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Trust and the Virtual Workplace

The virtual employee must feel trusted by not only his peers, but also by the boss. In his book “The Speed of Trust” Stephen M.R. Covey clearly points out that trust equals confidence, therefore when a supervisor trusts his employees, he is confident in their abilities and their integrity. In the virtual office, trust is at the heart of everything. Employees must be treated like the professionals they are, and allowed to do the job they were hired to do. Mistrust has the tendency to rear its ugly head when management does not understand the needs of the PJ worker, or when the PJ worker does not understand the expectations of the manager. Needless to say, trust issues are imminent.

Measuring productivity is more difficult when you can’t do it by observation; hence it presents another challenge in the virtual workplace. In the industrial age productivity was highly tied to specialization. Performance was much more measurable when it was immediately observable or so we pretended.  In the virtual workplace, both performance and productivity must be evaluated differently. The degree to which a person is productive has to do with more than just what he does and where he does it. It is inexorably tied to the systems, procedures and people interacting with the virtual worker. In order for the virtual worker to function, the organization must define and communicate organizational goals, its vision and mission. It must train virtual workers but also train managers to provide expectations, directives and evaluate the success of the project not only at the individual but also at the team level.

Technology has made it possible for communication to become more multi-dimensional. Rather than only providing closeness or connectivity, you can manipulate digitally mediated communications to transmit or seek information. Today’s social media revolution has also caused countless office quarrels, not to mention how many individuals have lost their jobs because of something they posted on a social networking site. Take Michelle for example, who faithfully updated her Facebook® profile every morning, until one fine day she commented on how stressful her job was; she was immediately terminated for negatively influencing co-workers. Then there is Octavia Nasr, who was fired from her position as Middle East editor for CNN after she tweeted about her political sentiments which were considered to be anti-American. Remember: everything you say online can be used against you. Digital never forgets.

The idea of meaningfully connecting to others has really never changed. Today however, we are inundated with so much information that the ability to meaningfully align communication with purpose is challenging. One common mistake is to blame technology for this dynamic shift. Technology is the catalyst not the cause. Technology is a strong driving force behind change in human behavior. Technology provides different vehicles through which we communicate. You may choose to call from your Smartphone, send an email, or tweet. In essence each of these options is merely a different mode for delivering your message.  It is humans that change their behavior when using technology, regardless of delivery mode. For example, think of the last time you went out to dinner with a friend or relative. And instead of focusing on you, the other person became engrossed in an SMS exchange with someone else. Maybe it was the other way around, and you were the one paying more attention to your Smartphone rather than to the human being physically next to you.

Opportunities for communication abound but so do unintended consequences and the potential for chaos. Humans by nature want to be effective contributors. The ways, means and methods of contribution in this digitally connected world are different. The rules are different. The playing field is different. We communicate differently and we interact differently. There is no turning back. The patterns for sharing knowledge, learning and collaborating have also changed. Digitally mediated communications allow you to record everything that is being said or done. There is a traceable record of everything in the virtual workplace. This alone certainly changes the way you learn, share and interact with others because you know you are being watched. While you may enjoy more personal privacy than the traditional worker because you can create your own work environment, as a virtual worker you actually have less professional privacy because the technology is constantly capturing your whereabouts.

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