The Ins and Outs of Virtual Teams

The way companies are structured has changed as technology has grown. We often see companies reorganizing their teams into virtual teams, also called geographically dispersed teams (GDT). This enables 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 believed that productivity had a direct connection with proximity. The idea 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 mindset of the individuals the group is made up of. Many people are encouraged 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 is 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, aren’t candidates for virtual teams. If you feel implementing virtual teams as an enterprise wide strategy or smaller capacity is a good fit for your company, here are a few items to think about.
 
Advantages

  • Recruitment based on expertise not proximity
  • Team members are able to work during the times when they operate most efficiently
  • Teams consist 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 reduced as most teams use web-based tools for collaboration
  • Managers can better examine the team’s performance because there are less social pressures

Disadvantages

  • Less social interaction, which can be a demotivator for many people
  • Loss of trust between team members if there is not guarantee that everyone is pulling their own weight
  • Creativity could possibly 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

Virtual teams make use of a number of technology to interface. These include email, audio and video conferencing, and file sharing programs. Below is a list of a few programs that can be beneficial to virtual teams.

  • Go to meetings – an economical option to have remote conferences
  • Yammer – a exclusive social network for companies 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 would like 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