DISCUSSION PROBLEM 1
Leveraging the Advantages of Collaborative Technologies:
The Virtual Workplace at Sun Microsystems
With gas prices soaring and traffic congestion stealing hours from every commuter’s day,
companies around the world are moving toward collaborative technologies and the virtual
workplace. Sun Microsystems, a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation, was an early adopter of
the virtual workplace with its “Open Work” program. About 17,000 employees, more than
half the company’s workforce, work at least part of the time from home. They collaborate
with their coworkers using Sun’s technologies, including Open Office and web conferencing.
The virtual workplace benefits the employee, company, and community as well (Figure
8-19). For example, employees save as much as $1,700 per year in gasoline and other car
expenses, and they add many hours to their days by eliminating commutes. Expenses for
clothing, restaurant lunches, parking fees, and tolls also drop. Virtual workers enjoy
greater flexibility to balance work and personal lives, which appears to reduce both stress
and health problems. Dealing with child and elder care responsibilities is simplified, and
disabled workers also benefit.
For Sun, the Open Work program offers considerable cost savings. The company has saved
more than $68 million per year in real estate costs since it drastically reduced office space
and implemented “hoteling,” in which workers log in to a central reservation system to
reserve an office whenever they want to work on site, choosing the office that best meets
their needs. Although that office is often the closest one, it might also be one that facilitates
a face-to-face meeting of workers who otherwise meet virtually. Kristi McGee, Sun’s Open
Work program manager, says, “We just don’t need as much real estate because we don’t
have assigned offices that are sitting empty when people are working from home or in
For the community, the virtual workplace can lead to reduced traffic congestion and energy
use. Sun found that electricity usage, which averages about 130 watts per day per office worker, drops to just 64 watts for the home office. On a national scale, implementing more
virtual workplaces would have major effects on oil imports, pollution, traffic injuries and
deaths, and highway maintenance costs.
Sun and other organizations recognize that many jobs are not suitable for home-based
virtual work—retail sales, nursing care, construction, and work requiring access to classified
documents, for instance. But even for jobs that fit the virtual model well, objections and
barriers exist. Some managers think they need to be in the office to supervise, and many are
still not comfortable with collaborative technologies that support virtual work. Managers
worry that they can’t judge the output and productivity of virtual workers and wonder
whether people working from home are devoting the full eight hours to their workday. One
manager remarked, “I allow [virtual work] for people who perform well. People who do not
perform well, I forbid to work from home since it is not visible what they do.” Her attitude,
though, illustrates another obstacle: liability. Many managers are reluctant to approve any
virtual work because employees who are denied may file costly and time-consuming
Despite the obstacles, the benefits of virtual work to the employee, the company, and the
community are substantial, as Sun’s experience demonstrates.
- How can Sun workers collaborate without being in the same physical location?
- What types of tasks may require Sun workers to be in the same physical
- One limitation of rolling out the virtual workplace to all Sun employees appears
to be the need for supervision of some employees. How can Sun managers
address this issue?
- In what other types of settings could a virtual workplace be applicable? In what
settings would a virtual workplace not be applicable?SOURCES:
Anonymous. (2010). Compensation: Virtual work options could result in $10,000 savings
per employee per year. Institute of Management & Administration Controller’s Report.
Bednarz, A. (June 20, 2008). Sun’s “Open Work” program sheds light on telecommute
=15, accessed May 23, 2011.
Lister, K., & Harnish, T. (2010). Workshifting benefits: The bottom line.
The%20Bottom%20Line.pdf, accessed May 23, 2011.
Peters, P., den Dulk, L., et al. (2010). May I work from home? Views of the employment
relationship reflected in line managers’ telework attitudes in six financial sector
organizations. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal. 29(5), 517–
The advancements in information and communication technology have offered new ways of how people work and interact with space in the context of working. Employees’ art Sun could leverage the advanced technological infrastructure hardware and software that meet the business objectives (France, et al., 2014, p. 10). Technology presents various devices that are connected to offer numerous services for large organizations. Furthermore, it is possible to customize the tools to meet the needs of the employees. For instance, screens can be transformed to telecommute with qualified and talented people across the world.
Sun is a subsidiary of Oracle that deals in software development. Ideally, retail tasks such as business development, sales, and marketing will require the physical presence of the staff. These tasks are not suitable for telework as they need the input and support of external factors that are outside the scope of telework. Team effort is required on tasks that require analysis and prediction, such as accounting and finance that involve transactions between two people. Also, functions that require real-time supervision, such as coding during a collaborative project, are not suitable for practical work.
The first step to establish a solid foundation for virtual work supervision is to utilize the right technological needs and resources. Managers should make sure that all the employees have access to the right equipment and have appropriate technical support. Next is devise work schedules within the working hours and highlight your expectations before assigning tasks. Finally, the manager should make communications and accountability plan to receive updates on projects and follow up on work done (Keith, 2014, p. 1).
Companies that specialize in software development, training, and ICT can successfully operate via virtual work. However, telework is not suitable for nursing care, sales, and marketing and construction industries.
France, B., Craig, S. & Robert, C., 2014. Information Systems for Business, Masechesuttes: Clearance Center Inc.
Keith, F., 2014. Getting Virtual Teams Right. [Online]
Available at: https://hbr.org/2014/12/getting-virtual-teams-right
[Accessed July 2020].