Communication technologies are continually changing ideas of the “office.” One of the most interesting of these developments is the virtual office—a setting where individuals in different places use online media to collaborate on projects. Recent trends, furthermore, indicate knowledge workers will become increasingly involved in international virtual offices (IVOs) where they interact with coworkers in different countries. Such environments, however, can intensify problems related to cultural communication expectations. Employees must therefore understand how cultural factors can affect online discourse if they wish to work successfully in IVOs. This essay examines three IVO-related problem areas: contact, status, and language.
One interesting aspect of virtual offices is the speed with which organizations are adopting them (McCloskey & Weaver, 2001; Pinsonneault & Boisvert, 2001). A major factor behind this trend is that such workplaces offer:
Increased flexibility and quicker responsiveness (Scuhan & Hayzak, 2001)
Better information sharing and improved knowledge management (Ruppel & Harrington, 2001)
Increased employee loyalty
Improved productivity (Pinsonneault & Boisvert, 2001)
These factors also make virtual offices excellent mechanisms for knowledge-based tasks that benefit from effective information exchanges (Belanger, 1999; Ruppel & Harrington, 2001). Interested organizations, however, must also consider the effects globalization could have on such environments.
The interest in virtual offices is occurring at a time when more nations are gaining online access. The governments of India and China, for example, have adopted strategies to increase their respective numbers of online connections markedly (Pastore, 2004; Section IV, 2003). At the same time, different public and private organizations have undertaken initiatives to increase online access in Africa and in Latin America (Kalia, 2001; Tapping in to Africa, 2000; Tying Latin America together, 2001). Additionally, the number of individuals going online in Eastern Europe is growing rapidly and has made the region a hub for software-based outsourcing (Goolsby, 2001; New geography, 2003; Weir, 2004).
This increased global access provides quick and easy connections to relatively inexpensive yet highly skilled technical workforces (Baily & Farrell, 2004; New geography, 2003). This situation has prompted some companies to explore international virtual offices (IVOs) in which individuals located in different nations use online media to collaborate on projects. These IVOs can lower product cost and a shorter production time (New geography, 2003). Yet this situation creates challenges related to cultural communication expectations.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Power Distance: A measure of the importance status has in governing interpersonal interactions.
Dialect: A variation of a language.
Idiomatic Expression: A phrase associated with a particular, nonliteral meaning.
International Virtual Office (IVO): A work group comprised of individuals who are situated in different nations and use online media to collaborate on projects.
Online: Related to or involving the Internet or the World Wide Web.