The Ins and Outs of Virtual Teams

The way companies are structured has changed as technology has grown. We regularly see companies reorganizing their teams into virtual teams, also known as 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 efficiency had a direct connection with proximity. The thought was held that the more face-time a manager was able to give 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 much more significant result. Another strong factor impacting productivity can be the mindset of the individuals the group is comprised of. Many people are driven 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 utilize virtual teams.  Many companies, large and small, have embraced this innovative organizational technique. Obviously businesses that require people to physically interact to perform a task, such as construction, aren’t 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 can work during the times when they perform most efficiently
  • Teams are comprised of members that are self-motivated and self-driven
  • More accommodation for team members’ personal and professional lives
  • No commuting time or expense
  • Reduced overhead, because there is no physical location
  • IT expenses are decreased as most teams use web-based tools for collaboration
  • Managers can better evaluate the team’s efficiency because there are less social pressures

Disadvantages

  • Less social interaction, which can be a demotivator for some people
  • Loss of trust between team members if there is not assurance that everyone is pulling their own weight
  • Creativity could possibly be stifled, as 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 each other, including email, audio conferencing, and file sharing programs. Here is a list of a few websites and products that assist teams that interact virtually.

  • Go to meetings – an inexpensive method to have remote meetings
  • Yammer – a private 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, check out 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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