Going Virtual

Going Virtual

Evangelia Baralou (ALBA Graduate Business School, Greece) and Jill Shepherd (Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch078
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Abstract

Virtuality is a socially constructed reality mediated by electronic media (Morse, 1998). Virtuality has overcome the stage of being considered a “false” reality, and is now being recognized as a process of becoming through information and communication technologies (ICTs), one of the main changing trends in a world in which ownership of assets is overrated. Organizations such as Amazon, Google, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel Capital, Orange, and Hewlett-Packard are some of the innovative enterprises that have adopted virtual teams in order to accelerate access to global business. For example, most of the people working in product development in Orange Group, one of the UK’s leading mobile phone service providers, work in virtual teams. The World Bank is also using virtual teams that collaborate across national and technical boundaries to meet organizational objectives. IBM, in a way to open up the innovation process, is pulling a technology- enabled global team (around 100,000 people) together for the online equivalent of a town meeting (Business Week Online, 2006) that will hopefully lead to idea generation by the whole IBM population, and powerful innovations in IBM. Characterized mainly by the dimension of timespace distantiation (Giddens, 1991) virtuality has an impact on the nature and dynamics of knowledge creation (Thompson, 1995), innovation (MacKenzie, 2006), social identity (Papacharalambous & McCalman, 2000), and organizational culture (available at http://www.etw. org/2003/Archives/telework2001-proc.pdf). The relentless advancement of ICT, in terms both of new technology and the convergence of technology (e.g., multimedia), is making virtual networking the norm rather than the exception. Socially, virtual communities are more dispersed, have different power dynamics, are less hierarchical, tend to be shaped around special interests, and are open to multiple interpretations, when compared to face-to-face equivalents. To successfully manage virtual communities, these differences need first to be understood, second, the understanding related to varying organizational aims, and third, the contextualised understanding needs to be translated into appropriate managerial implications. In business terms, virtuality exists in the form of lifestyle choices (home-working), ways of working (global product development teams), new products (virtual theme parks), and new business models (e.g., Internet dating agencies). Socially, virtuality can take the form of talking to intelligent agents, combining reality and virtuality in surgery (e.g., using 3D imaging before and during an operation), or in policy making (e.g., combining research and engineering reports with real satellite images of a landscape with digital animations of being within that landscape, to aid environmental policy decisions). Defining virtuality today is easy in comparison with defining, understanding, and managing it on an ongoing basis. As the title “Going Virtual” suggests, virtuality is a matter of a phenomenon in the making, as we enter into it during our everyday lives, as the technology develops, and as society changes as a result of virtual existences. The relentless advances in the technical complexity which underlies virtual functionality and the speeding up and broadening of our lives as a consequence of virtuality, make for little time and inclination to reflect upon the exact nature and effect of going virtual. As it pervades the way we live, work, and play at such a fast rate, we rarely have the time to stop and think about the implications of the phenomenon.
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Introduction

Virtuality is a socially constructed reality mediated by electronic media (Morse, 1998). Virtuality has overcome the stage of being considered a “false” reality, and is now being recognized as a process of becoming through information and communication technologies (ICTs), one of the main changing trends in a world in which ownership of assets is overrated.

Organizations such as Amazon, Google, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel Capital, Orange, and Hewlett-Packard are some of the innovative enterprises that have adopted virtual teams in order to accelerate access to global business. For example, most of the people working in product development in Orange Group, one of the UK’s leading mobile phone service providers, work in virtual teams. The World Bank is also using virtual teams that collaborate across national and technical boundaries to meet organizational objectives. IBM, in a way to open up the innovation process, is pulling a technology-enabled global team (around 100,000 people) together for the online equivalent of a town meeting (Business Week Online, 2006) that will hopefully lead to idea generation by the whole IBM population, and powerful innovations in IBM.

Characterized mainly by the dimension of time-space distantiation (Giddens, 1991) virtuality has an impact on the nature and dynamics of knowledge creation (Thompson, 1995), innovation (MacKenzie, 2006), social identity (Papacharalambous & McCalman, 2000), and organizational culture (available at http://www.etw.org/2003/Archives/telework2001-proc.pdf).

The relentless advancement of ICT, in terms both of new technology and the convergence of technology (e.g., multimedia), is making virtual networking the norm rather than the exception. Socially, virtual communities are more dispersed, have different power dynamics, are less hierarchical, tend to be shaped around special interests, and are open to multiple interpretations, when compared to face-to-face equivalents. To successfully manage virtual communities, these differences need first to be understood, second, the understanding related to varying organizational aims, and third, the contextualised understanding needs to be translated into appropriate managerial implications.

In business terms, virtuality exists in the form of lifestyle choices (home-working), ways of working (global product development teams), new products (virtual theme parks), and new business models (e.g., Internet dating agencies). Socially, virtuality can take the form of talking to intelligent agents, combining reality and virtuality in surgery (e.g., using 3D imaging before and during an operation), or in policy making (e.g., combining research and engineering reports with real satellite images of a landscape with digital animations of being within that landscape, to aid environmental policy decisions).

Defining virtuality today is easy in comparison with defining, understanding, and managing it on an ongoing basis. As the title “Going Virtual” suggests, virtuality is a matter of a phenomenon in the making, as we enter into it during our everyday lives, as the technology develops, and as society changes as a result of virtual existences. The relentless advances in the technical complexity which underlies virtual functionality and the speeding up and broadening of our lives as a consequence of virtuality, make for little time and inclination to reflect upon the exact nature and effect of going virtual. As it pervades the way we live, work, and play at such a fast rate, we rarely have the time to stop and think about the implications of the phenomenon.

The aim of what follows is, therefore, to reflexively generate an understanding of the techno-social nature of virtuality, on the basis that such an understanding is a prerequisite to becoming more responsible for its nature and effects, and more successful in making the most out of it. Ways of looking at virtuality are followed by some thoughts on the managerial implications of “going virtual,” especially in relation to increased innovation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Reflective Society: One that takes a critical stance to information received and beliefs held.

Mediated Interaction: Involves the sender of a message being separated in time and space from the recipient.

Virtuality: A socially constructed reality, mediated by electronic media

Electronic Media: Interactive digital technologies used in business, publishing, entertainment, and the arts

Front and Back Region: Front region is a setting that stays put geographically speaking (e.g., an office, a class). Back region is a setting which cannot be easily intruded upon

Social Realities: Constructs which involve using the same rules to derive the same information (individual beliefs) from observations (Bittner, S., available at www.geoinfo.tuwien.ac.at/projects/revigis/carnuntum/Bittner.ppt)

Knowledge: An individual and social construction that allows us to relate to the world and each other.

Social Construction: Anything that could not have existed, had we not built it (Boghossian, 2001, available at http://www.douglashospital.qc.ca/fdg/kjf/38-TABOG.htm

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