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Why Should You Care About the Virtual Workplace?

The world in which we live, work and play has changed. These changes are all encompassing. They are omnipresent, universal and pervasive.  In 2007 a report on unified communications, Frost and Sullivan Corporation characterized the growth of the virtual workplace as “one of the biggest business changes to hit in years.” The human interactions that we have traditionally emphasized no longer suffice. The look in his eye may have to be determined online. We work, learn and play in a virtual world where we may never meet face to face with the folks we interact with. We work for companies we have never been to and we achieve degrees without setting foot in a classroom or on campus. These new types of interactions have unforeseen consequences. This change in human interactions impacts individuals, organizations and society at large.

Today’s telecommuters and PJ workers are hard pressed to live in this environment full of stimuli. You are left to your own volition to turn off the cell phone, turn off the computer and disconnect from the demands of the digital office.  You are on your own to seek relaxation, joy and down time.  The problem is, you do not know how to do this without feeling guilty. Only when you are able to act with autonomy, set and enact priorities, be authentically productive, make responsible choices, and align connections, will you be able to get things under control and reap the benefits of the virtual workplace.

When Alexander Graham Bell shouted “Come here Mr. Watson, I want to see you!” in 1876, he could not have possibly predicted that the basic idea behind the first telephone would morph into digital Smartphones with so many unique capabilities. He probably never anticipated how his new gadget would forever change the way people communicate. The same idea lies behind current technologies. The technologies that connect us today will look completely different tomorrow. And they will inevitably impact the way you communicate when working, learning and socializing.

Even up to the present day, most people are still only talking about the technology itself and what you can do with it. The technology may be different, but the conversation is the same. The PJ Effect however, forces you to reflect on your behaviors. And ask yourself the question: “How have these behaviors changed because of how I use technology?” You live in this rapidly changing, digitally mediated world, consequently there is no alternative but to care about what is happening around you. Even if you did your best to ignore it, the fact is that you are immersed in it. Even if you are the last person on the planet to get connected, the fact is that your child, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your sibling, or your co-worker is already connected, and the changes in his or her behavior will in turn impact you.

Regardless of what you do for a living, your boss already expects that you have certain technology skills and that you can apply them in your day-to-day responsibilities. If your boss feels you would benefit from professional development, he or she may ask you to participate in an online training course or a hybrid course that has face-to-face components. The reality is that it is not cost effective for companies to pay for your travels or for a day “off” for training purposes only. Many companies will now expect you to complete special training sessions online, but on your own time. When this happens, you cringe, bite your tongue but eventually succumb to the pressures of the changing workplace because let’s face it, you want to keep your job.  Without realizing it, you are blending your work life with your private life, and learning through digitally mediated communications.

You should care about The PJ Effect not only for your own sake, for also for the sake of the generation that follows. Whether it is your own child, your niece, goddaughter or best friend’s kid, the truth is that they will face unique challenges in the workplace of the future. You are in a unique position to be a pathfinder and a role model for the next workforce. It is your responsibility to teach the new generation the skills they need to be successful in the future. Although the challenges they will face will be much different, the underlying struggle is the same: they will have to respond to the changes around when the boundaries and constraints of today’s workplace have been removed.

The influence of technology on our behavior is undeniable. We are part of an always-connected network of individuals, ideas, agendas, and challenges. Our time is on high demand. Our boss may expect us to check our email on Sunday morning, or our spouse expects us to answer the text message while we are writing a business proposal or maybe we have to stay home Saturday night and finish an assignment for the online class. We react to these changes in many ways; sometimes successfully but other times we stare into space frustrated. We wish that someone could show us how to get everything done within the 24 hours a day we have been given.

The good news is that there is a way to work it out; it all has to do with not just where you work, but how you work. As you now already know, the virtual workplace has characteristics very different than most traditional office environments. The digital office is characterized by openness, vulnerability, personal privacy, informality and detachment. As a result, you have increased flexibility and less external direction and you may experience a different kind of stress. There are things you can do to balance all your personal and professional responsibilities and diminish the stress you are under. This balance will let you be productive and successful.

Today we have digital technologies; tomorrow it may be something else. Holograms, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and faster, more integrated gadgets are sure to play a role in future forms of communication. These too will cause us to modify and re-condition our current behaviors. This means that the PJ Effect will continue to be a part of the way we blend our private and professional lives for a long time to come. We will always have to find new ways of coping with the unavoidable changes. The environments that we consider normal now will soon be outdated and replaced. Once again we will be out of our element and dealing with a new environment where the boundaries and constraints no longer apply. #VirtualWork #PJEffect #RemoteWork