Study Shows Professionals Favoring Alternative Work Practices
Americans are embracing virtual work at an unprecedented rate, according to a national study recently commissioned by WorldCom. Fueled by technological advancements, cross-functional collaborative teams and a competitive job market, alternative work practices (including virtual project teams, telecommuting and remote management of geographically dispersed employees) are helping to improve job satisfaction, save costs and boost corporate productivity.

The latest in WorldCom's "Meetings in America" series, "Meetings in America III: A Study of the Virtual Workforce in 2001" measured widespread trends in virtual work practices and the rapid adoption of the latest communications technologies. This year's survey determined:

A Virtual Way of Life
More than two-thirds of American workers surveyed have engaged in virtual work
Nearly half (46%) are involved in virtual work at least once a week; 14 percent do so daily

Managing Virtually
31 percent of those surveyed work in a virtual management structure, i.e., their immediate manager or staff members are not located in the same office

Evolving Policies
27 percent work for organizations with formal policies that encourage virtual work; and nearly half (48%) work for organizations that allow virtual work practices, even if no formal policy exists

The Bottom Line on Productivity
The vast majority (91%) agree that virtual work saves their companies time and money

Teaming Up
61 percent of employees in large companies (those with at least 500 employees) have participated in virtual project teams. The typical team includes six members and meets once each week, relying on tools such as e-mail, audioconferencing and the Internet to accomplish its goals. A full 95 percent of workers who have participated on virtual teams found the experience productive and enjoyable.

"The growth we're seeing in virtual work is enabled by digital technology – e-mail, Web conferencing, high-speed Internet connections – but businesses wouldn't encourage virtual work if it didn't have bottom-line benefits," said Tim Reedy, WorldCom vice president of Conferencing Marketing and Finance. "While it may not be right for all the people all the time, in today's global economy, proactively adopting and encouraging virtual work is essential. Services like WorldCom Conferencing enable customers to conduct e-business as usual without having to pack up and take meetings on the road."

Experts agree that far-flung employees need both effective technology and effective communications skills to sustain a successful virtual work environment.

"We used to think that meeting face-to-face was the only way to build trust and teamwork. Armed with new technology and new best practices, we're learning new ways to connect on a human level with people anywhere, anytime," said Dr. Jaclyn Kostner, author of Virtual Leadership. "Studies like Meetings in America III show us that having the technologies is the ante to get into the game. Mastering how to use them is what will distinguish the winners from the losers."

Additional findings from the latest Meetings in America study include:

Saving Time and Money Takes the Drag out of Meetings
The number one reason that professionals want to participate in virtual teams more frequently is simple: increased productivity (cited by 32% of respondents). As the size of the virtual workforce in America today is growing, so is the likely impact on productivity and profitability for organizations. More than 90 percent of those surveyed agree (35%) or strongly agree (56%) that virtual meetings save time and money.

We Want More
Almost all (95%) respondents who have worked on virtual teams said they liked the experience. Most (73%) respondents would like to participate in virtual work (or do so more frequently). The majority (60%) of those who want to work on virtual teams report that they anticipate it will become a part of their job in the next five years.

How It All Gets Done
Of all the communications tools relied upon in a virtual project team, email (used by 94%) and audioconferencing (used by 70%) are the leaders. Other commonly used tools include fax, cellular, intranet or extranet, online calendar or scheduling tools, paging, Web conferencing and videoconferencing, among others.

Looks Aren't Everything
Eighty-four percent of respondents have never met the entire virtual team face-to-face. So how does it affect our communication when working with groups we've never seen? Seventy-six percent of respondents who have participated in virtual teams either agree (44%) or strongly agree (32%) that they have been surprised by what a team member looks like. Over one-third of respondents (35%) reported that being a part of a virtual team has actually enhanced their relationships with other team members.

No Worries Here
The greatest concern expressed about working virtually was a potential negative impact on business relationships (23%). This was particularly true among younger respondents, who, while one might assume would be more comfortable with the technology, may also have a less established network of business contacts. Despite these speculative concerns, among those who have worked virtually, nearly all (97%) report that their relationships have either improved (35%) or remained the same (62%).

About the Study
After three years, WorldCom Conferencing's "Meetings in America" provides a multi-dimensional look at the major areas influencing its customers' business environment and the related workplace movements and trends. This year's study was conducted by Modalis Research Technologies, headquartered in San Francisco, CA. Data collection was conducted from Jan. 3-15, 2001, among 510 qualified respondents representing a cross section of business managers and staff at large, medium and small organizations throughout the United States. Complete results of the study can be viewed online at
e-meetings.wcom.com


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