Innovation and Virtual Environments
The rapid pace of technological innovations in recent years represents a dual-edged sword for organizational leaders. On the one hand, these technologies have introduced so-called “virtual environments” that facilitate the sharing of knowledge and collaboration among practitioners. On the other hand, though, leading others in virtual environments carries some special challenges that must be taken into account in order for the medium to be effective. For instance, in his essay, “Managing the ever-more-distributed workforce,” Novitski (2008) makes the point that, “Despite vastly faster communication speeds, modern companies face similar challenges of trust and control with off-site workers” (p. 83).
Although every virtual environment is unique in some fashion, they all share a common need to take cross-cultural differences that can adversely affect communications into account, as well as need to keep isolated employees motivated and engaged in the process. In this regard, Novitski emphasizes that, “One challenge that invites creative solutions is the social isolation that remote workers may feel” (2008, p. 83). These issues are especially important for virtual teams or groups that are located in different countries where cultural practices can have an enormous impact on the quality and efficiency of telecommunications. Notwithstanding the challenges that are involved, promoting a sense of trust in virtual environments can go a long way towards helping employees located in geographically disparate locations communicate effectively towards achieving a common goal.
While there are limitations to virtual environments that lack face-to-face video capabilities in terms of providing valuable body language clues to what people are really trying to say, there are other ways to promote trust and credibility and to improve the quality of online communications irrespective of the media used. For instance, Novitski advises that, “Unlike a phone call, a person in the midst of a text ‘chat’ can send a digital file, like a drawing, photo, or schedule to support the discussion” (p. 83). Likewise, face-to-face meetings can be replaced in whole or part with videoconferencing tools that do provide some degree of visual clues concerning what others are trying to say.
Optimizing virtual environments in this way to maximize the ability of these communications tools to provide organizations with the capabilities needed to achieve their corporate goals requires more than an intuitive or slap-dash approach. Indeed, Gunn (n.d.) makes the point that in the business world, it is axiomatic that “prior planning prevents poor performance.” In sum, Gunn makes the point that in order to lead any organization from where it is currently situated, including optimizing virtual environments, to where it wants to be requires an informed strategic planning approach. The strategic planning process for purposes such as these, however, are fraught with pitfalls that can derail even the most well-intentioned business strategy, including those that are in the best interests of all stakeholders.
To help overcome these constraints, Gunn recommends that organizational leaders should first determine what goals are most salient for their business needs and to take careful stock of their operating and competitive environments as well as their strengths and weaknesses to develop internal analysis benchmarks that can then be used to formulate strategic plans that can guide the organization to where it wants to be. Finally, an important part of the strategic planning process is to break the process down into interim goals with corresponding timelines for completion that can help organizations keep the process on track.
Gunn, R. A. (n.d.). An organization that doesn’t plan its future isn’t likely to have one. Strategic Futures. Retrieved from http://www.strategicfutures.com/library/strategic-plan/organization-that-doesnt-plan/.
Novitski, B. J. (2008). Managing the ever-more-distributed workforce. Architectural Record, 196(11), 83.
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