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 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
Most 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
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