IE Brown Alumni Recognized as 21st C. Virtual Workforce Thought Leaders

A senior Google employee, a corporate lawyer, and a successful entrepreneur walk into an IE Brown Executive MBA cohort… and walk away with a bond that leads to a joint publication in a prestigious academic journal, and recognition as experts on building a virtual 21st-century workforce.

Meet the IE Brown Executive MBA Class of 2017 members Florian Endter, Enmacc General Counsel and Finance, Munich (Germany); Anthony Giordano, Monad Founder, New York City (U.S); and, Paul Somers, the former Google Head of Global Apps Partnerships, Australia and New Zealand, now Principal and Founder of Pecunia Research, Sydney (Australia).

Hailing from different continents, industry areas, and stages of their careers, they found themselves in the same IE Brown Executive MBA program. They came together to elevate the collective knowledge on the virtues of a virtual workforce as a key topic of interest for their Key Reflection Project (KRP) requirement. The KRP is IE Brown’s culminating academic project where students integrate and apply the knowledge and critical analytical skills acquired during the program to address a business challenge and its social complexities.

New Challenges Demand New Perspectives

Endter, Giordano, and Somers confirmed their hypothesis early in their research that most companies struggle to integrate remote workers, let alone have an exclusively (and high performing) virtual workforce.

We found that the majority of companies we looked at did not achieve their virtual work management goals because they failed to adapt to and embrace the specific types of social and knowledge networks that remote employees form,” said Somers. “Solving the logistics is the easy part. Engaging, inspiring, and accommodating workers whose relationships with work and non-work activities are increasingly complex is the real challenge.”

(From left to right) IE Brown Class of 2017 classmates Anthony Giordano, Florian Endter, and Paul Somers.

The ROI of Going Beyond the MBA

The team of Endter, Giordano and Somers identified the pain point for these companies and their virtual workers by going beyond a traditional MBA perspective. There simply isn’t an accounting or finance framework that sheds light on the social currents, individual psyches, and knowledge flows required to optimize performance in a growing host of new knowledge economy workplace environments. They utilized a multitude of new perspectives that blend business with humanities to understand work cultures wired to innovate and drive growth.

Our research required asking a different set of questions that we would not have been trained to do in a standard MBA program,” said Giordano. “At IE Brown we learned to apply methods of learning and discovery from a broad array of academic disciplines including economics, anthropology and political science. From these perspectives, we were able to uncover diverse insights and more powerfully problem-solve the complex workplace challenges that today’s companies face.”

Based on their research, the team developed the Virtual Work Stage Model, as well as the realization that there was an audience interested in their findings beyond the IE Brown ecosystem. After getting the support and invaluable feedback from IE Brown faculty (specifically, IE Professors Cristina Simón, Jill Waymire Paine, and Ignacio Gafo, and Brown Professor Patrick McHugh), the team committed to publishing their findings and making a significant contribution to the program’s overall public visibility.

Given initial interest from premiere journals like Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review, their external KRP advisor Andreas Eckhardt, Professor of Human Resource Management at German Graduate School of Management and Law, encouraged them to shoot for the stars and get their article, Three Stages to a Virtual Workforce, published in Management Information Systems Executive Quarterly (MISQE), one of the leading peer-reviewed journals within the management domain.

For all three of them, it was their first publication in a preeminent academic management journal. Their paper was presented at several conferences (US and South Korea), they mastered numerous rounds of revisions (in which other papers were eliminated), and finally corrected the proofs – all while working full time and on three different continents.

Executive MBA Bonds for Lifelong Career Growth

It’s no surprise that IE Brown Executive MBA students form bonds that start at their convocation in Madrid, thrive online and in residence in Cape Town, South Africa, and fully solidify at commencement on the Brown campus in Providence. But, it is impressive to learn that these bonds survive the test of time and continue to push the careers of IE Brown alumni forward long after graduation. The MISQE publication is a testament to this.

Our continued work on this research for two years reveals two career-changing assets that IE Brown graduates walk away with after graduation,” said Endter. “First of all, during the course of this rigorous program, we learned to truly understand a topic by immersing ourselves in it. Fast forward to today, we still love to devote time to explore new horizons.”

“Secondly, and unique to IE Brown, this publication demonstrates that IE Brown isn’t a 15-month journey. It’s not a one and done. It’s a life-long relationship with the members of your cohort, the IE Brown community, and two of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions, which we will always be able to turn to.”

A Stage Model to Capture the Virtues of Virtual Talent

Endter, Giordano and Somers’ KRP focused on in-depth ethnographic research of two technology companies, Trello and Buffer, both of which exemplify best practices for remote employees and a virtual workplace. The resulting Virtual Work Stage Model is an actionable framework which provides invaluable guidance for employers seeking to take advantage of the immense opportunity of virtual employees; utilize the rising number of remote workers globally; and, achieve more flexibility in their existing workforce across geographies, time zones and skill sets.

The Virtual Work Stage Model has three stages which begins with supporting employees who want to work remotely through to managing employees who are completely virtual. Applying this model can guide leaders and managers seeking to prosper in the war for highly-skilled talent.

To whet your appetite, here are their five critical recommendations to capture the virtues of virtual talent:

  1. Respect and protect virtual workers’ privacy
  2. Optimize social activity, not just productivity
  3. Remember that virtual workers are real people
  4. Match communication channel to the message, and
  5. Establish trust by asking teams to work on increasingly challenging tasks.

Continue the Conversation

While three professionals might have independently walked into the IE Brown Executive MBA program, they graduated as integral nodes in each other’s networks, primed to reunite on new projects and face new business and humanities challenges together. In fact, they’ve already proposed extensions to their project designed to give back to the IE Brown program and promote the valuable insights from KRPs and thought leadership status of future IE Brown students. Stay tuned for more announcements on this topic!

For those interested in building a 21st-century virtual workforce, we recommend you read Endter’s, Giordano’s and Somers’ MISQE published paper, Three Stages to a Virtual Workforce.

We also invite you to reach out to them to obtain a much richer perspective on their model. As you can imagine, the insights of a German, an American and an Australian on this topic will be sure to provide some significant, perhaps transformational, room for exploration in your organization.

Continue this conversation by tweeting your questions to #IEBrown.

Or, reach out to them individually to learn more:

Florian Endter

Anthony Giordano

Paul Somers

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