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The Reality of Working Virtually


by Stephany Schings Below

 7th Leading Edge Consortium Discusses Best Practices and New Research on Virtual Work

The 2011 Leading Edge Consortium (LEC), “The Virtual Workforce: Designing, Leading, and Optimizing,” brought out some of the best and brightest in the virtual work field October 14 and 15 at the historic Seelbach Hilton in Louisville, Kentucky!

Chaired by Kurt Kraiger, with Practice Chair Andrea Goldberg, Science Chair Lori Foster Thompson, and Research Chair Allen Kraut, the 2011 LEC was a weekend full of excellent speakers, informative presentations, and numerous opportunities to participate in the discussion of the virtual workforce.

Attendees heard from 15 speakers on topics including social business, people analytics, virtual collaboration, unified talent management, managing global teams virtually, telecommuting, technology for an aging workforce, enterprise 2.0, advancements in training, and best practices in developing and implementing technology–enhanced assessment. Attendees came from across the United States and the world, with some traveling from as far as Turkey and Belgium to attend the event.
“I was very excited about the overall quality of presentations at the LEC,” said Chair Kraiger. “Our speakers met the challenge of the Program Committee, which was not to just tell us where we've been, but let us know where we should be going. That's what makes it leading edge!”

The event received positive feedback from attendees for the quality of speakers, in-depth discussion of virtual work, and the unique format.

“I have attended many of the LECs and always find them educational, enjoyable, and challenging,” noted one attendee. “They lead me to think about issues I don’t always encounter in my current role."

Many attendees commented on the in-depth nature of the LEC, which enabled attendees to gain a wide breadth of knowledge in the subject area.

“It dealt with one topic, so you get very in-depth coverage and discussion,” commented an attendee. “Sometimes at other conferences…it’s hard to get so much knowledge on a topic of interest.”
In addition to the depth, Kraiger also noted that the breadth of speakers was a benefit for attendees.

“Across speakers, there was a good mix of background information, emerging trends, and application,” Kraiger explained. “Again, the speakers mixed things up, providing both broad overviews of different technologies and platforms, as well as diving deep into some topics.  I thought Colonel Nate Allen's presentation on the evolution of companycommand.army.mil, a proprietary professional forum for Army commanders, was a great example of depth.  Sarah Johnson's presentation on managing global virtual teams was also jam-packed with practical advice.”

The LEC kicked off with a keynote address titled In the Digital Era, Is “Virtual Workforce” Redundant?
by Courtney Hunt, principal of Renaissance Strategic Solutions (RSS), a consultancy that helps organizations increase their effectiveness through the design and implementation of innovative and leading-edge strategies and programs.
During her presentation, Hunt stressed the fact that the definition of virtual work has changed over the last few decades and that it has expanded as technology has brought out new ways of working and communicating virtually.
“In some way or another, you are working inside the cloud, whether it’s Facebook, e-mail, LinkedIn,” Hunt explained. “You’re all virtual workers, though you’re not necessarily telecommuters. Our idea of what is virtual work really needs to expand beyond the definitions of telecommuting.”
Hunt also explained that social media, though it can be a part of virtual work, is not only confined to the “Big Three,” but numerous platforms available, including new and old, such as e-mail.
“It’s not just Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter,” she said. “When we talk about social media, when we talk about 2.0 technologies, you really have to think bigger.”

The program was divided into modules—“How Organizations Are Being Impacted,” “Specific Applications,” and “Impediments to Technological Innovation”—with corresponding sessions, followed by question-and-answer panels.

Before breaking into small groups to enjoy the popular “networking dinners” at a choice of five Louisville restaurants Friday night, attendees also enjoyed a reception in the beautiful Rathskeller room of the Seelbach.


For the networking dinners, attendees dined at area restaurants, several of which were located down the street from the hotel in an area known as “Fourth Street Live.”

The networking dinners were a big hit with attendees.
“Networking dinners and lunches provided a great opportunity to meet other professionals interested,” said one attendee.

“The networking dinner was fantastic,” stated another attendee. “I met and talked to a number of new people that I will keep in touch.”

SIOP Fellow Wayne Cascio rounded out this year’s LEC presentations with the closing keynote address Saturday on the topic of “The Virtual Global Workforce: Leveraging Its Impact.” Cascio discussed the limits and possibilities of virtual work, focusing on the idea that technology has rendered geography meaningless—at least when it comes to work that can be done virtually.

Kraiger said he felt this year's LEC left attendess with important points to consider in regards to the virtual workforce.

“At the end of the session, I summarized the two key themes I heard through the consortium in 7 words - virtual work changes everything, but nothing changes,” he said. “Multiple speakers talked about how networks and social media allow us to accomplish goals we would have never imagined a few years ago. However, other speakers reminded us that ‘the fundamental things apply;’ we still need to understand and apply basic principles of change management, good selection, and linking innovation to strategy.”
After thanking the LEC chair and cochairs and presenting them with tokens of appreciation, SIOP President-Elect  Doug Reynolds announced the theme of next year’s event, “Advancing Environmental Sustainability at Work,” which will be held in New Orleans at the Hotel Monteleone October 19-20. The meeting will be chaired by Sara Weiner.

We hope to see you next year in New Orleans!