The difficulties of being virtual

The difficulties of being virtual

Summary: Many knowledge workers could be virtual, that is working from home, from a hotel, from an airport or from a customer's offices. The technology making this possible has been available for a long time. The benefits are obvious. Staff could be hired wherever the talent was rather than where the organization's offices are. The reduction in travel time and consumption of fuel would rate pretty high on the list as well.Why isn't this a more common mode of working? I hear many reasons presented by managers. Only a few of them really make sense to me.


Many knowledge workers could be virtual, that is working from home, from a hotel, from an airport or from a customer's offices. The technology making this possible has been available for a long time. The benefits are obvious. Staff could be hired wherever the talent was rather than where the organization's offices are. The reduction in travel time and consumption of fuel would rate pretty high on the list as well.

Why isn't this a more common mode of working? I hear many reasons presented by managers. Only a few of them really make sense to me.

  • Security - managers are concerned that proprietary applications and data could fall into the wrong hands. The folks at suppliers such as Citrix, Microsoft, and others could knock that objection down in a moment.
  • Productivity - some managers simply want to see the workers working. This folks are convinced that if they can't see working being done, it isn't being done. All of the studies showing the contrary are obviously wrong.
  • Others? - it seems that every time I speak with a manager who is concerned about allowing virtualization of their workforce, the list of reasons it can't be done changes. No amount of information showing that this approach would save time and money is convincing.

I've been part of remote working environments for over 10 years and have found it to be a great way to work. I can be available when and where I need to be without having to work in an expensive (floor space, electricity, communications) office. I don't have to waste hours of my time enjoying the benefits of heavy traffic. Bad weather usually isn't an impediment. (Hurricanes, on the other hand, can chase Mr. Ready Kilowatt away and make it difficutl to work.)

I'm instantly available via IM, Email, VOIP and/or mobile phone when needed. I also can take my wife to one of her many Doctors or to the hospital (like today) and my work goes on anyway.

Do you work remotely? What did you have to do to justify this approach to management? What political and technological problems did you have to overcome? Do you feel that the phrase "out of sight, out of mind" creates problems for you?

Topics: Virtualization, CXO, Hardware, IT Employment


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • Virtual Office

    Desktop virtualization software such as ThinServer allow mobile workforce to work anywhere as long as there is an internet connection and also take care of the security issue
  • Control Issue

    It's as plain as the day is long that Virtual has many real direct and indirect benefits.

    IBM shot out of the gates years ago with their forward thinking out of the box methods and showcased VPNs to the world.

    If there are clear cost incentives that benefit the employee/employer, then remote work should be considered a viable option, particularly for professional staff with specialized technical skills, high in demand.

    Working from home is great, but one must maintain discipline to be 'at work' at the right times. Professionals with project task-driven assigned work needn't punch a clock so long as they meet deadlines and get their alotted work done in a timely fashion.

    The bottom line can be simply that being virtual comes down to being a control issue.

    Dietrich T. Schmitz
    [url=]Linux IT Constulant[/url]
  • RE: The difficulties of being virtual

    This articles gets right on. I am a programmer and web
    developer/designer. I work from home most of the time
    except when I need to meet clients face to face. I have to
    say I am so much more productive this since my
    concentration is much better at 3 in the morning when
    there is no distractions. I get more done in 4-hour than 8-
    hour in the office. I work faster and much harder, so my
    projects are always done before deadline. As this article
    stated, I don't waste time in commute and no down time in
    bad weather and, work in a environment I enjoy, no office
    gossips and politics, all these make me more productive.

    I don't understand why some employers are so old fashion.
  • RE: The difficulties of being virtual

    It's not that simple. What works for programmers does not necessarily work for 'everyone' else.

    The virtual workforce is new and managers will need to learn to measure work progression in new ways, rather than visual observance in the workplace.

    Additionally, there is always the assumption made that all workers are created equal and everyone will work diligently completing their assignments. That is not the case.

    In addition to managers learning new skills in managing a virtual work force, highly interactive workgroups 'teams' that engage in verbal collaboration will need to learn how to convert this to virtual communications methods.

    Working at home cuts down on social interactions, something that will have repercussions, how this pans out remains to be seen.
    Lee @...
  • the employee lacks the technology

    it maybe simple, but the average user cannot run their system smoothly. Their home PC usually lacks the RAM requirements to run the Virtual machine. PCs now come with more RAM than what a person can use.

    I do have a side job where I have never seen my boss. The occasional email or phone call comes in with new work or changing what I'm working on, but that's about it. The interview was 5 minutes, it was a referral, and I just said that I can do the work with credentials.
    • virtual office, not virtual machine

      You do not need a virtual machine to work remotely.

      You may not even need your own computer. In my case, my employer provides my computer. Of course, I have to give it back if I quit.
  • Downsides of telecommuting

    17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves
  • RE: The difficulties of being virtual

    I've worked as a manager and managed remote employees
    (programmers), and also worked remotely as a
    programmer for several years.
    Here are some of the problems that occur from working
    1) It takes a lot of discipline to work at home with
    limited supervision - a lot. Many of the people I had
    working for me (they initially worked from the office
    before working at home) actually became less
    productive working from home, while others had about
    the same productivity as before. Generally, people
    who where high performers at the office where high
    performers at home, but people who where average
    performers at the office were much less productive at
    2) Communications is still a big problem. Even though
    the technology has improved somewhat, it's still much
    easier to walk over to someones desk, point at
    something and discuss it, than it is to call someone
    up, hope they answer, set up a session to see their PC
    screen, and then try to explain what you're talking
    about - especially if you are referring to something
    they don't have ready access to. Communication
    between two very experienced people is generally not a
    big deal, but if you are trying to train someone new
    or explain something to someone without very much
    experience, it can be very difficult to interact with
    them. (Also, trying to talk on conference bridge in a
    meeting with a bunch of talkative people is difficult
    because you usually have to repeat things several time
    before people take notice.)
    3) It's hard to develop a personal relationship with
    the other co-workers and your boss since you don't see
    them face-to-face. This makes it hard to figure out
    how to interact effectively with each other, and a lot
    of times if they are laying off people, it makes it
    easier to fire you if they don't really know you. You
    really have to make an extra effort to build
    relationships and get to know other employees -
    especially your boss.
    Software Guru
  • Feasable: Rules of thumb

    As a Tech Writer contractor, I have had many opportunities to telecommute, with my current client being the most telecommute-friendly. However, I have also had a bad experience. From these, I have deduced some rules of thumb for ascertaining whether telecommuting will work in a particular situation.

    1. I have to know my boss/co-workers well.

    There has been mention elsewhere of the difficulty of reading body language remotely. However, if I have learnt to read a person's body language through a lot of personal interaction, there are a lot of subtle wording meterings and inflections that accompany each of their feeling states. Those subtleties ARE discernable from their aural/written communications.

    Conversely, I have been caught out because I did not pick up a potential communication disparity (a flinch of non-agreement that I only deciphered much later) at one of the rare face-to-face meetings I had with a client. It resulted in my producing a document that was at odds with their idea of what it should look like, despite having a produced a previous document with which they were happy. Add to that, the client did not really want to have to spend a lot of their time on it - they were busy managing the rest of the project. Just shows that realities do need enough time, often enough, to maintian alignment.

    Now, I do not consider telecommuting unless I get along with those with whom I directly work VERY well. I have to be able to read them remotely pretty accurately.

    There must also be no hidden agendas - those distort realities enough when you work daily with people. Hidden agendas require a lot of redundant clues to be able to deduce what's true. Telecommuting relies on being able to operate effectively with less than optimal information flow.

    2. The work must be well structured and capable of clear demarcation of responsibilites.

    This does not mean it all has to be worked out in detail beforehand. The work has to be able to be apportioned into blocks that each person can do autonomously. Lots of interaction requires the ability to do ad-hoc, face-to-face work - impossible for telecommuters.

    I work from home three to four days a week at this time. I can do that because I deal almost exclusively with one person AND our skills (and hence our contributions) are complementary (with almost no overlap), so that we each do our own thing in our own space. We only have to decide upon the points at which we need to interact, and even then most can be done by email/phone.

    3. Maintain regular face-to-face contact.

    I say that if you are not there, you may as well be on the other side of the world. People do not really consider people not in the same office as them. I still go in at least one day of the week even though I could really stay away for a couple of weeks or so at a time. It is the day on which I catch up on the personal side of interactions and have the visually-interactive discussions (sketch ideas, layouts, see non-electronic materials, etc). It is also the day that I make sure that what I am creating from home WORKS on the client's computers. It is not usually the most productive OUTPUT-wise. It is a day of making sure that we are on the same page physically, emotionally and intellectually - a rallying, focusing day.

    Fitting in with someone else's timing and appearance expectations often makes it easier to cruise along. They become things to which to habitualise oneself. They can drive things when motivations are lower. Putting on the clothes and doing the travelling can orient the thinking.

    Telecommuting requires self motivation to keep focussing upon the work to be done, despite all the entertaining or distracting things with which a home is usually filled. I actually find I eat less at home because when I get into the work, I can concentrate for hours - something harder to do at the start and end of days at the office with people at their most disruptive.
  • RE: The difficulties of being virtual

    Pete Nutley

    As a teleworker and employee of TANDBERG (provider of telepresence, HD video conferencing and mobile solutions), I???ve noticed a number of barriers to widespread adoption of telework: management resistance/management training; cost; security/reliability; social isolation; and trust.

    As you stated in your post, management may feel that employees that are ???out of site,??? are also ???out of mind.??? In addition, most managers today have not been trained on how to manage remote employees???micromanagers will have even greater difficulty as remote employees won???t be under their thumb. Many companies also list the cost of technology needed to equip the home worker as a barrier. But when you factor in reduction in office space per user, as well as the cost savings passed on to an employee that no longer has to pay for gas or other associated commuting costs, the ROI is quickly realized. Not to mention the obvious green benefits and ability for an individual to help balance work/life if managed properly.

    Advances in the quality and security of video conferencing helps provide a viable solution to meeting the challenges associated with telework. Teleworkers appearing over video are no longer ???out of sight, out of mind??? for managers, which helps increase a manager???s level of trust.