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Human Resource Management in Virtual Organizations

As we move into the 21st century, a number of innovations that were once merely ideas are now becoming reality. One of these is the virtual organization, where organizational members are geographically separated, but work together through computer technology. To date, much of the research and thought on virtual organizations has focused upon virtual technology and organizational design-how to link the individual members and how to design the virtual organization to carry out its work.

This book takes this further in addressing the crucial question, how do you o human resource (HER) functions In the virtual organization? This question Is particularly relevant when you consider that most traditional HER functions-hiring, training, evaluating performance, and rewarding (or disciplining) performance- assume there will be face-to-face interaction as the basis for carrying out that function. This book examines human resource management (HARM) in the virtual organizational in 14 chapters written by various authors and compiled into four parts.

Part I as the Introduction contains two chapters. Greenberg and Wang define and describe the ritual organization In the first chapter. Then Crandall and Wallace look at the difference between traditional and virtual workplaces in the second chapter. Part II examines HARM program delivery in three chapters.

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McClellan, Kolas, and Gained look at HER outsourcing. Snell, Stutter, and Lepta examine HER departments, and Lurch and Beauty describe the role of the HER professional In the virtual organization, Part Ill presents HARM programs in virtual organizations.

Sky chapters describe job analysis (Decapods), staffing (Longings & Without), training and development (None & Simmering), performance management (Cleveland, Mohammed, & Statutes), hybrid reward systems (He-man, Tansy, & Tomlinson), and negotiation (Locked & Dolmen). Part IV contains two case studies delineating the problems and solutions to electronic commerce (e-commerce) banking in China by Wang, and cross-functional teams cyberpunk In an orthopedic manufacturer written by Crandall and Wallace. Finally, Part V concludes with a chapter on observations by Carry.

Most of the authors are academicians. Thus, they have a natural tendency to scribe virtual organizations in terms of conceptual models, evolving constructs, and theoretical foundations. To the authors’ credit, however, they make a concerted effort to use real virtual organizations (is that an oxymoron? ) to illustrate their points, like the Technology One Alliance among Banker, AT, and IBM, the networks between Walter and its vendors, Mercer’s virtual HER activities, and Lucent’s virtual product development team composed of 500 engineers operating over 13 time zones.

In the first chapter, Greenberg and Wang take on the large task of trying to define exactly what a virtual organization is. They review 25 definitions from various articles and conclude that a virtual organization has several characteristics. I OFF organization. Second, there is a focus on core business activities that the virtual organization does well. Other activities are done by more traditional organizations. Third, technology connects the partners with the core business activities. Fourth, the organizational structure is flexible and fluid.

Fifth, there is a focus upon virtual teams working on projects. In Chapter 2, Crandall and Wallace define the virtual workplace s “a network of people conducting business processes beyond the traditional bounds of organization, time, and space. ” They contrast the traditional with the virtual organization and find that virtual organizations emphasize self-managed teams, broad-based duties, cross-functional skills, and a network orientation. One consequence is that the HER manager in a virtual organization takes on more differing roles than does the traditional HER manager.

The virtual organization HER manager must be a coach delivering feedback to self-managed teams, an architect of work lows using computer technology, a designer and deliverer of innovative HER programs to fit the virtual organization, and a facilitator of teamwork in self-managed teams. The most interesting section is Part Ill on how to carry out HER functions within the virtual organization. The basic functions look the same as in the traditional organization, but the techniques are sometimes radically different. For example, in the virtual organization, electronic performance monitoring and online chat sessions are Job analysis methods.

Recruiting occurs through Internet Job boards. Hiring involves electronic resumes, online testing, and online interviewing. Training focuses upon electronic learning (e-learning) capability, communities of learning, and the use of learning portals. Performance management involves maintaining individual technological skill mixes and evaluating virtual team performance. Even pay systems need new forms because of the new types of work structures-virtual teams, alliances, and networks-and the changing perception of pay equity within these structures.

One theme that underlies many of the chapters is the importance of teams in the ritual organization. The self-managed team is one of the building blocks of these organizations. Team members must possess or be trainable on traits conducive to operating in the virtual organization: communication skills, cultural sensitivity, networking ability, tolerance for ambiguity, and interpersonal adaptability. Finally, virtual negotiation is unique. Negotiation in traditional organizations is face- to-face, but virtual negotiation occurs largely through e-mail, which, on the one hand, has a greater propensity for norms of “taking turns” (e. . Waiting for an e-mail reply); but, on the other hand, there is a greater tendency for distribution, which may allow for rude and compulsive behavior, like “flaming. ” Moreover, there is a greater tendency toward message misinterpretation in virtual negotiation e-mails that lack the nonverbal information richness of face-to-face interaction. As I read the chapters, it occurred to me that the authors make a very basic assumption, which is that the computer technology linking everything together is from viruses and worms that had swept the nation in August, 2003, was still a very rest memory as I read this book.

To compound the problem, our university computer router went out at the same time. The consequence was very limited access to e-mail and the Internet as our fall semester began. It was a shock to see how much this negatively affected our teaching, research, and interaction with our colleagues. And this was within a traditional university structure. I wonder how these onslaughts of viruses, worms, hackers, and equipment breakdowns affect virtual organizations. In the traditional organization, there are backup communication yester to the computer, such as faxes, phone messages, and even walking over to someone and talking face-to-face.

What is the alternative to the very centralized role of the computer if it malfunctions in the virtual organization? In conclusion, virtual organizations are much more than merely doing e-commerce through Web pages and gaining remote access to the company computer. They involve partnerships, fluid and flexible boundaries, focused business processes, broad-based skill mixes, decentralized teams, and complex connectivity to information networks. They run the gamut from loosely coupled telecommuting relationships to intricate cabernets.

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