Virtual Reality

Altering Reality Via Virtual Reality

by Mark Sivy, Ed.D.

The 4th Annual ICT Forum “Leadership in the Digital Age” took place on April 5th 2015 in Muscat, Oman. The forum theme was “Disruption by Design”, following the notion of Disruptive Innovation that was presented by Clayton Christensen. During the leadership event, a CEO panel provided their perspectives to a group of almost 250 business leaders. Of particular interest to this post is the concept of Virtual Reality (VR) that was presented by Fathi Al Riyami, CEO of Cosmic Surrounding Technology. In particular, the focus of the discussion was on VR created through the use of a new wearable headset technology that attaches to a personal computer.

Oculus Rift

Image provided by Oculus

For a virtual organization, it’s extremely important to have clients, customers, executives, employees and business partners correctly visualize and understand a concept, design, or process. This can be a challenge. Fortunately with recent innovations in technologies and creative capacities, we can now instill the desired perceptions through virtual reality. This ability presents us with a wide assortment of opportunities in areas such as training, design and product development that were previously not possible.

Virtual Reality (VR) in a general sense is a term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer-generated “environment” which can be interacted with by an individual or a group. Within these immersive environments, users can have the ability to manipulate objects, participate in simulations, gather information, or perform a series of actions.

The soon-to-be-available wearable visual device, such as the Oculus Rift (OR) or Samsung Gear VR, will enable users step inside their choice of VR environments. These devices use tracking technologies and optical screens that provide 360° head movement that allows you to seamlessly look around and feel as part of the computer generated scene. For instance, Arch Virtual is using a VR to bring on a whole new perspective for architectural design and visualization (note, the true experience is not realized without a 3D headset):

Mr. Al Riyami identified four industries that can benefit from these highly-advanced affordable technologies offer. These are:

Corporate Training

For a variety of corporate needs such as the development of human interaction skills, product knowledge, and machinery operations, the use of VR scenarios can provide an immersive experience that enhances standard training. Additionally, due to the portability of the headsets, VR simulations provide greater opportunities to learn and practice at times and places that are more conducive to learning.

Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE)

VR is able to provide HSE training experiences that are far superior to other methods. Using VR modules, trainees can be provided with the ability to experience and react to simulated scenarios that represent possible real-life events, and all without endangering humans or risking property damage. For example, learners can tour training scenarios and identify areas of risks factors such as unsafe storage of chemicals, electrical issues, potential explosive materials, and improper equipment operation.

Driving / Road Safety

With additional low cost equipment such as computer-attached driving gear and seating, VR can produce positive road safety outcomes by exposing drivers to simulated driving environments and situations. This can be used to train individuals new to driving, those seeking advanced driving certifications, or those who want to review or perfect existing driving abilities. These driving experiences can be used with school driver education programs, private driving schools, driver knowledge tests, or specialized industry transportation and heavy equipment training. Again, all of this can be done in a low cost, low risk setting.

Tourism

Tourism is a trillion dollar international industry. In many countries tourism represents a significant share of gross domestic product (GDP) and it makes up 6-8% of the world’s employment. With the global increase in the number of vacations taken, competition between regions and nations to capture a market share is on the rise. However, to be a market leader it is vital to create a destination image that has a competitive edge. Research has shown that through the utilization of technology tools and the Internet, solutions can be developed that are capable of capturing the potential visitor’s attention, feelings, motivations and impulses. Using well-planned and well-designed VR media and simulations can propel the online destination experience to being more engaging, interactive, empowering and memorable.

Virtual Reality

Tourism virtual environment created by Cosmic Surrounding Technology

Final Words

Even though household and mobile use of the VR technologies described in this post are still a few years off, mindful and innovative organizations, institutions and government offices should be looking into integrating research and development costs into their fiscal budgets now. As we’ve learned in today’s fast-paced technology-oriented society, you are either an early leader or are forever trying to catch up with competition.

Reflection Point – “In business, the competition will bite you if you keep running, if you stand still, they will swallow you.”     ~Victor Kiam

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Virtual Organization Resources

Virtual Organization Resources

by Mark Sivy

I’ve selected some Internet-based articles and information about virtual organizations that you may find useful:

ISACA – Understanding Virtual Organizations

ISACALes Pang, Ph.D. wrote this article that examines the concepts, technologies, and issues surrounding virtual organizations (VO) from a knowledge management (KM) perspective. It identifies foundational concepts, surveys KM technologies that support VOs and looks at case studies of VOs in the private and public sector…

WhatIs.com – Virtual Organization

A virtual organization or company is one whose members are geographically apart, usually working by computer e-mail and groupware while appearing to others to be a single, unified organization with a real physical location.

Wikipedia – Virtual Organization

WikipediaIn grid computing, a virtual organization (VO) refers to a dynamic set of individuals or institutions defined around a set of resource-sharing rules and conditions. All these virtual organizations share some commonality among them, including common concerns and requirements, but may vary in size, scope, duration, sociology, and structure…

Reference for Business – Virtual Organizations

The term virtual organization is used to describe a network of independent firms that join together, often temporarily, to produce a service or product. Virtual organization is often associated with such terms as virtual office, virtual teams, and virtual leadership. The ultimate goal of the virtual organization is to provide innovative, high-quality products or services instantaneously in response to customer demands…

Harvard Business Review – Trust and the Virtual Organization

Harvard Business ReviewCharles Handy writes that it is easy to be seduced by the technological possibilities of the virtual organization, but the managerial and personal implications may cause us to rethink what we mean by an organization. At its simplest, the managerial dilemma comes down to the question, How do you manage people whom you do not see? The simple answer is, By trusting them, but…

National Science Foundation – Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems

National Science FoundationA virtual organization is a group of individuals whose members and resources may be dispersed geographically, but who function as a coherent unit through the use of cyberinfrastructure. Virtual organizations are increasingly central to the science and engineering projects funded by the National Science Foundation. Focused investments in sociotechnical analyses of virtual organizations are necessary to harness their full potential and…

Reflection Point – “Inventing the future requires giving up control. No one with a compelling purpose and a great vision knows how it will be achieved. One has to be willing to follow an unknown path, allowing the road to take you where it will. Surprise, serendipity, uncertainty and the unexpected are guaranteed on the way to the future.” ~George Land

 

External Communication

External Communication Done Virtually

by Mark Sivy

Effective unambiguous external communication is essential to the operation of a virtual business organization. Chances are that the means of external communication are more conventional than for internal communication (see previous post) and usually involve email exchanges or phone conversations. Virtual organization leaders engage in a variety of face-to-face external interactions, including one-on-one conversations, private group meetings, and corporate and industry events. Some types of communication to consider are general external communication, client communication, organization representation, feedback and input, and marketing.

Groupsourcing

General External Communications

Even though internal staff may receive training and mentoring to engage in intentional and meaningful communications, the individuals who are outside of the organization may not. This means that special attention must be given by leaders to ensure proper reception and perception of both outgoing and incoming messages. Prepared leaders make sure that communication plans are in order and that staff understand their responsibilities.

Client Communications

virtual communicationGiven client diversity, issues with communications will result from having too many options for communication or lack of productive communication. Usually the task for a client is to determine with whom or what they are to communicate, whether it be someone at a home office, a sales representative, and automated response system, or through an online text message system. It’s the organizations challenge to ensure that the processes are streamlined and the clients receive the attention they need and deserve.

Organization Representation

Organization staff and leaders are involved in an assortment of meetings, conferences, committees, and other external gatherings relative to their schools. Depending upon the function, these could include their peers, vendors, stakeholders, members of the media, government officials, special interest groups, and investors. Some of these events are in-person and must then be maintained through virtual communication, while others are strictly born and nurtured through digital means.

Feedback and Input

Virtual businesses often use outward facing surveys, opinion polls, assessments, and evaluations for the purpose of enhancing their operations and offerings. The data can acquired from different sources, such as customers, market specialist, advisory groups, and product testers.

virtual messaging

Marketing and Branding

Virtual organizations must promote themselves to remain viable. Successfully branding a company and marketing its solutions and products digitally requires more that preparing a trendy website. There are needs for legal and social considerations, creation of accurate product images, development of brand recognition, establishing a client base, maintaining a positive public image, making announcements and press releases, and pushing out other forms of communication.

To do all of this properly, there must be substantial market research and trend monitoring. Additionally, there must be measures to ensure that the intention of organization communication matches its perception by clients and the public. For instance, the American Dairy Association’s huge success with its campaign “Got Milk?” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?” To learn more about improving your advertising communication, check this out.

So What Can We Do?

After having been involved for many years with virtual communication with work teams and clients, here are some pieced of advice to keep in mind:

  • It’s all about trust and team building – you have to develop these over time.
  • Create communication standards, including response times, strategies and expectations.
  • Empower those who you are communicating with. This is done in part by setting the tone of trust and expectations.
  • Remember to compensate for the lack of nonverbal visual cues.
  • Be aware of time zone differences.
  • Schedule synchronous meeting times well in advance, including sending out discussion points.
  • Keep communications focused on the topic. This is particularly a challenge with synchronous meetings where conversations can wander.
  • Be aware of and respect cultural diversity.
  • For synchronous meetings remember to speak slowly, don’t multitask, pause and listen to understand, don’t interrupt, and set aside time for developing relationships.

Reflection Point – “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~George Bernard Shaw

Internal Communication

Internal Communication at the Virtual Organization

by Mark Sivy

As the leader of a virtual organization or virtual team, attention to communication between co-located and geographically separated individuals requires a heightened level of importance and skill. In a recent study I performed on leaders of virtual organizations, the participants’ continual return to the communication topic throughout the interview process highlighted communication as one of the most essential and influential components of their leadership. The data analysis revealed two differentiated areas of communication – internal and external.

This blog post examines aspects related to internal communication, which were categorized as being general internal communication, headquarter employee communication, and at-a-distance employee communication. Almost all study responses involved at-a-distance and electronic forms of communication through emails, phone calls, online meetings, learning management systems, and instant and text messaging. The leaders involved in the study said communicating through these various media presented challenges in terms of ensuring that they were done correctly, clearly, and effectively. If these criteria were met, the leaders indicated that contemporary methods of electronic communications were seen to be advantageous over previous in-person ones. The participant also cited face-to-face conversations as well, typically when employees were within short walking distance of each other such as in and adjacent office or cubicle.

virtual commmunication

General Communication

The means of and approaches to communication in a virtual organization are different than in a traditional one. In a traditional setting, general internal communications are often done according to a daily schedule, are commonly unidirectional, and are often asynchronously viewed, heard, and given response. The majority of the participants felt communication that occurs in a virtual organization is more immediate, dynamic, frequent, and closer to real-time than in a traditional physical setting. The leaders were able to leverage at-a-distance electronic communication in a manner that promoted the overall importance of communication, the need for clarity of communication, the unique uses of communication, and the value that communication has to the school team and community. The media used for internal communication were varied and depended upon the geographic relationship of those who were in contact and the purpose of the communication.

Most leaders alluded to the fact that there is a heightened sense of importance placed on communication within a virtual organization due to the geographic distances between staff. One profound comment that sums up the feeling of many was, “Communication, communication, communication. I don’t think we can communicate enough.”

Headquarter Employee Communication

The leaders reported communicating with co-located staff in a variety of ways that were purpose specific. There were standing times set for face-to-face meetings with all headquarters staff, with these typically happening on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Many of the leaders supplemented these meetings with the use of online meeting systems to connect with those staff who were unable to attend in-person.

online meeting systemThe participants also used various means to communicate with those staff that they were more dependent upon and had to speak with more frequently. Each relationship developed a favored form of communication. Being dependent upon proximity, time, and purpose, the common avenues of interaction would involve walking to an office to talk, calling someone by phone, sending an email, using an online meeting system, or using instant messaging. Even in a common physical setting, the sense from the leaders was that the availability of these at-a-distance electronic communication often allowed more responsive and frequent communication and a greater openness than they experienced with in-person discussions.

At-a-Distance Employee Communication

Communications with these employees involved some sort of electronic medium, most commonly email, instant messaging, and content sharing via intranet. When compared to a single location organization, there were more frequent and more random communications with employees, both individually and as teams. Some leaders noted that at-a-distance communication increased the amount of communication between employees, thus creating a greater sense of support and team effort.

Instant MessagingMany study participants described communication strategies as being based on the importance of the messages and types of information. The leaders wanted to manage communication in a manner that reduced the burden on employees to keep up with the volume of communications. Messaging systems were used for quick input from an individual, content management systems typically served as a repository for both reference materials and current information. Emails were often used as a means for personal and team communication or specific requests.

Reflection Point – “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Tony Robbins

Virtual Team Leadership

Virtual Team Leadership – Excel in Today’s Organization

by Mark Sivy

Virtual Leadership

Virtual LeadershipVirtual team leadership skills are a useful, if not necessary, asset that many leaders may overlook developing or may not effectively execute. The increased globalization of people, services and economic activity that is being facilitated by the rapid development of Internet communication and collaboration technologies has led to an exponential increase in the need for functional virtual teams and organizations (Caulat, 2006; Zhang, Fjermestad, & Tremaine, 2005). This encroachment of virtual activities into the workplace and markets necessitates that leaders understand and embrace it.

Perceptions of Leaders

Boje and Rhodes (2005) stated that due to mass media, leaders and leadership that are not directly seen can become virtualized and the virtual leader becomes a construct in the minds of those who follow or are impacted by the leader. To employees, clients, teachers, students, and other virtual community members who do not encounter a leader face-to-face, the leader takes on a distinct character based upon the information they receive. The online leader’s persona is created from the individual perceptions and interpretations of virtually exhibited leader variables such as mannerisms, gestures, tones, words, actions, reactions, and styles. For this reason, it is important for leaders to mitigate misperceptions and incorrect beliefs by being careful, clear, intentional and communicative.

Virtual Team

Challenges

Being perceived in a desired way can be made more intimidating by the fact that the virtual environment can be subject to the following unique barriers and challenges that have been identified by leaders of virtual teams (DeRosa 2009):

  1. Having infrequent face-to-face contact as a team
  2. Lacking necessary resources
  3. Building a collaborative atmosphere
  4. Lacking time to focus on leading the team
  5. Evolving and shifting team and organizational priorities
  6. Having more work than the team can handle
  7. Managing poor performers
  8. Experiencing situations in which team members can dedicate only a portion of their time to the team (p. 10)

These challenges are not insurmountable and can be addressed by developing leaders to have the necessary capacities and capabilities to perform effectively in their specific environment and conditions.

Virtual Teams

Just as with different face-to-face work structures and environments, there are specific best practices and techniques that can be more or less effective in a virtual setting. Duarte and Tennant-Snyder (1999) recognize seven basic types of unique virtual teams with members who work across distance, time, and organizational boundaries. These team types are:

  1. Networked teams – diffuse, fluid, and sometimes dissociated members collaborate to achieve a common goal
  2. Parallel teams – a short-term working team with a distinct membership which makes recommendations concerning a special function or task
  3. Project or product development teams – a decision-making team which exists for a defined period of time to produce a specific outcome
  4. Work or production teams – these are usually recognized as organizational units which have a specific regular and ongoing work function
  5. Service teams – these consist of multiple teams which function to provide around-the-clock operations
  6. Management teams – members are located globally but work collaboratively to lead an organization
  7. Action teams – members of these teams provide immediate responses when needed, often in emergency situations or short-term times of need (pp. 2-5)

Team

It’s important regardless of the type of team that virtual team members are aware of, are prepared for, and understand the challenges that each situation and work dynamic presents. It is the leader’s responsibility to identify the type of teams they have, need, or want and to proceed accordingly.

Reflection Point – “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” ~ Babe Ruth

 

References

Boje, D. & Rhodes, C. (2005). The virtual leader construct: The mass mediatization and simulation of transformational leadership. Leadership, 1, 407-428.

Caulat, G. (2006, August). Virtual leadership. The Ashridge Journal.

DeRosa, D. (2009). Virtual success: The keys to effectiveness in leading from a distance. Leadership in Action, 28(6), 9-11.

Duarte, D. & Tennant-Snyder, N. (1999). Mastering virtual teams: Strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed.

Zhang, S., Fjermestad, J., & Tremaine, M. (2005). Leadership styles in virtual team context: Limitations, solutions and propositions. Proceeding of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Groupsourcing

Groupsourcing – The New Face of Digital Collaboration and Sharing

by Mark Sivy

Groupsourcing is an effective strategy for meeting the evolving demands of today’s increasingly complex digital workplace. The group advantage stems from being able to initiate, maintain and strengthen communication with like-minded individuals or with people who complement one’s skills and knowledge. Regardless of whether you’re networking as an entrepreneur, experienced professional, business owner, learner, or executive, there are numerous advantages of establishing mutually beneficial relationships and circles of influence.

Groupsourcing

Think of groupsourcing as a specialized membership-based and evolved version of crowdsourcing. Actually neither of these is a new concept, but current technologies and social networking have given them much more range, value, and media attention.

Through discussions with others who have similar interests and talents, groupsourced networking can provide remarkable opportunities for individual learning and sharing of information. The availability of tapping into unique talents and knowledge enhances the value of participation of other members and the group as a whole. In addition, group involvement provides the perfect environment to ask questions and receive expert feedback.

Likewise, group members can take advantage of economies of scale by creating a collective of expertise, skills, and knowledge through association with complementary members. This can occur through the formation of temporary, limited or full partnerships or the exchange of products or services. Additionally, there’s the opportunity to lower individual risks or investment by pooling capital resources, whether it be tools, funding, or space.

GroupsourcingNetworking within a group also offers greater market access by being able to tap into the needs of other members or get leads to opportunities outside the group. Related to this is the ability to reduce competition and strengthen one’s position by forming associations, affiliations or collaborations with other members.

The support that a group offers can equip members with the confidence to take more well-informed calculated risks by providing greater concept reliability and reducing personal bias. Working as a team, individuals can encourage one another, creatively solve problem, be more innovative, brainstorm new ideas, and provide different perspectives. These advantages lead to being more motivated and confident, thus stimulating increased efficiency, productivity and profit.

Given what has already been stated, through online connections and interactions, a professional group can collectively create proposals and leverage broader crowdsourcing benefits and opportunities. Doing this can result in additional content, ideas, input, or service contributions from what is usually a large and loosely connected online community base. This community can range from people who have similar interests to those who want to invest money.

Whether attending in-person events or participating in online forum discussions, individuals can gain professional advantages via connections, services or business partnerships. Dale Carnegie once said, “Smart business people understand the value of networking. Put simply, expanding your contacts improves your chances to build good relationships, discover leads and generate increased sales.”

Reflection Point 1 – Crowdsourcing is the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of a specialized few. ~Jeff Howe

Reflection Point 2 – There occurs the beautiful feeling that only humanity together is the true human being, and that the individual can be cheerful and happy only if he has the courage to feel himself in the Whole. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Most of Us Practice Virtual Operations

The New Age of Virtual Organization Operations

by Mark Sivy

Most of us probably haven’t thought much about being in an era where virtual organization operations play a major role in daily activities, but it does and we’re involved with it. So what examples exist for these types of operations? To explore this we need to first identify what constitutes virtual organization operations.

A Perspective on Virtual Organization Operations

Here’s where it might get a bit tricky since technically virtual organization operations have existed since individuals have communicated and coordinated efforts while being at different locations. To narrow this topic down, I’ll focus on “near real-time” interactions that occur at-a-distance. Prior to the advent of electronics, some of these early methods have been through the use of mirrors (heliographs), smoke signals, drums, and flags (semaphore). As we moved into the 19th Century, organizations began using electronically-mediated services that were being invented, including the telegraph, fax machine, and telephone. Coming into the 20th Century, virtual operations were facilitated with the advent of radio, television, and eventually the Internet.

Virtual organization operations occur when geographically separated members of a team work together in achieving some outcome such as an event, service or product. Any one of these groups can represent a broad pool of shared skills, knowledge and experiences that are networked via digital communication and collaboration technologies. These technologies address the barriers of time and distance, enabling an organization to leverage collective innovation, creativity, and synergy. Virtual Organization Operations

Virtual Organization Operations in Practice

So where does this leave us as practitioners of virtual organization operations? Well, this actually involves a huge range of activities from something as simple as two relatives in different parts of a country talking on the phone planning a family gathering to a corporation’s globally distributed team working together to develop a new product line. Since you’re reading this blog, I would say that it is very likely that within the past 24 hours you’ve engaged in some form of virtual operation whether you’ve placed an online order with Staples or Amazon for merchandise, collaborated on a work document on Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox, or used social media such as Twitter or Google+ to plan a social gathering.

So What’s the Challenge in Virtual Organization Operations?

With all of these common examples of how one might accomplish virtual operations with relative ease, you might be thinking this isn’t rocket science. In part that is correct. Some of the everyday tools that are used for many virtual tasks are linear or have been created for end-user simplicity. However, when it comes to mission critical, dynamic, and interactive virtual organization operations that involve interactions between diverse team members, it becomes much more complex. Working in this type of networked environment requires specialized knowledge and skills that enable people to communicate effectively and function efficiently when separated by geographic distances.

The Challenges in a Nutshell

Body languageMost of us are unknowingly dependent on gaining much of our communicated information and understanding from in-person body language. In a seminal study, Mehrabian and Ferris (1967) discovered that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words stated. So depending on the form of communication, as much as 93% of face-to-face communication content could be lost in communicating with others at-a-distance. We can only partially compensate for this, but it is important that we do, otherwise serious misunderstandings, mistakes, and failure can result.

In a future post, this topic will be explored in more depth using the concepts of presence, emotional intelligence, transactional distance theory, and social constructivism.

Reflection Point – The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. ~ Peter F. Drucker

 

Reference

MEHRABIAN, A., & FERRIS, S. R. (1967). INFERENCE OF ATTITUDES FROM NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION IN TWO CHANNELS. Journal Of Consulting Psychology, 31(3), 248-252. doi:10.1037/h0024648