Complexity Factors in Networked and Virtual Working Environments

Complexity Factors in Networked and Virtual Working Environments

Juha Kettunen, Ari Putkonen, Ursula Hyrkkänen
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch103
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Working environments are changing from the traditional model. An increasing amount of work takes place in networked and virtual environments which are not tied to one place and time. The work environment is defined “virtual,” when the employee uses information and communication technology (ICT) for collaboration (Vartiainen, 2006). The planning of working conditions becomes challenging task for managers and ICT tool developers, because there is a lack of understanding the consequences of emerging virtual work. The capacity of workers to percept and process information is burdened with the complexity and high demands of working life. Knowledge of the complexity factors of the overall work system is essential for an in depth understanding of human working capabilities and limitations (Kleiner, 2006). The complexity of work is usually considered as a factor related to the task. At the one end the task is creative and demanding and at the other end it is simple and routine-like. The expanded complexity concept also takes into account the working environment that can be different combinations of physical, virtual, social and cultural spaces. The purpose of this article is to present a framework to analyse the complexity factors in networked and virtual working environments. The approach developed in this article is intended to be generic in order to be applicable to various kinds of organisations and networks for the purpose of management. It is important that the working conditions of workers can be planned in advance to provide workers with appropriate ICT tools and data networks to enable efficient cooperation in networks in a way that the workload can be limited to a sustainable level. The described framework is assessed using the case of the Turku University of Applied Sciences (TUAS).
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Organisational Context of the Study

Networked and virtual work are analysed by applying the complexity approach to the Turku University of Applied Sciences. The strategic plan of the TUAS is to react to the changes in a flexible way (Kettunen, 2006, 2007; Kettunen & Kantola, 2006). The interaction of the institution is close with its operational environment. The purpose of the institution is to react to the changes in its environment in a flexible way and to increase its external impact on the region.

TUAS is a multidisciplinary higher education institution founded in 1992. The City of Turku owns the institution, which has 800 full-time employees. The TUAS has six faculties and a Continuing Education Centre. ICT is an important field of education and is combined with business, biotechnology, mechanical engineering, health care, performing arts, communication and many other subjects. Cooperation with other universities is active. One reason is that the ICT education and research of the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University are located in the same ICT Building.

The TUAS has 9,500 degree students. The institution offers tuition mainly in Finnish but there are also degree programmes, modules and courses in other languages. Internationalisation is one of the focus areas of the institution. The TUAS has wide international networks. The institution has cooperation with several higher education institutions in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Five entire programmes are taught in English. The objective is to improve the students’ ability to work in a global environment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Macroergonomics: The subdiscipline of ergonomics that focuses on the design of the overall work system. Conceptually, a top-down sociotechnical systems approach to the design of work systems and carry through of the overall work system design characteristics to the design of human-job, human-machine and human-software interfaces to ensure that the entire work system is fully harmonised.

Human-Centred Approach: This is an approach to human-machine function and task allocation that first considers the capabilities and limitations of the human and whether the function or task justifies the use of a human.

Microergonomics: Those aspects of ergonomics that focus on the design of interfaces between the individual and other system elements, including human-job, human-machine, human-software and human-environment interfaces.

WiFi: Wireless Fidelity was originally a brand licensed by the WiFi Alliance. It describes the underlying technology of wireless local area networks based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications. It was developed for use in mobile computing devices, such as laptops, in local area networks.

Linux: Linux referes to Unix-like computer systems which have a Linux kernel. The source code of Linux is available to anyone to use, modify and redistribute freely. The Linux was originally developed by Linus Thorwalds.

Cluster: Clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected enterprises, specialised suppliers, service providers, firms in related industries, and associated institutions in particular fields that compete but also cooperate.

WiMAX: Worldwide Interoperability of Microwave Access promotes conformance and interoperability of the IEEE 802.16 standard. WiMAX is a certification mark given to equipment that meets the certain conformity and interoperability tests.

WLAN: Wireless local area network is used to link two or more computers without using wires. WLAN uses spread-sprectrum technology based on radio waves to enable communication in a limited area.

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