Technological advancements in the last decade have led to massive transformation of the work place, from the way data is stored to information dissemination and communication. For example cloud computing has made it possible data which can be retrieved from any geographical location by anyone with access. Employees no longer need to work in the physical locality of their employers offices as they can comfortably work at home, or when travelling, leading to the formation of virtual workplace. In virtual workplace, employees will work from the comfort of their homes, and in the hours they are most comfortable working at. This ensures that the employee can concentrate on their work without the distractions of a workplace.
There are myriad reasons why companies opt to set virtual workplaces instead of the more traditional brick and mortar offices. Some of the benefits a company may attempt to tap into includes reduced overhead costs, a more satisfied work force, ability to hire top talents worldwide, and higher scalability. Higher scalability refers to the ability of a company to expand its staff.
Before setting up a virtual workplace, a company has to set up the necessary technology in place. A company could choose major providers that will provide a tool with everything necessary for virtual workplace, think Microsoft Office 365, or opt for small providers who will provide specific tools for specific functions (Hughes 2016).
The technology that a company decides to adopt when setting up a virtual workplace should include project management tools, documents storage and sharing, virtual meeting technology, documents collaboration tools and more importantly, mobile applications.
Project management tools help the managers to plan, manage and keep track of progress made by projects. Document storage and sharing tools help members of a virtual team to access the documents from wherever geographical location they are, while documents collaboration helps them to create and edit documents together. Virtual meeting technologies help the virtual team to easily teleconference. Mobile applications are important as they keep track of sales, improving the revenues and improving customer service.
The future workplace could be characterized by such features which are already operational plus the use of Applications with Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Augmented Reality is the assimilation of digital information with the user environment in real time to give the impressions that the action is around the user of AR technology (Rouse 2016). It blurs the line between digitally-created and physical environments. Virtual Reality on the hand is creation of an artificial environment using software and presenting to the user in such a way that the user feels like its the real environment (Rouse 2015).
The implications of a company adopting AR/VR technology can be felt in terms of productivity cost of production and employee satisfaction. The main reason of a company adopting virtual work place technology is to enable its employees to work at home, or another remote location. In order for technology to serve the purpose it was set for, the employees must fully adopt it.
In order to fully embrace VR/AR technology, employees need to be trained in order to understand the benefits of adopting the technology, how it works and what to do should it fail to launch. The training can be done using the reality technology since a single coach could instruct the whole staff of a company, scattered in different locations, in a single sitting.
Adoption of reality technology will see employees work from the comfort of their homes, or any other remote area, working on their pace, and in their own hours. This freedom and flexibility of employees schedule will appease the employees, while increasing the productivity of the company as many employees tend to work for longer hours at home due to lack of distinguished personal and work space.
The reality technology will also lead to revolution in the way employees conduct their presentations. Using AV/VR technology, an employee can creatively design a situation that will articulately describe his/her ideas to the audience. The presentation of data will also change as using the reality technology; an employee could employ the use of floating user interface to explain the data. This will make the audience comprehend better the issues that the presenter is presenting.
The reality technology will also improve the communication and cooperation between members of a virtual workplace. Team members from different geographical locations can meet in virtual conference room, and communicate as though they are together in a physical conference room.
Due to lack of distinguished boundaries between employees personal space and work space, employees tend to work for longer. This may also be fueled by the need to prove themselves since there is no visibility with their managers, and virtual workspace is more results oriented. If allowed to happen for a long time, the employees would end up suffering burn outs.
The employee may also feel isolated, more so when the manager is overstretched and cannot afford personal attention to each employee. This may lead to lower engagement and job satisfaction. The employee may also be need of clarification of an important issue, but none of his/her virtual colleagues is available. This may hinder her performance at work. Furthermore, limited face to face networking will negatively impact any employees career opportunities.
The adoption of reality technology in a company will also impact on the way that the HR department operates. Some of the functions like hiring, performance appraisal and training will incorporate a whole lot new regulations and procedures.
HR of a virtual workspace differ from a convectional workplace mainly in space, time, communication, organizational policy, management models, policies, leadership and the power aspects(Braga 2006). The HR has to change its strategy to applying flexible labor practices to all parties involved, conduct an awareness campaign on virtual technologies and manage through trust while focusing on end results, rather than the amount of time committed to the cause.
During the staffing, or the hiring, process, HR has to bear it in mind that not everybody is comfortable working in isolation, away from other colleagues. Some people prefer working in a convectional workplace. The HR has to check the attributes of the employees such as self-management capabilities, personal initiative, ability to use technology and in-depth knowledge of technology (Bernardino et al. 2012).
Performance appraisal is another role of HR that will need new techniques basically because face to face communication is greatly reduced. Cascio (2000) argues that due to distance challenge of a virtual workplace, the HR has to define, and communicate effectively, each persons roles and responsibilities and their tasks and remunerations. Ji et al. (2010) further argues that the success of a virtual workplace is hinged on effective communication, and thus the HR should develop their communication skills to avoid creating feelings of isolation during performance appraisals. The HR should perfect their use of technology when conducting virtual meetings. When appraising the performance of the employees, the HR should put more emphasis on the end results rather than the amount of time that the virtual employee spent when working on a project.
In order to get positives results out of the adoption of AR/VR technologies, the HR department should ensure that all employees have undergone training. The employees skills and abilities also need to be updated regularly in order to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology.
The adoption of virtual workplaces will also affect the functions and practices of the leaders and management of a company. Company may need to change their organizational hierarchical structures to smaller flexible roles. Companies strive for competitive advantages by subcontracting, downsizing, joint ventures alliances and other network based incentives facilitated by virtue teams (Lillian 2014). The leadership focuses on speed, flexibility and risk taking in their new roles of managing virtual workplaces.
The leaders and management of companies that have adopted virtual workplaces need to constantly monitor their employees to ascertain they are properly utilizing companys resources allocated to them. This may however erode the trust of the employees on the company, especially if they start feeling like the company is spying on them.
Due to the nature of their workplaces, the employees and the leaders in a virtual workplace may not enjoy the cordial physical relationship experienced in convectional workplaces. The management may have to form social activities to bolster the relationship between the employees and the management.
The managers also have to work on preventing the employees from feeling they are isolated. Employees feel isolated when there is perceived lack of support from the managers. The management should work on its communication skills to ensure that the employees feel appreciated by the company. The managers may also organize visits to the customer sites. This will go a long way in making the employees feel part of company. The check-in may be formal and informal.
Mangers also have to ensure that the productivity level of a company never falls. One way of doing this is by preventing the employees from suffering burn outs associated with working at home. This may involve assigning employees less time consuming tasks, encouraging them to take breaks from work and to define a boundary from work space and personal space, and respect it.
The leader should work on creating a feeling of camaraderie amongst virtual team members. This can be done by organizing annual or semiannual seminars and fun social activities that are totally work unrelated. This helps in promoting engagement and trust amongst the team members (Donna et al. 2013).
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