Reconciling visions and realities of virtual working: findings from the UK chemicals industry

Lewis, P J and Hayes, M (2007) Reconciling visions and realities of virtual working: findings from the UK chemicals industry. Working Paper. The Department of Management Science, Lancaster University.

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The emergence of advanced technologies such as Grid computing will, some suggest, allow the final realisation of visions of virtual organisations. This will, according to its advocates, have entirely positive impacts, creating communities of experts, increasing flexibility, reducing the need for travel and making communications more efficient by crossing boundaries of time and space. Such predictions about future patterns of virtual working are, unfortunately, rarely grounded in real working practices, and often neglect to account for both the rich and varied interpretations that may exist of what constitutes virtual working and the constraints and concerns of those who would do it. This chapter gives attention to the consequences of different views over what virtuality might mean in practice and, in particular, considers virtuality in relation to customer and supplier relationships in a competitive and commercial context. The discussion is based upon a three year study that investigated contrasting visions of what was technically feasible and might be organisationally desirable in the UK Chemicals industry. Through interviews with managers and staff of companies both large and small that research provided insights into the different meanings that organisations attribute to the virtuality of work and to the acceptability of potential implementations of a middleware technology. It was found that interpretations of virtuality amongst the potential users and participants were strongly influenced by established work practices and by previous experiences of relationships-at-a-distance with suppliers and customers. There was a sharp contrast with the enthusiastic visions of virtual working that were already being encapsulated in the middleware by the technical developers; visions of internet-only interaction were perceived as rigid, alienating from well-established ways of working with suppliers and customers and unworkable. In this chapter we shall capture these differences by making a distinction amongst competi

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11 Jul 2011 21:19
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12 Sep 2023 04:18