Welcome back. We're getting started with Module 4. Exploring technology in group communication. We already know that technology is a very prevalent part of our groups. Most of our meetings involve people on laptops, tablets, or other portable devices. And much of the work our groups do happens online and is stored in the Cloud. But more and more, group meetings and interactions themselves are mediated through technology. And many groups form, develop, make decisions, and do most of the normal group stuff online, instead of face-to-face. Much of this is helpful, enhancing the level of convenience, flexibility, and productivity for our groups. So we need to learn more about using technology for effective group communication. But technology is never neutral. It allows us to do some things, but inevitably constraints us from doing other things. Technology may simulate and even improve some aspects of face-to-face interaction, but it never completely replicates this mode of communication. Technology changes the nature of our group communication, in ways that can be positive or negative. Technology impacts how our group members interact with each other, how we engage with each other, how we develop and maintain relationships, how we construct our identities, and how we make sense of the actions of others. So we don't want to make the mistake of thinking we can simply incorporate the latest group communication technology without any consequences and carry on business as usual. Instead, we need to think more critically about what technology is doing in our groups, and develop a better understanding of what exactly is happening when we use technology to facilitate our group work. To do this, we're going to examine the notion of virtual work, which is a nice way to conceptualize the nature of group work mediated through technology. Authors Tammy Johns and Lynda Gratton wrote a great article in the Harvard Business review about this idea of virtual work, and how the modern landscape of organizational life has evolved as new technologies have emerged. Let's look at some of their key points. First, they provides some key historical context for virtual work. And this is important because learning more about historical context always helps us understand things better, and helps us make better decisions in the present. If you want to understand where you are and where you're going, you need to know where you've been. Johns and Grattan distinguish three waves of virtual work that have developed over time. The first wave began in the 1980s, when Internet technology was just beginning to be available for commercial and individual use. Allowing people to connect and transmit data through the phone lines using personal computers. This gave rise to virtual freelancers, who could perform a variety of professional tasks, untethered from formal organizations, and locations. Things like, graphic design, report writing, transcriptions, or translation services. Virtual freelancers mainly worked at home as independent contractors, giving rise to a whole new category in the labor force. And this first wave of virtual freelancers created tremendous opportunities, and enabled new levels of flexibility and convenience. But it also came at a price. Namely, sacrificing any connections to a formal organization and all the benefits and security that come from being a part of an organization. This gave rise to a second wave of virtual work known as virtual corporate colleagues. Which involved full time organizational employees, but who work remotely much of the time. This gave workers a more stable connection to organizations, but also allowed the flexibility needed to adapt to the global economy emerging during the 1990s and early 2000s. Workers needed to travel more and work odd hours as they were part of project teams with people across the world. And as broadband technology replaced dial-up Internet connections and personal computing devices became both smaller and more powerful, this second wave of virtual work became the norm in many companies and industries. But again, despite the benefits, this wave of virtual corporate colleagues also came with a cost. Many employees and organizations began to realize that this kind of virtual work compromised some of the conventional workplace benefits they had taken for granted. There was less face-to-face interaction, fewer informal encounters and hallway conversations, and diminished workplace community, all of which are very important aspects for successful groups. You can't just reduce group work to its most basic task functions that can be done in a computer, and expect people to keep cranking it out at any time from any place just because they have a fancy device and a high speed Internet connection. Groups are social entities, and have social needs and functions that cannot be completely replaced by technology. So this gives rise to a third wave of virtual work, called virtual coworkers. People who do a lot of work online, but we connect in physical spaces for a face-to-face interactions, and having a sense of place that grounds their work. And this is basically where we are today. A general acknowledgment that telecommuting provides a necessary level of flexibility and convenience that enhances productivity, reduces turnover, and cuts costs. But there is also a need for regular times of colocation where group members return to a physical site on a consistent basis. Recently, the radio program Marketplace featured a story about companies that are shifting their policies to require remote workers to have more stable connections with physical offices. Research from the Gallup organization shows that working remotely about 60 to 80% of the time leads to the highest levels of engagement among employees and group members. Another trend related to this third wave of virtual coworkers is the rise of coworking spaces or urban hubs where people and groups and companies can rent office space on a temporary basis. Providing the benefits of a physical location without the commitment of extensive physical overhead. This is perfect for small companies, or startup groups who need to gather in a physical space with a conference room, and administrative staff, especially when they need to have face-to-face meetings, or need a professional location to interact with clients, customers or investors. Otherwise, they can do much of their work on their own, at home, at a coffee shop, or wherever. So this third wave of virtual work recognizes the benefits of telecommuting, but also the value of physical connection in time and space. And this notion of virtual coworking will probably characterize much of the group work you're involved in. Yes, we still have plenty of virtual freelancers and virtual corporate colleagues. These waves of virtual work are not discrete time periods that vanish when a new wave emerges. Instead, they provide a historical framework to understand how virtual work has evolved, and give context for today's group communication. We need to understand that groups are usually at their best when they incorporate technology that enables them to work remotely, but also when they consistently reconnect in physical spaces to gain the benefits of human interaction that technology simply cannot replace. In addition to these three waves of virtual work, Johns and Gratton also address some key implications coming from groups working remotely via technology, with members dispersed across multiple locations. One implication is the notion of presenteeism, which is the phenomenon of showing up to the office when you could be more productive elsewhere. We're all familiar with the idea of absenteeism, people who are chronically absent and unproductive, and that's a big problem for many groups and organizations. But since technology now allows us to do much of our work remotely, sometimes it's better for us to save the time and energy it takes to commute to a physical work location, and avoid some of the distractions that may arise from being available to other people. If you've seen the classic workplace movie, Office Space, you know there are some people who are just too present In our daily work. Let's take a look. >> Hello Peter, what's happening? >> Hello Peter, what's happening? >> Hello Peter, what's happening? >> So, Peter, what's happening? >> Yes, we do need to be physically present for many aspects of our group work. But today's technology environment also means there are times when we are more productive working remotely, and that presenteeism may be more dangerous than absenteeism. Another implication of virtual work we need to consider is that today's technology enables an always-on context. Where the lines of work life balance are blurred and there are few barriers to doing work at any given time or place. In the industrial economy, work is structured by time clocks and physical equipment that is located in a specific place. But in today's information or knowledge economy work is rarely bound by time and space. Assuming you have an Internet connection and a functioning devices, there's really no limit to where you can do your work or when you can do your work. You can check your email at anytime, you could be writing that report right now, you could analyze that data at home, on the road, early in the morning, or late at night. The only limitation is your choice, and that sort of freedom can bring a lot of anxiety. So groups today have to develop good norms and boundaries and expectations about technology use. When should people be available? How often should they check updates? And how soon should people respond? This is a huge part of technology and group communication. It's not just about having the latest gadgets and apps but also about the social development of how your group will use technology and what you will expect from each other. So next time you embark on a new project or incorporate a new technology remember, you also need to talk with each other about your assumptions and expectations for how technology will be part of your group, and how it will shape your virtual work. In our next video, we'll take a closer look at the way many groups are actually using technology today. There's a lot more going on than just basic conference calls and online meetings, though these are still really important. We need to understand the broader landscape of technology and group communication. And the kinds of tools available to enhance our groups and help us be more effective in our group work. I'll see you next time.