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Individual virtual competence and its influence on work outcomes


Thomas Gilbert’s behavior engineering model (BEM) is as relevant to virtual work environments as to brick-and-mortar workplaces. Individual competence in areas such as efficacy and knowledge play an essential role in determining overall team or organizational performance. Research identifies key dimensions of individual virtual competence (IVC) and examines how experience impacts IVC and, subsequently, performance and job satisfaction.


Wang, Y., & Haggerty, N. (2011). Individual virtual competence and its influence on work outcomes. Journal of Management Information Systems, 27(4), 299-334. doi: 10.2753/MIS0742-1222270410


Telecommuting, virtual teams, and distributed collaboration have seen greater use in recent years. Along with the flexibility afforded by virtual work settings come a number of challenges. Research into these challenges has focused on the structure of and practices inherent to virtual work environments. In addition to the typical task-technology-structure fit, however, worker knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required to perform virtual work must also be considered.  The collection of individuals’ KSAs that enable them to collaborate and communicate within a virtual environment makes up a construct known as individual virtual competence, or IVC.

IVC is a multidimensional construct consisting of:

  1. virtual media skills (VMS), performance-oriented ability to leverage technology in different contexts
  2. virtual social skills (VSS), setting-oriented knowledge and skills used to build social relationships
  3. virtual self-efficacy, belief-oriented ability comprised of computer self-efficacy (CSE) and remote work self-efficacy (RWSE)

The composition of these three dimensions and of overall IVC is not static. The balance and level of competence required for each dimension are dependent on context.

The researchers in this study contend that the ensemble of KSAs comprising IVC is a result of prior virtual work experience and virtual daily life experience. This ensemble influences not only individual job performance, but also individual job satisfaction.


The researchers used a conceptual model of virtual competence and work outcomes as the foundation of their study.

The following hypotheses based on the model were tested:

  • H1. IVC is positively related to individual job performance.
  • H2. IVC is positively associated with individual job satisfaction.
  • H3. Individuals who have been involved with more virtual work activities in the past will develop greater IVC.
  • H4. Individuals who have been involved in more online activities in their daily life will develop greater IVC.

An online pilot study involving 52 MBA students at a North American business school was used to refine construct measures and the measurement instrument. IVC constructs were defined based on existing studies and prior virtual work research.  For the actual study, invitations to complete the online survey were e-mailed to 976 alumni of a North American business school. The sample was randomly selected on the basis of three criteria: the participants had to be knowledge workers, they could not be C-level workers, and they should have a mix of work experience since graduation. The researchers had a response rate of 22.1% (N = 199) from alumni working in manufacturing, financial services, consulting, trading, and other industries. The average age of respondents was 41; 23.1% were female. A few had PhDs, 77% had MBAs, and 20.4% had bachelor’s degrees.

Respondents rated a series of reflective statements aligned to IVC dimensions, contributory experiences, and outcomes using a 7-point Likert scale. Items addressing control variables (team distribution, workplace mobility, and variety of practices) were also included.

Findings and Implications

Researchers examined coefficients and significance levels of the paths shown in the model. Overall, the data support the model and hypotheses, with paths significant at p < 0.001.

H1. IVC is significantly related to individual perceived performance (a coefficient of 0.51; 36% of the variance in perceived performance is explained by IVC).

H2. IVC is also positively associated with job satisfaction (a coefficient of 0.31; 18% of the variance in satisfaction is explained by IVC).

H3 & H4. Most interestingly, virtual work experience and virtual daily life experience (or non-work experience) appear to exert nearly equivalent influence (coefficients of 0.27 and 0.25 respectively) on IVC.  Virtual work experience and virtual daily life experience together explain 16% of the variance in IVC.

Understanding the effects of IVC on individual work outcomes suggests that investments in individuals, as well as technology and workflow, could yield benefits for both knowledge workers and their organizations. For managers, using IVC measures as a to screen job candidates can help inform hiring decisions. IVC measures can be used to determine current workers’ areas of weakness and design training customized to their needs. In addition, evidence that non-work experiences improve IVC suggest an examination of how personal applications such as Facebook help employees develop transferable skills might be in order, as opposed to simply banning such applications’ use in the workplace.

Questions for OPWL-N Members

How have your non-work virtual life experiences impacted your individual virtual competence? Have you seen evidence in your workplace that employees’ experiences in using personal and professional applications such as Facebook or LinkedIn support or increase individual virtual competence? What specific skills (e.g., virtual media skills, virtual social skills, or virtual self-efficacy) do you think might be gained from using such applications?

Workplace Oriented Research Central (WORC)
Prepared by OPWL Graduate Assistant, Susan Virgilio
Directed by OPWL Professor, Yonnie Chyung
Posted on February 21, 2013