“A significant technology disruptive wave is joining forces with a new tech-savvy generation,” he writes in his recently published book, Generation Virtual. “This generation will lead to a virtual workforce movement, and will forever change the way society works and lives.”
Generation Virtual refers to the generation born between the late 1990s and 2010. This is the first generation born, raised, educated, and socialized within the milieu of the Internet, smartphones, and social media. The oldest of Gen V are now finishing college or university and entering the workforce.
Shehab regards his book – the full title is Generation Virtual: The Next Generation Workforce & Workforce Virtualization-Implications on Environment, Society, and Enterprises – as a handbook to help corporations, governments, schools, and society at large understand and prepare for this generation.
It observes how Generation V makes up both a growing portion of employee pools and customer bases, and argues that failing to understand the interconnection of Gen V and technological change would be a costly economic and social mistake. In particular, employers need to recognize that advances in technology have made remote work possible on a broad scale.
Given how many people are now working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the book couldn’t be timelier.
“COVID-19 has been a wake-up call and expedited the realization of workforce virtualization,” says Shehab, who teaches Project Management and Supply Chain Management programs at Algonquin.
“We’ve been given a glimpse of the future of work where it isn’t just a few people working remotely but much of the workforce. It will be a mistake to think that when this crisis is over we can – or should – go back to the way it was before.”
Shehab has been studying Generation V and virtualization for a long time. His doctoral studies at the University of Phoenix – he received his PhD in 2013 – focused on the concept of virtual working.
“I started asking some fundamental questions. What if on a large scale we don’t travel or commute to work, but the work comes to us? What if you have a global virtualized workforce to whom borders mean very little?”
Of course, there will still be a need for in-person, face-to-face workers – from baristas and brain surgeons to baseball players and baggage handlers. Nonetheless, a large-scale shift in workforce utility has widespread implications for everything from the economy and geopolitics to the environment, Shaheb says. Indeed, he thinks virtualization may help resolve many issues.
“Think of the implications for climate change if fewer people are commuting to work. We’ll consume less gas. There’ll be less congestion and fewer accidents which will affect insurance costs. We can have a healthier society.”
An equally profound, if subtler, consequence of widespread virtualization will be the way people relate to each other, how they are socialization, says Shehab.
Where previous generations defined sociability in terms of face-to-face encounters, the virtualization of a large portion of the population will produce a shift in our understanding of socialization, he says. It isn’t that we will become unsociable or anti-social. Rather, we will become, as Shaheb puts it, “differently social,” “additionally social,” adding virtual relationships to our localized face-to-face relationships.
“Virtualization doesn’t mean isolation. In fact, it expands your horizons to other social possibilities, even active participation in global communities.”
With technological disruption likely to continue for the foreseeable future, Gen V will be in the vanguard of dealing with the results, whether economic, social, or environmental, Shehab concludes in Generation Virtual. Employers, he says, need to prepare as Gen V enters the work world rather than expect younger workers to adhere to a framework built for previous generations of employees.
“There is huge potential in this next generation of the workforce,” Shehab writes. “As they move into the workforce and the disruption wave of technology occurs, workforce virtualization will become a way of life that companies would be wise to embrace on an enterprise level.”