South-Western - Management  
Virtual Work Space Eases Collaboration, Debate Among Scattered Employees
Topic Technology, Innovation, and Change
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Key Words Virtual shared work spaces, collaboration software, and culture change
News Story

The Federal Aviation Administration faced a huge challenge. With 50,000 employees spread across the country and rule proposals requiring input from members of the airline industry, important projects were often stalled. Some rules dealing with critical safety and security issues could take as much as 18 to 24 months to iron out.

In March 2002, the company instituted the Knowledge Services Network to help deal with the problem. Using software provided by CorasWorks, the network’s 22,000 users can join virtual “rooms” to discuss ideas and work on shared documents.

The network costs the FAA about $1 million a year to maintain. However, it estimates it saves about $3.7 million in travel costs and $2 million worth of employee time. Proposals take less than a year to be converted to rules because employees aren’t wasting time making travel arrangements and looking for documents.

The FAA is part of a growing trend toward virtual shared work spaces for employees. The technology is getting better and people are becoming more comfortable with this new way of working. Companies are also realizing that their most important competitive advantage comes from the way they are able to use their intellectual capital. The technology allows for more sharing of ideas and working together than is possible in typical environments.

The key to making the new technology successful is to train people in how to use it properly. Ronald Simmons of the FAA says that new technology often fails within its first two years because companies put a lot of time into the technology but not into making sure the workforce understands it.

Global organizations are also seeing the benefits of virtual workspaces for bringing their diverse staffs together. People in different time zones can refer to these work spaces for a project’s timelines and documents rather than trying to dig through their in-boxes to find the information. Companies are also more comfortable with the security of the virtual workspaces than they were several years ago.

The new virtual shared workspace technology can result in positive corporate culture changes as well. Some managers believe that knowledge is power, and don’t like to share the knowledge that they have with others. Companies will need to champion a new way of sharing information that rewards collaboration and provides incentives for using the online spaces. Companies also need to explain the business goals behind the technology so that people understand how important working together and sharing knowledge is to the company’s success.

Questions
1.

List at least three benefits of the new virtual shared workspace technology.

2.

Give two examples of situations in which virtual shared workspace technology could be used effectively.

3.

The author of the article says that the technology is responsible for changing the corporate culture at some organizations. What are some ways in which this occurs?

4.

What is a “boundaryless organization”? Would this type of organization have more or less use for virtual work spaces? Why?

Source “Virtual Work Space Eases Collaboration, Debate Among Scattered Employees,” Workforce Management, May 22, 2006, p. 38.
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