The growing development in computer and communication technology combined with increasing globalization is changing the world continuously, virtual teams are increasing in numbers on a daily basis. The evolving development in information technology has reshaped how organizations conduct their day to day operations. A Significant amount of human interactions are nowadays handled via different virtual communication channels. Entire projects and work tasks may be handled solely through different virtual channels with little physical interaction.
As mentioned earlier, one of the main driving forces being the increasing globalisation means that team members, customers and suppliers are often dispersed and extended around the globe, while having interaction mainly via digital avenues. Thus the combination of increasing globalization and a wider availability of computer-mediated communication has increased the use of virtual teams. Increasing use of virtual channels and globalization presents different types of challenges but also opportunities for organizations, therefore they need to cope and utilize the existing options.
Common concerns about virtual teams are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams. Such valid questions can be understood better when looked at from a wider perspective. This wider scope of matters may not directly go under advantages or disadvantages, but helps to improve understanding.
Advantages of Virtual Teams
Cost savings – The biggest advantage of virtual team enjoyed by an organization is the associated cost savings. The organization can do away with huge expenses on real estate, office spaces, utilities bills such as gas, electricity, water etc. and executives’ travel. Many organizations outsource their operations to the low-cost regions. Thus production cost also decreases with the reduced raw material cost, operational costs and lower wages of the employees in these geographic locations.
Leverage Global Talent – Virtual Teams allows organizations to look for talent beyond their country of origin. This brings together the experts and specialists from across the globe to work together on the project. Increased knowledge sharing and greater innovation happens as organization’s human capital share their understanding of global and local markets as well as best business practices.
Increased Productivity & Higher Profits – Members of virtual teams tend to have higher focus on the task at hand. As a practice virtual team supports flatter organization structure. The members do not have to deal with unnecessary bureaucracy which slows down the decision making. This enhances the productivity which shows as higher profits.
Reduced Time to Market – Since the members span the time zones, there could be different team working on the same project 24*7, so when one member sleeps there will be another one somewhere else who would start work where the former had left. This shortens the product development time as well as faster response time to demands in both global and local markets.
Newer Opportunities – If we see at larger societal level, virtual teams have created newer opportunities for people who are less mobile and hesitant to relocate due to either family requirement or physical challenge. Now any task that does not require the physical presence of a person and which can be supported by communication technology throws an opportunity for many deserving candidates.
Disadvantages of Virtual Teams
Cost of Technology – The successful working of virtual team is supported by the efficient use of multiple communication technologies such as instant messaging, emails and video-conferencing, among others. No one tool can provide the complete support. The cost associated with these installation and maintenance tools is little on the higher side.
Conflicts, Lack of Trust & Collaboration – The cultural differences between the members of virtual teams gives rise to number of conflicts. For example, while an American would write a straightforward email describing a bad situation, this would be perceived as impolite by a South Asian (say Filipino) member of the team. This would lead to conflicts, mistrust and difficulties in fruitful collaboration which is so vital for the success of virtual team functioning. These challenges are also precipitated by the absence of non-verbal cues so intrinsic to face-to-face interactions.
Social Isolation – Many members of virtual teams are adversely affected by the lack of physical interactions. Most of the communications in virtual environment is task-oriented. In today’s society where job is an important social force for most of us because many of our workplace colleagues also constitute our close friends, this gives a not-so-good feeling of social isolation. This in turn counter-effects productivity as well as leads to stress.
All these disadvantages can be overcome by following a different leadership/managerial approach, trainings, greater role clarity and effective communication strategies. Organization both big ones such as IBM, Microsoft, Whirlpool as well as SMEs have been reaping the benefits of virtual teams for some time now. It has been a well-recognized fact that Virtual Teams are not a fad, they are here to stay.