Virtual Professional Communities: watch this space

In rural communities all over the world, Broadband and digital technologies are enabling the quiet incubation of a crucial new organisation form known as the Virtual Professional Community or VPC.

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Yesterday’s story was about the exodus of young workers having to move to the towns and cities to find work.

Today’s story is about the influx of workers leaving the cities and relocating in rural areas as full-time and part-time digital teleworkers.

The motivations for digital telework are two-fold:

  • quality of life

  • job satisfaction

There are some very interesting opportunities emerging for rural digital teleworkers around the concept of the Virtual Professional Community which I will introduce in this article.


Digital Teleworkers have moved up the value chain

Some digital teleworkers are working in virtual call centres supporting both in-bound and out-bound calls.

Many are working in high-value knowledge-intensive work including:

  • software engineering

  • web design and graphics

  • marketing and branding

  • business consultancy

  • change management

  • electronic publishing

  • financial advice

They have even started to operate in specialised niche areas such as contract R&D. For example, Innocentive Inc - a network of 80,000 independent self-selected problem solvers in 173 countries established in the pharmaceutical and bioscience area.


But there are problems ahead for rural digital teleworkers

Firstly rural digital teleworkers are starting to face severe competition from the 'off-shore countries'.

In a previous article, Outsourcing, virtual teams and knowledge work, I pointed to the very real risk of these types of jobs moving offshore.

If the work can be done in rural Europe or rural US then it can also be done in India or China or Russia.

The off-shore competition is very strong.

For example I recently posted a small job to create an animated logo on elance.com.

Within 2 days I had 19 bids from all over the world and eventually the job was won (and very successfully delivered) for $200 - not by an Indian but by a Californian company!


Secondly rural teleworkers generally lack the organisation to go after the bigger contracts which require teams rather than just individuals.

This can lock rural digital teleworkers in to the smaller, less complex, jobs – the very place where the off-shore competition is at its most intense.

This also limits teleworkers ability to compete for international contracts restricting them to local customers which is a serious strategic weakness.


Enter the Virtual Professional Community

The answer to these two problems for rural digital teleworkers could be the Virtual Professional Community.

A Virtual Professional Community (VPC) is to individuals what a Virtual Enterprise Network (VEN) is to companies.

VPCs enable distributed knowledge workers to operate as communities and networks and to construct collaborative bid and project teams for contracts based on aggregation of their complimentary skill sets.

VPCs must also ensure that the customer has a single point of contact – major customers will not tolerate incurring a higher coordination cost in dealing with a network than they would in dealing with a single company supplier.

Even more importantly a VPC has to address the issues of legal liability to ensure the customer feels protected around non-performance.

This may involve bonds, guarantees and even a financial institution playing an underwriting role within the VPC.


OpenSource Software communities

A good place to look for emerging models of VPCs is the Open Source Software Movement (OSS) who have demonstrated the ability for individual software developers to co-operate globally to produce top-quality collaborative products.

Much of the OSS coding and testing work is voluntary – the VPC adds a commercial element to the collaboration.


Watch out for VPCs!

VPCs are an exciting new and emerging organisation form which I am certain will become increasingly important in the future - so watch this space!


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