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TO COLLABORATE WITHOUT SEEING EACH OTHER: TELEWORK IN A TRANSNATIONAL VIRTUAL ORGANIZATION University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis Tutor: Prof.

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1 TO COLLABORATE WITHOUT SEEING EACH OTHER: TELEWORK IN A TRANSNATIONAL VIRTUAL ORGANIZATION University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis Tutor: Prof. Giuseppe Mantovani Candidate: Paolo Brunello This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, click

2 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 2 Introduction This research study had been developed in a translation agency based in San Diego, California, during an internship that I did in summer The specificity of this organization, which I called VD, is the fact that it works with a network of freelance translators and designers who live all around the world, with whom it communicates mainly by and sometimes over the phone. With few exceptions, there is no face-to-face interaction between the people working in the office in San Diego and the so called subcontractors translating the documents. Before going any further, I think it’s useful to take a look at the workprocess in this company and understand who are the actors involved.

3 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 3 The workprocess in VD Client VD Project Manager Translator Editor Proofreader Subcontractors abc  Let’s imagine we have a Client who needs to translate a document into a different language and chooses to contact VD for this job. The Client will discuss with a VD Project manager the details of the service s/he expects (dates and price). If they reach an agreement, the Client will send the file via or ftp to the VD Project Manager. Let’s imagine we have a Client who needs to translate a document into a different language and chooses to contact VD for this job. The Client will discuss with a VD Project manager the details of the service s/he expects (dates and price). If they reach an agreement, the Client will send the file via or ftp to the VD Project Manager. The Project Manager is responsible for a specific set of languages and has contacts with a correspondent group of translators, with different subject specializations. She will select the translator that she considers to be the most adequate to perform that particular translation and try to contact him/her. In case the selected translator is not available, the Project Manager will search for another one until she finds a substitute. The Project Manager is responsible for a specific set of languages and has contacts with a correspondent group of translators, with different subject specializations. She will select the translator that she considers to be the most adequate to perform that particular translation and try to contact him/her. In case the selected translator is not available, the Project Manager will search for another one until she finds a substitute. Once the translator has accepted the job, the Project Manager will send her/him the document and the translator will send it back translated. But so far the document is not sufficiently refined to be delivered to the Client: so the Project Manager send it to an editor, who will send it back corrected to the Project Manager. Generally speaking, the translator has a more specific subject-related expertise, whereas the editor’s one is more style- related. But so far the document is not sufficiently refined to be delivered to the Client: so the Project Manager send it to an editor, who will send it back corrected to the Project Manager. Generally speaking, the translator has a more specific subject-related expertise, whereas the editor’s one is more style- related. At this point the Project Manager can choose to send the document to a third person, the proofreader, whose role is to make sure that the document is “perfect” for both content and layout. After this third passage the Project Manager will deliver the translated document to the Client. At this point the Project Manager can choose to send the document to a third person, the proofreader, whose role is to make sure that the document is “perfect” for both content and layout. After this third passage the Project Manager will deliver the translated document to the Client. These people are called subcontractors, since they are freelance professional who have signed an agreement with VD in which it is clearly stated that they aren’t VD employees, nor partners, but independent professionals performing various kind of services for VD. The vast majority of them works from home, and therefore fits into the so called SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) teleworker category, according to the major large scale survey on telework that has been accomplished in Europe in (http://www.ecatt.org)

4 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 4 To what extent is VD a Virtual Organization? Summary of the attributes of virtual organizing a. Geographically distributed b. Electronically linked c. Functionally or culturally diverse d. Lateral (versus hierarchically) connected Making the following organization designs possible A. Highly dynamic processes B. Contractual relationships C. Edgeless, permeable boundaries D. Reconfigurable structures (DeSanctis, Monge; Organization Science, n. 6, 1999) DeSanctis, Monge; Organization Science, n. 6, 1999DeSanctis, Monge; Organization Science, n. 6, 1999

5 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 5 VD Client Project Manager Translator Editor Proofreader Subcontractors 2. There is no face-to-face interaction 3. There are time-zone and time management problems Jarvenpaa, Leidner, 1998 Jarvenpaa, Leidner, It is a rare example of intercultural CMC (Jarvenpaa, Leidner, 1998)Jarvenpaa, Leidner, 1998 eWork 2000 report eWork 2000 report 1. It is a new and expanding way of teleworking (eWork 2000 report)eWork 2000 report Why is it so interesting?

6 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 6 VD Client Project Manager Translator Editor Proofreader Subcontractors exchanges analysis Participant observation (fieldnotes) Interviews (Lofland & Lofland, 1995) Onlinequestionnaire (websurvey) (Schmidt, 1997) In order to graspe as fully as possibile the system I was studying, I chose to use a variety of research methods, mainly qualitative. The interviews to VD internal staff members were all fully transcribed. To do this I have used a software that associated the audio file to a wordprocessor, where some keyboard keys served as start stop buttons, thus avoiding to go back and forth from the recorder to the computer. Since in the literature I couldn’t find a convincing example of qualitative analysis, I decided to master an ad hoc coding system, explained on the following slide. Since I could not travel worldwide to interview VD Subcontractors, I have set up an online survey. Whereas this method is usually used for quantitative data collection, I adopted a qualitative approach, with many open questions, trying to minimize the imposition of my “researcher’s categorizations” on the respondents. Research methodology

7 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 7 Date and header Message body Move type TechInterpretation What you see is a coded message. The idea that led me throughout this coding was to progressively identify some communication rules implicitely negotiated by the 2 interlocutors. So I have started out distinguishing what was referring to the mere workprocess and what regarded the interpersonal relationship. As the analysis deepened, I needed to define finer categories, explained on the following slide. To study the thread, I have gradually tuned my method, until I came to this table. The first column on the left is the message number in the thread; then the header; the  column is the “flux”, say the color identified a specific couple of interlocutors among those involved in the process.Tech stnds for technicalities.The move type draws form the linguistic acts theory and ethnometodology, and finally there is my personal interpretation of the message. To study the thread, I have gradually tuned my method, until I came to this table. The first column on the left is the message number in the thread; then the header; the  column is the “flux”, say the color identified a specific couple of interlocutors among those involved in the process.Tech stnds for technicalities.The move type draws form the linguistic acts theory and ethnometodology, and finally there is my personal interpretation of the message. An example of message coding

8 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 8 Availability and accessibility Purple for the parts containing reference to the interlocutors’ availability and accessibility Workprocess In pink the parts of the message tightly referred to the workprocess Problem & Solution Deep blue for the parts relative to the notification of a problem and to the correspondent proposal for a solution Technicalities In blue all the technical aspect of the message Redundancy (Hutchins, 1995) In green the bits assessed to serve as “antidote” against communication breakdowns and consequently as reinforcement for the whole workprocess Courtesy strategies and public image care In brown the parts aiming to take care of the professional and formal relationship Interpersonal Communication Marked in red are the chuncks of the message referring to the interlocutors’ efforts to establish and maintain a good interpersonal relationship message coding explained

9 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 9 An excerpt from the websurvey Fully testable here: An excerpt from the websurvey I invited to the websurvey the whole population of VD Subcontractors (150), thereof only 36 answered. This low response rate was due to mine inexperience, having undervalued the websurvey lenght. Therefore, the data I gathered are to be considered a modest exploration of a specific context, a possible starting point for further investigations. I invited to the websurvey the whole population of VD Subcontractors (150), thereof only 36 answered. This low response rate was due to mine inexperience, having undervalued the websurvey lenght. Therefore, the data I gathered are to be considered a modest exploration of a specific context, a possible starting point for further investigations.

10 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 10 TO COLLABORATE –Communication is task centered, but there are implicit negotial rules in order to maintain a good professional and interpersonal relationship. WITHOUT SEEING EACH OTHER [See slide] [See slide] –The lack of face-to-face communication is perceived differently: some people miss it, while some others appreciate it. [See slide][See slide] TELEWORK –Both the organizational independence and the isolation management are ambivalent, with very clear pro and cons. –Teleworkers’ protection on the workplace is an issue, but still not perceived as such. IN A TRANSNATIONAL [See slide] [See slide] –How does the GloCalization work? It is still unclear how people with such a different cultural background can have so few communication breakdowns while collaborating through CMC. [See slide][See slide] VIRTUAL ORGANIZATION –This new form of organization is full of challenges for organization psychology and yet not enough considered. Results

11 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 11 “The worse thing about being a Spanish to English translator is that documents from Latin America generally come in a hard copy form. Usually a fax of a fax of a fax. These documents have clearly been created in MS Word, but the client just can’t bear to part with the electronic file. I find this infathomable. I cannot understand this reasoning and it makes the job of the translator very difficult and for no good reason. (…) I think it is because there is a mistaken idea that if they give you an electronic file you will in some way take away their ownership of that file.” Intercultural CMC This was definitely the hardest topic to investigate, which probably needed more forces than I had to deepen and broaden my analysis. Curiously enough, I couldn’t find many examples of cultural shocks or communicational breakdown that could root into a different cultural background. In one exchange a VD Project Manager asked a Russian subcontractor for his fax number and she was pretty astonished when he answered that the only person with a fax machine was his University rector, so he could hardly access it. But probably the most significant passage is the following… This was definitely the hardest topic to investigate, which probably needed more forces than I had to deepen and broaden my analysis. Curiously enough, I couldn’t find many examples of cultural shocks or communicational breakdown that could root into a different cultural background. In one exchange a VD Project Manager asked a Russian subcontractor for his fax number and she was pretty astonished when he answered that the only person with a fax machine was his University rector, so he could hardly access it. But probably the most significant passage is the following… So, this subcontractors’ hypothesis is that the fax was felt as inherently protected from tampering, somehow. But I throw there another hypotesis: let’s call it “virtualization”. Certain cultures - low-tech cultures, so to speak - might have a psychological resistance to trust the immaterial electrons instead of common, material paper. A process similar to the one that occurred when we passed from the gold coin to the metal coin with nominal value first, and more recently when we start replacing the paper banknote with the virtual money: the credit card.

12 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 12 No face-to-face interaction Keeping in mind how small the respondent number is, it seems still sensible to say that those teleworkers miss a face to associate to the person they work with so closely. [The Project Manager]

13 University of Padova — 2000/2001 Graduation Thesis: To collaborate without seeing each other: Telework in a Transnational Virtual Organization 13 Loneliness: is it an issue? VD Subcontractors work mainly alone, nonetheless they seem not to perceive this as a dire disadvantage: when asked to specify when they miss an interaction, they answered they sometimes miss a colleague to ask for advice or technical assistance, rather than someone to chat with. Thus isolation is perceived as an issue - if any - on the professional level, not on emotional one.


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