Much has been written in recent months about the "virtual office" and its ability to keep business going in the face of calamities, like the terrorist attacks. But just as videoconferencing has failed to gain widespread acceptance over the years, the virtual office is still more hype than reality, argue researchers at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
To be sure, companies offering virtual office systems did prosper in the wake of September 11, and have made some converts. But the MIT researchers, who have been studying virtual office technology for three years, found that technology alone won't be enough to deliver on this virtual promise. Offices and other distant places where people work must be physically adapted to make the technology effective and accessible, and cultural and geographical factors -- from time zones to language -- must be more carefully considered. An even greater challenge lies in changing basic organizational ways and behaviors, says Janice Klein, senior lecturer and researcher at the Sloan School.
"Everyone is looking for the silver bullet, but we're trying to cross disciplines and integrate physical, technical and organizational issues that are otherwise only being dealt with piecemeal," Klein says. "We've found that people haven't really thought these issues through," adds her colleague Feniosky Pena-Mora, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.
The issues can be as basic, but critical, as physical layout and facilities. "People think that...