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Exploring Virtual Teams

Business Technology | July 22, 2011

The way businesses are structured has changed as technology has grown. We regularly see companies reorganizing their teams into virtual teams, often known as geographically dispersed teams (GDT). This allows people in different countries to collaborate on a single project. Like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to this style of team and it is not for every business. Is it right for yours?

In the past, it was thought that productivity had a direct correlation with proximity. The thought was held that the more face-time a manager was able to provide their team the more productive they would be. Managers are realizing that this may not be true, and that building a team out of people that work well together and have very specific skill sets can generate a far more significant result. Another strong factor impacting productivity can be the mentality of the individuals the group is made up of. Some people are inspired by their personal desire to learn more so as to further their careers; this self-motivation is a trait that works well in a virtual team environment. Individuals who are motivated by social interactions or by the desire to avoid negative feedback may not be a good fit for a virtual team.

For some businesses, it can be practical to use virtual teams.  Many organisations, large and small, have embraced this innovative organizational technique. Certainly businesses that require people to physically interact to perform a task, such as construction, are not candidates for virtual teams. If you think implementing virtual teams as an enterprise wide strategy or smaller capacity is a good fit for your company, here are a few things to think about.
 
Advantages

  • Recruitment based on competence not proximity
  • Team members are able to work during the times when they operate most efficiently
  • Teams are comprised of members who are self-motivated and self-driven
  • More accommodation for team members’ personal and professional lives
  • No commuting time or expense
  • Reduced overhead, as there is no physical location
  • IT expenses are lowered as most teams use web-based tools for collaboration
  • Managers can better assess the team’s overall performance as there are less social pressures

Disadvantages

  • Less social interaction, which may be a demotivator for many people
  • Loss of trust between team members if there is not assurance that everyone is pulling their own weight
  • Creativity could be stifled, because the physical dynamics are lost
  • Team members may overwork themselves as managers can not physically see the amount of time each task takes
  • Managers may lose track of the team’s progress, i.e. out of site out of mind

Online technology is the primary way that virtual teams interface with one another, including email, audio conferencing, and file sharing programs. Here is a list of a few websites and products that support teams that interact virtually.

  • Go to meetings – a relatively inexpensive way to have remote conferences
  • Yammer – a exclusive social network for businesses that enables quick communication and interaction
  • Drop Box – a free way to share files
  • Second Life – allows for interactive meetings with the use of avatars

If you want more information on virtual teams in action, consider the articles below: 
http://www.theanywhereoffice.com/mobile-work/telework-viritual-teams-midmarket-companies.htm
http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/19/virtual-teams-meetings-leadership-managing-cooperation.html
http://www.openforum.com/articles/7-effective-tools-for-managing-a-virtual-team


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