Virtual teams have been defined as teams that rarely meet face to face and mainly communicate via email, or chat. These types of teams usually follow an asynchronously type of work, and have defining characteristics, such as a distribution of members across time, geography or both (Corbitt, Gardiner & Wright, 2004). Organizations can benefit greatly from having teams that work virtually, research has shown that these teams not only reduce company costs, but they increase flexibility, which is believed to be the greatest advantage of virtual work (Liao, 2017), and responsiveness (Corbitt et al., 2004), while potentially raising employee satisfaction when the work is remote, as from a team member’s perspective virtual teams means better work-life balance (Liao, 2017). It allows organisations to access any kind of expertise needed all across the globe (Kupa, 2020).
Virtual teams also allow companies to operate 24/7, and it has better cost efficiency for them, as employees have no need to engage in travel costs or meet in person (Lipnick & Stamps, 2008), it also reduces the need for big offices when the work done virtually is done from the employee’s own home, diminishing rental costs (Choi & Cho, 2019). It is important to keep in mind that these benefits mentioned are taking into consideration that the virtual teams are well managed (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Another benefit is that the interactions, commitments and outcomes of a virtual team are easier to document, review and store, which makes sharing and accessing the knowledge more efficient (Gibson & Cohen, 2003).
Can We develop Trust Virtually?
There are some challenges that virtual teams have to endure as well, one of these is developing trust, keeping team members motivated and developing them individually and as a team (Kupa, 2020). Not choosing the correct communication technology could negatively affect the resource allocation and reduce the effectiveness of the team (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). Kayworth and Leidner (2002) argue that the challenges in virtual teams are communication culture, logistics and technology. There are different types of virtual teams, virtual teams that have video conferences with their teammates are not considered as virtual as teams that solely communicate using asynchronous communication technology (Berry, 2011).
Classic team formation stages are forming, storming, norming and, performing (Tuckman, 1965). In the forming stage the individuals are still deciphering their place in the team, and they will be relying on the team leader for direction. After this we have the storming phase, in this stage, team members start to have conflicts with their co-workers as their preferred ways of working start to surface, in this stage people might start challenging their team leader and testing the established boundaries. In the norming stage, team members start to resolve their differences and respect their team leader’s authority, the team starts to be more comfortable with one another, and usually share a stronger commitment to the team’s goals. The last stage is performing, in this stage the team members are in sync, and the team is performing at its full potential, which means they are likely to achieve their goals in an efficient way. In virtual teams forming and storming are the most challenging stages in the team formation process (Joy-Matthews & Gladstone, 2000), however, research has shown that when these stages are performed synchronously, this real time progression seems to facilitate the stages natural development, and when compared to face to face teams, both virtual and face to face seem to spend the same amount of time in each of the team formation stages (Corbitt et al., 2004).
Over the years there has been several research doubting that team trust can exist in the absence of face to face contact (Handy, 1995; Karolak, 1999; Fisher, 2000), nevertheless, other studies have shown that virtual computer mediated groups tend to perform better than face to face groups on idea generation, but on more complex tasks they perform worse than face to face groups and typically have longer task completion times (McGrath & Hollingshead, 1994), with more recent research suggesting that actually virtual teams seem to be more effective at their tasks when compared with face to face teams (Corbitt et al., 2004).
Research has shown that virtual teams are able to work asynchronously without any significant problems, but usually they need a more synchronous way of working when dealing with more complex tasks (Corbitt et al., 2004). This can be explained by the communication technology in which virtual teams work, the more complex the task to engage the richer the communication medium must be in order for the team to develop these tasks correctly. Regarding virtual reality technology, it offers opportunities for a team to develop and coordinate while working virtually. It not only is an innovative technology , but it can allow organisations cost-effective engaging interventions that can help with on boarding, learning and development (Khandelwal, & Upadhyay, 2019). As mentioning before, when teams are using asynchronous communications, such as email, or even synchronous communication like Skype, Zoom, or any other video conference program, these communications might not suffice in situations where direct interaction is needed. VR allows for this type of connectedness, while saving travel time and costs. For virtual teams, VR can act as a great leeway between full virtual teams and face to face teams, as it leads to a sense of togetherness which cannot be experiences in any other type of communication technology. VR based virtual teams leads to advantages like efficiency, engagement and retention among the team members (Khandelwal, & Upadhyay, 2019). Communication technology differs in their ability to convey social presence, and voice reflections, body gestures and non-verbal cues might be lost due to the distortion that the communication media allows (Kishokumar, & Madurapperuma, 2019), however, the use of virtual reality permits a full body communication, and reduces the distortion by providing a virtual environment that enhances presence.
In recent times the use of virtual teams has been on the rise, and research has suggested that this trend is expected to continue (Dulebohn, & Hoch, 2017). The way we work is changing, and now companies have to become more global, although there are some challenges in virtual teams, organisations not willing to apply virtual team settings will lose a significant advantage in the rapidly changing economic and social environments (Berry, 2011).
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