Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 631–654 | Cite as

Job complexity and learning opportunities: A silver lining in the design of global virtual work

  • Niina NurmiEmail author
  • Pamela J Hinds


A vast majority of research on global virtual work focuses on the struggles for workers as they navigate geographic, cultural, language, and time zone differences. Our research suggests that, despite these struggles, global virtual work may offer significant benefits to workers. We interviewed 78 engineers about their experiences of working globally and then surveyed 515 knowledge workers who worked either with globally distributed or exclusively collocated colleagues. Global virtual work was associated with workers’ positive appraisal of the work’s complexity and learning potential, which, in turn, improved innovation, satisfaction, and engagement. These effects, however, relied on workers’ off-job recovery between workdays.


global virtual work global teams work design job complexity learning work engagement 


Une grande majorité de recherches sur le travail virtuel mondial se concentre sur les difficultés des travailleurs qui naviguent sur des différences géographiques, culturelles, linguistiques et de fuseaux horaires. Notre recherche suggère que, en dépit de ces difficultés, le travail virtuel mondial peut offrir aux travailleurs des avantages significatifs. Nous avons interviewé 78 ingénieurs sur leurs expériences de travail dans le monde, puis interrogé 515 travailleurs spécialisés qui ont travaillé soit avec des collègues affectés dans le monde soit avec des collègues exclusivement co-localisés. Le travail virtuel mondial est associé à l'évaluation positive des travailleurs sur la complexité et le potentiel d’apprentissage qui, à son tour, améliore l'innovation, la satisfaction et l'engagement. Ces effets, cependant, dépendent de la récupération hors-travail des travailleurs entre les jours ouvrables.


La gran mayoría de la investigación en el trabajo virtual global se enfoca en las luchas por los trabajadores debido a que estos se encuentran en diferentes geografías, culturas, idiomas y zonas horarias. Nuestra investigación sugiere que, a pesar de estas luchas, el trabajo virtual global puede ofrecer beneficios significativos a los trabajadores. Entrevistamos 70 ingenieros acerca de sus experiencias trabajando globalmente y encuestamos 515 trabajadores del conocimiento quienes trabajaron con colegas ya sean distribuidos globalmente o con ubicación exclusiva. El trabajo virtual global está asociado con una valoración positiva de los trabajadores de la complejidad del trabajo y del potencial de aprendizaje, el cual, a su vez, mejora la innovación, la satisfacción y el compromiso. Estos efectos, sin embargo, dependen de la recuperación fuera del trabajo de los trabajadores entre los días laborales.


A grande maioria das pesquisas sobre o trabalho global virtual foca nas lutas dos trabalhadores que navegam por diferenças geográficas, culturais, de idioma e de fuso horário. Nossa pesquisa sugere que, apesar desses esforços, o trabalho virtual global pode oferecer benefícios significativos para os trabalhadores. Nós entrevistamos 78 engenheiros sobre as suas experiências em trabalhos globais e, posteriormente, fizemos um levantamento com 515 trabalhadores do conhecimento que tinham trabalhado tanto com colegas globalmente distribuídos quanto com exclusivamente alocados. O trabalho virtual global foi associado com a avaliação positiva dos trabalhadores da complexidade e potencial de aprendizagem do trabalho, que por sua vez, aprimorou inovação, satisfação e engajamento. Esses efeitos, no entanto, dependem da recuperação dos trabalhadores nas folgas entre os dias úteis.


绝大多数关于全球虚拟工作的研究关注工人的斗争, 因为他们处于地理、文化、语言和时区的差异中。我们的研究表明: 尽管有这些斗争, 全球虚拟工作可能给工人提供显著的效益。我们访谈了在全球工作的78位工程师的经历, 然后调查了曾经与全球分布的或专门配置的同事工作过的515名知识工人。全球虚拟工作与工人对工作复杂性的积极评价和学习潜能相关, 这些进而改善了创新、满意度和参与性。然而, 这些效果依赖于工人在工作日之间的脱产恢复。



This work was supported by The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, Tekes (Grant No. 1931/31/2012 and Grant No. 2201/31/2012). We thank our editor, Rosalie Tung, and three anonymous reviewers for their guidance during the review process. We also thank members of the Center for Work, Technology, & Organizations at Stanford University for feedback on earlier drafts of this work.


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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Aalto University School of ScienceAaltoFinland
  2. 2.Center for Work, Technology and Organization, Department of Management Science & Engineering, Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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