
A virtual space refers to an electronic working environment, to a virtual work space, or to collaborative working environments consisting of various tools and media for individual employees, groups, and whole organizations. The Internet and intranet provide a platform to communicate, collaborate, and find knowledge both with simple tools (e.g., e-mail, audio conferencing, videoconferencing, chat, group calendar, document management, presence awareness, and findability tools) and with collaborative working environments (e.g., personal digital assistants [PDAs], smart phones, groupware systems, and social software, e.g., Weblogs, wikis, instant messaging, chat, and other communications systems that host many-to-many interactions, support groups, and community interaction).
Harrison, Wheeler, and Whitehead (2004) called the combination of physical work settings and virtual space a “workscape.” The term workscape2 refers to the “layers of where we work”—that is, the constellation of (a) real and virtual work settings (i.e., furniture + IT), within (b) particular spaces (i.e., meeting rooms, project areas, cafés, etc.), that are, again, (c) located in a specific environment (i.e., office building, city district, street, home, airport, bus, etc.). Together they form a hybrid work environment. As Morville (2005) noted, the challenge is how to design and select tools for mobility when we cannot predict the context of the mo-bile user. The only way out is to install interfaces in all the physical spaces in use—a world where we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at any time does not exist yet, though we are headed in that direction.
A mental/social space refers to the cognitive constructs, thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and mental states that employees share. Creating and forming joint mental spaces requires communication and collaboration such as exchanging ideas in face-to-face or in virtual dialogs.
As a summary, the working contexts of individuals and groups are today combinations of physical, virtual, mental/ social, and cultural working spaces, especially in collaborative work (Figure 84.5). The use of various spaces varies, depending on the type of work and interdependence of the tasks to be done. Individual telework in solitude at home without virtual connections to others is an extreme and rather rare case. Usually home-based teleworkers communicate sporadically with superiors and colleagues face-to-face by commuting to the main office. When employees are working in multiple locations, the combination and emphasis of their spaces are different from colocated employees, just because of the greater number of physical places they rotate and use. Still, they need not communicate virtually. The significance of virtual spaces grows when members of a distributed team communicate and collaborate from different locations with each other. They not only are distributed in physical places but also simultaneously use virtual places (videoconferencing and documents shared on the intranet), and they are related to other team members who must share common goals (social space) to be able to reach the aim and possibly to share common ideas, beliefs, and values (mental space).
Figure 84.5 Types of Work Spaces in Mobile and Virtual Work
Enabling Mobile Work
Benefits and Drawbacks of Working in Multiple Places
Working in multiple places and while moving to them has its benefits and drawbacks for both an employer and an employee. For example, some companies use teleworking or remote working as a way to avoid transportation problems and adapt to environmental legislation. Others want to increase the size of their labor pool by including people that would not otherwise be able to work such as disabled workers or not willing to work such as an expert with rare competences who wants to stay at their present residence. Still other organizations have an even more human-centric view and want to reduce employee stress resulting from commuting and balancing home and work life. Critical voices claim that organizing work in multiple places in effective ways just offers an additional way of intensifying work. Nevertheless, the most common goal and the crucial driver for companies is the desire to reduce costs and increase profitability.
The working days of many mobile knowledge workers are blurred, as there is no specific time or place at which it is possible for work to start or end. People work all the time both in solitude, virtually asynchronously, and synchronously, online and in face-to-face collaboration with others when visiting their offices. It is often rather difficult to separate working in solitude from collaborative work, even when working at home. Working in solitude takes place in “pseudoprivacy,” that is, it is interrupted by numerous e-mails, text messages, calls, and online virtual meetings. The increasing findability and awareness of others’ locations and availability reduces the feeling of autonomy and increases that of external controllability. Thus, the nature of work seems to have become more blurred at several levels.
It, however, is possible that new flexible ways of working and the implementation of a new workplace strategy are a win-win situation for both companies and employees. It seems that employees look for more autonomy and control over their work, as well as a better balance between work, family life, and leisure. Next, the benefits and drawbacks of mobile multilocational work are described from the viewpoint of five types of physical places.
From a company’s point of view, working at home reduces the need for office premises and transportation and the costs associated with them. Reduced transportation results in a reduction of traffic congestion and air pollution. The ability to work at home may also attract and retain certain highly valued employees, thus broadening the workforce pool. On the other hand, companies’ responsibilities based on legislation (e.g., example insurance liabilities) increase. Management control over work performance is lost as the visibility of employees is lower. Employees may commit only weakly to the organization, and there are challenges to renew bases of compensation. Building a home office, for example, furniture, equipment, rent, and additional media lines, also costs money. From an employee’s viewpoint, working at home can result in increased feelings of autonomy and self-control over time. Homes are places where interruptions at the office can be avoided and where one can do work that needs concentration. The time used is increased because of no commuting. There is freedom to choose when to work and when to have personal time. This may lead to a higher quality of personal life and more effective work. On the contrary, “workaholism” may be exacerbated. The main challenge is work spilling over into family life and leisure time and is the balance between these. Additionally, there are also interruptions at home if children are small. Work space can be inadequate and separate working places are costly. Because of reduced staff interaction, there is a lack of social contact and isolation from the flow of information, support, and help from management and colleagues. A deterioration of the relationship with supervisors may harm promotion prospects.
Open areas in main offices save companies money as more people are using the same number of square meters. The dilemma of open offices is whether they should be a social setting or a place to concentrate full-time on task execution. There is also more interaction between managers and their teams (if that is valuable), which also results in quicker decisions because of enhanced communication. On the other hand, employees may be reluctant to give up their own space. Not all work can be done in an open office. Too high a density may become counterproductive, and the size of teams may create occasional space shortage, resulting in scheduling conflicts. Investments in equipment and training are also probable. From the employees’ point of view, working in the same space encourages interaction and the potential for rich and fluent communication. This increases social support and feedback from colleagues. Business is performed in a spontaneous, informal, and flexible manner, which increases both explicit and tacit learning. Alternatively, many studies show that work in offices is frequently interrupted, which may seriously reduce work productivity. Difficulties in concentrating increase because of uncontrolled noises and interruptions such as uninvited chatting and being asked questions about work and disturbances created by meetings within the space. The feeling of privacy is lost. Two or several people may compete to use the same desk and may not find a place to work. Storage can be problematic. Nevertheless, offices are places for meetings and dialogs, which are necessary for creating something new and for decision making.
Little is known about working in moving workplaces. Once again, a company can save on the costs of premises, and it is better able to respond to customers’ needs. On the other hand, providing employees with communication tools increases costs. There is no direct control over employees, as tracking them may be unethical. From the employees’ point of view, there is an opportunity to interact with interesting strangers and go to exotic places to work. Traveling also provides chances to be alone and to think and reflect. The opportunities to concentrate on reading, writing, using a mobile phone, and consulting documents also increase. On the other hand, the main challenge is the necessity to adapt to changing environments again and again. What is possible in one space is not possible in another. There also seems to be some difference between working in public places such as trains and working in a private car. Public transport throws large numbers of strangers together in enclosed spaces under each other’s observation and leads to unwanted interaction with strangers. The car allows drivers more choice as to their types of social encounters. In order to work, it is necessary to take along numerous devices to communicate and collaborate, though missing power sockets are a common nuisance.
From a company’s viewpoint, “other workplaces” such as satellite and telework offices also usually reduce costs per square meter because of their location away from business centers. Working in them may also promote environmental protection by reducing traffic congestion, energy consumption, air pollution, and the number of commutes. They may also increase the availability of skilled personnel. Alternatively, there are extra costs related to communication and collaboration technologies. Remote management is a challenge as indicators to measure performance may be missing, as well as guidelines on how to act. In some cases, protecting company secrets represents a challenge. From an employee’s viewpoint, working near home may bring about a better quality of life, though working far from the main office may disconnect an employee from his or her work community. Working in a satellite office near the home helps in avoiding the harmful mixing of work and family life, compared to teleworking at home. In addition to saving time, the reduced commuting time to and from the main office reduces employee stress related to commuting. On the other hand, social contacts with peers and preserving one’s professional identity are challenges.
There may be feelings of disconnectedness from the organization. Working in satellite office may also impede interoffice communication because of technological limitations such as missing power sockets and wireless connections.
Third workplaces include hotels, cafés, and conference venues, as well as the public areas and lounges of airports. They are quickly available and easy to access. Their benefits from a company’s point of view once more concentrate on cutting costs. Working in these places also means more working hours. On the contrary, if they are in permanent use, the public image of the company may suffer. Investing
in the technologies that are needed is not without its costs. Additionally, protecting confidential information is a challenge. From the viewpoint of third place owners, the possibility of working may attract new customers, as happens in cafés. From an individual viewpoint, feelings of freedom and control over time and schedule may increase. Easy access contrarily may reduce the ability to separate work from personal life. Privacy and personal space are missing, and there may be interruptions. Reduced social interaction with coworkers results in the loss of opportunities to learn from others. The technological infrastructure and devices that are needed in order really to be able to work are often lacking.
In all, there seems to be the dilemma of control versus trust and empowerment from the viewpoint of management, and the dilemma of full findability versus autonomy and work-life balance from the viewpoint of employees. The change from the one-place office—be it home or any other permanent place—to the multiple-place office, which could be called a mobile virtual office for multilocational collaborative work, is a long jump. It may increase employees’ self-regulation, control, productivity, happiness, and time spent with clients because of reduced commuting time and, especially, reduced space and occupancy costs. At the same time, it may reduce professional and social interaction between employees and between employees and management, reducing employees’ rights and connections to the organization, and upset the balance between work and life.
Managing a Mobile Workforce
Uncertainty and the need for continuous change have implications for mobile work management strategies. As Ashby’s (1958) law of requisite variety says, the greater the variety in environment of a system, the greater the variety that should be within the system to adapt properly to its environment. The changes in workplace strategy and alternative officing have great effects on the organization, its human resources functions, and on the required technologies. Multilocational virtual work challenges the social functions of a traditional organization such as socializing, commitment, knowledge sharing, and organizational learning. The challenge is to develop a model for which alternative work options are the norm. This requires a fundamental change of mind-set.
New types of work are challenges for managers and workplace designers, as well as for human resources and knowledge management specialists, not to mention employees themselves, who should change their mind-sets to be able to adapt to and participate in the change. Helping corporations to gain the competence to design the infrastructure to support and enable this distributed mobile work is at the core of helping them to be productive and agile. The alignment of work, space, people, and information technology, in fact, has become a practical necessity for all organizations.
There are many now long-lived and still-growing good examples of company policies and practices to successfully support mobile virtual work and collaboration. It seems to be possible to combine a company’s economic benefit with the work-life balance and satisfaction of its employees. This requires flexibility strategies and well-defined policies from the company’s side.
As work becomes more geographically distributed and is mobile, strains develop that reveal latent and often unexamined dimensions of collaboration. Management typically has to rely more on results than on the supervision and direct control of behavior that are typical of traditional organizations. The motivation of employees and social bonding—two of the major benefits of face-to-face communication—have to be at least partly accomplished in other ways. With increased dependence on communications, communication and collaboration tools substitute for face-to-face information. The increased autonomy of the individual requires more explicit articulation of the formal and informal contracts that bind him or her to the purposes of the organization.
A psychological contract represents the mutual beliefs, perceptions, and informal obligations between an employer and an employee. It sets the dynamics for the relationship and defines the detailed practicality of the work to be done. It is distinguishable from a formal written contract of employment, which, for the most part, identifies only mutual duties and responsibilities in a generalized form. The roles and practices of participating employees must necessarily shift in order to maximize the benefits arising from the new mobile work situation. Good team members know how to exploit the skills and expertise of others, but the mutual understanding that makes such behavior possible is more difficult to achieve with greater dispersion and mobility of team members. There is a loss of subtlety in communication from not being able to see facial expressions and bodily gestures and from not being able to share informal moments between substantive exchanges. Moreover, when relationships with other team members become restricted to formal occasions that are strictly to do with project purposes, a diminution of the opportunity for further communication can arise in informal situations.
The traditional hierarchical organization based on direct control by superiors and colleagues is dissolving and being replaced by flexible networked, often temporary, work connections, that is, grouplike work. Grouplike means flexibly organized tasks and employees participating simultaneously in several professional and informal groups, organizations, and communities.
The contents of recruiting and training employees have to be reconsidered. Not everyone is suited to working in a mobile virtual manner, perhaps for work-family-leisure-balance reasons, for example. The integration of newcomers into a mobile work environment is a challenge because they traditionally learn “tacitly” by observing, experimenting, and acquiring information from supervisors and co-workers.
Information and communication technologies are the enablers of multilocational work. From the technological viewpoint, the multilocational mobile office implies employees equipped with laptop computers and smart phones with wireless access to an information network working at home and clients’ offices, on the move, and in hotels. When they sometimes come to the office to meet their colleagues and superiors, they log onto the intranet, where they can find the databases that may not have been accessed from a distance for security reasons. Electronic communication and collaboration can replace social contact to some degree, but not fully.
In all, it is a question of developing and using such workplace strategies and policies that align places, people, and technologies and that are able to manage change.
The prevalence of new types of work has increased rapidly during the last ten years and will continue to do so. For example, Gareis et al. (2006) showed that telework in Europe, including home-based telework (at least one day/ week), supplementary home-based work, mobile e-Work, and freelance telework in SOHOs increased from 6% in 1999 to 13% in 2002. In Britain, the number of people using their home in order to work in a variety of places—that is, the number of mobile workers—has more than tripled over the last two decades. This accounted for around 2.1 million people in the United Kingdom in 2002 (Felstead, Jewson, & Walters, 2005, p. 59). ITAC, the Telework Advisory Group for World at Work (2005) reported that, during the previous month, of 135.4 million American workers, 45.1 million worked from home, 24.3 million people worked at clients’ or customers’ places of business, 20.6 million worked in their cars, 16.3 million worked while on vacation, 15.1 million worked at parks or outdoor locations, and 7.8 million worked while on trains or airplanes. The study of Uhmavaara et al. (2005) in Finland showed that, at one time or another, 40% of employees worked either from home, on business trips, at customers’ workplaces, or at different locations belonging to the same business. Hertel, Geister, and Konradt (2005) reported a survey among 376 business managers in Germany that revealed that about 20% of the managers worked predominantly as members of virtual teams, and about 40% worked at least temporarily in virtual teams. This is equivalent to the prevalence in North America as shown in the summary of Martins et al. (2004): more than one half of the companies with more than 5,000 employees use virtual teams and 60% of professional employees work in them.
In the future, this development and increase of mobile and virtual work will be closely integrated into the development of technologies, expanding bandwidths, and ever-smarter mobile devices. Through the broadband mobile Internet, you will have access to multiple communication functions including e-mail, the Internet, instant messaging, text messaging, and a company network. As Castells, Fernândez-Ardévol, Qui, and Sey (2007) wrote,
The mobile network society deepens and diffuses the network society. . . . First on the basis of networks of electronic exchange, next with the development of networks of computers, then with the Internet, powered and extended by the World Wide Web. Wireless communication technologies diffuse the networking logic of social organization and social practice everywhere, to all contexts—on the condition of being on the mobile Net. (p. 258)
Management have to change their mind-sets, know the needs of their workforces, and develop new workplace strategies and policies that combine premises, technological, and human resources management together.
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