Going Virtual and Global
2011 LEC Keynote Wayne Cascio Discusses Leveraging the Impact of the Virtual Global Workforce
Technology has rendered geography meaningless—at least when it comes to work that can be done virtually, says SIOP Fellow and 2011 Leading Edge Consortium(LEC) speaker Wayne Cascio.
The event will bring together thought leaders from academia and practice in a day-and-a-half event focusing on the exciting topic of the virtual workforce. Speakers will discuss virtual work and collaboration, social media, and technology for recruitment, selection, performance, and management, among other topics. (For more information on the LEC format and speakers, read the most recent stories here!)
Registration is now open, so reserve your space today and take advantage of the early registration discount. Registration costs $425 on or before August 29.
Register for “The Virtual Workforce” today!
As much as 30% of the work of multinational organizations can be done virtually, Cascio explained, but to optimize the use of the virtual global workforce, it is important to recognize its limits and possibilities. During his keynote address, Cascio will explain some of the limitations and possibilities he has studied for the last decade.
Cascio said he became interested in speaking about the virtual global workforce after he attended the World Economic Forum in Geneva in May 2011 to present a workshop for 25 chief HR officers from some of the largest firms in Europe. The managing director of The Boston Consulting Group (Europe) was there to present a study they had done on virtual work.
“One of the things they were encouraging was virtual global mobility,” Cascio explained. “Where people wouldn’t have to leave home or leave their native country, but they could still work for organizations in other countries.”
The concept has legs. In the next 20 years the predictions are that 500 million people will legally work in countries other than where they were born, Cascio explained.
“It’s happening slowly. “But if you look at 5 to 10 years down the road, it’s coming.”
Cascio said there are many causes of a growing global virtual workforce.
“It’s due to economic opportunity, but it’s also due to wars, conflicts, natural disasters that will drive people elsewhere, and other circumstance,” he added. “So this notion of diversity in workforce is very real. And if you think about the fact that as much as 30% of the work can be done virtually, those employees wouldn’t have to leave or go through the immigration process, but they could still work.”
Those virtual jobs are not just the stereotypical call-center jobs either, Cascio explained.
“More than 2 million U. S. tax returns were prepared overseas last year,” he said. “Typically you go to your tax prepared locally and they fill out the forms and submit them for you, but there’s no reason why those tax forms can’t be scanned and digitized and sent overseas. It’s not just low- level jobs that can be done virtually. It’s high-level jobs too.”
Think of financial analysts, he added. They don’t have to live in the U.S. to analyze U.S. companies. They have access to the same information virtually. A lot of financial analysis is going overseas. Classic examples also include radiologists who are trained to work in the United States but live in India.
“A lot of rural hospitals in the U. S. will hire Indian radiologists because they can staff their night time operations, when it’s daytime in India,” Cascio explained. “With broadband technology if, you’re going to send x-rays or diagnostic images, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to send them upstairs or across the world.”
Another example is film animation.
“Most of that work is not done in the United States anymore,” Cascio explained. “It’s done overseas where it can be done a lot cheaper.”
Cascio said cost is a common reason for organizations to hire global virtual employees, though talent shortages are also huge, especially in highly skilled occupations.
“If you can’t find the people you need in a particular occupation, the global virtual workforce allows you to find those people you need who have those skills and aren’t located nearby,” Cascio explained. “Let’s say you have people with IT skills in Silicon Valley who don’t want to leave there but could work for your company on the East Coast doing project work. A lot of people don’t want to move and a lot of people can’t afford to move.”
Cascio said the global virtual workforce is especially beneficial to women around the world.
“It really enables women’s employment opportunities,” he said. “There are women in many countries that can’t work in their own country because of limitations. I’m thinking of women in the Middle East, for example, who have limitations on the kinds of work that they do. But they would be able to work virtually. These are women who are well-educated and well-trained and who can participate in the global workforce in a way that wouldn’t be possible without technology.”
There are limits to the global virtual workforce, Cascio noted. For example, not all work can be done virtually. Receptionists can’t do their jobs virtually, he said, and there are many other jobs that require face-to-face interaction, such as nursing.
One of the biggest limits, however, is company culture.
“For example, it’s not widely well-known or publicized but Google generally doesn’t allow telework,” Cascio said. “The company’s strategy is built on innovation and Google believes that a lot of innovation happens informally by people meeting in hallways, at water coolers, in cafeterias, and so on. They do allow some teleworking, but they discourage it. So if a company’s strategy is built on innovation and you believe innovation comes from people of different backgrounds working informally, then it would be difficult to implement virtual work at your organization.”
Another hindrance to virtual work are the attitudes of managers, Cascio added, especially middle managers.
“A big issue for a lot of middle managers is that they’re worried about their own jobs,” he explained. “A cruel joke is that a senior manager comes out of his office and there is a whole bullpen of cubicles and most of them are empty due to virtual work. The senior manager looks at the cubicles and then turns to the middle manager and says ‘what do I need you for?’”
Some middle managers may also have attitudes that lead people to believe employees are slackers if they are not physically at the office, Cascio added. On the other hand, companies may actually need middle managers more because of virtual work.
“The reason for that is you need team leaders,” he explained. “Organizations might not call them middle managers, but they need team leaders and these are people who are available and can be contacted for help. A lot of times they answer technical questions, but also the role of the team leader really changes pretty dramatically. It’s almost like self-managing work teams have come full circle, from self-managing work teams in a factory to self-managing work teams that are dispersed. The role of the manager shifts from being one that ensures you are doing your work to that of a person who makes sure you have the resources you need to get your work done.”
Cascio explained that a third major challenge, in addition to the job type and management, is getting the right people to do virtual work.
“They have to be self-starters, independent, people with personal discipline,” he said. “If you have people that require a lot of supervision and a structured work environment, they are not going to be good at teleworking.”
I-O psychologists play critical roles in that process, Cascio explained.
“We will need to work to ensure there’s effective selection of people to work in virtual environments, developing behavior-based interviews, identifying job requirements, jobs that fit or don’t fit in the virtual work environment, identifying performance criteria. When you don’t see people every day you need to develop performance criteria that everyone can buy into, such as using call volume, customer reviews, or projects completed on deadline.”
According to a recent workplace flexibility report from the Society for Human Resource Management, 62% of employers don’t measure the impact of telework, Cascio noted.
“I-O psychologists with their expertise in program evaluation can be extremely valuable here,” he said. “I think one of the most valuable things I-Os can do is to facilitate, train, and select workers to operate virtually, but another thing that often doesn’t get mentioned is the idea of having all of those virtual team members create and sign an agreement that documents the team’s values and behaviors. That document can come out of research on telework that identifies the most constructive team behaviors.”
Cascio said he will explain strategies for dealing with these limitations during his keynote.
“I think the most valuable thing attendees can take away from this would be to have a very realistic understanding of opportunities but also limitations associated with virtual work,” he added. “I’d like to give people some specific guidelines they can take back with them to apply in their organizations.”
Wayne F. Cascio holds the Robert H. Reynolds Chair in Global Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver. He has served as president of SIOP (1992-1993), chair of the SHRM Foundation (2007), the HR Division of the Academy of Management (1984), and as a member of the Academy of Management’s Board of Governors (2003-2006). He has authored or edited 24 books on human resource management, and is a two-time winner of the best-paper award from the Academy of Management Executive for his research on downsizing and responsible restructuring. In 2010 he received the Michael R. Losey Human Resources Research Award from the Society for Human Resource Management. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Geneva (Switzerland) in 2004, and in 2008 he was named by the Journal of Management as one of the most influential scholars in management in the past 25 years. Currently he serves as a senior editor of the Journal of World Business.