“We are getting more virtual all the time!” was a phrase frequently uttered during recent planning sessions for remote collaboration support at Intel Corporation; some form of this statement is no doubt made in other global firms as well. But what virtual comprises is not well understood. The construct of virtuality cannot be directly measured, so how virtual and how fast the stated change is occurring is mostly an enigma. Certain high level metrics of corporate information infrastructure can give indications, but much of virtuality is not obvious. The lack of definition makes it hard to understand the impact of virtual work on performance, or to evaluate the infrastructure and collaborative toolset needed to support distributed knowledge workers. Building on the concept of discontinuities, or factors contributing to a decrease in cohesion, we propose a virtuality index to assess the degree to which virtual work occurs and the pace at which this phenomenon progresses. The index was derived from data gathered in a study with sound psychometrics of over 1,200 employees at Intel Corporation. Preliminary analyses suggest that work predictability and general sociability (on or off teams), along with a range of media for expressivity and visualization can mitigate the consequences of working in discontinuous environments, while discontinuity of practices (e.g., more cultural and work process diversity) and worker mobility negatively impact the perception of team performance. Being distributed in and of itself was found to have no impact on team performance. These findings, along with others yet to be analyzed, promise to give us a handle on how the discontinuities of working virtually can be most effectively supported with collaboration tools.
Lu, Mei; Wynn, Eleanor; Chudoba, Katherine; and Watson-Manheim, Mary, "Understanding Virtuality in a Global Organization: Toward a Virtuality Index" (2003). ICIS 2003 Proceedings. 78.