Few decades ago, humans would have not imagined sitting at one place and to be able to communicate with others. The discovery of phones and internet has totally changed the communication pattern.
One can comfortably sit at his home and work, communicate with family and friends, purchase whatever required. Technology has eased our living in many ways.
Technology has also been used in a wonderful way, wherein people work in groups but virtually; which means they are working together by means of electronic devices. People work, communicate and even play games by teaming up virtually.
What is Virtual Team?
Virtual team can be defined as a team of people which can be working in same office or spread across various locations- which can be different cities, countries and hence different time zones too. People of varied cultures, backgrounds and expertise come together to work on a common goal.
Generally virtual teams are formed for either finding solution to critical problems, development of a new product/service and the problems of similar difficulty level.
With the advent of decentralization and globalization, organizations felt the need to adapt to something which is quick and agile in solving the problems, Virtual team offers flexibility as well as fast delivery of results.
Hence it has become widely popular and used extensively by organizations all over the world. Not only IT industry, but industries like construction, manufacturing, engineering, finance and the like has been seen following the trend of virtual teams.
Now let us look at types of virtual teams and virtual teams pros and cons in the section below.
Types of Virtual Team:
Depending upon the objective and the roles of team members, virtual teams can be classified into following 8 types.
1. Networked teams:
In this team, the team members are geographically dispersed and may have members from outside the organizations. The members are often people with different expertise and plays cross functional role so as to solve a specific issue. Very often the people whose role has been finished leave the team. This type of virtual team is seen in consulting business and technology firms.
2. Parallel Teams:
These teams are forms of the members working within the organization. Apart from looking after the primary responsibilities members are given added responsibilities to take care of which they have to handle parallel and hence the name parallel team. The team is intact till the end and no one leaves in between. Parallel teams are used in companies of R&D, Sales and marketing, wherein all the team members put forth their views and perspective to achieve the determined goal.
3. Project or Product Development Teams:
This is a type of virtual team where members are brought together from different parts of globe with an aim to develop a product or a system. Developing something new involves lots of knowledge. Various subject experts from different parts of country come together to make something unique.
4. Work, Production or Functional Teams:
These teams are formed when the team members need to perform single type of task. The work responsibilities and the role are clearly defined.
5. Service teams:
These teams are formed in technical and customer support teams. Generally the service companies, who need to give 24* 7 supports, choose to have a service team, wherein the team members are from different time zones and geographies so as to cater to 24*7 services to the customers.
6. Action teams:
These are the power packed teams which come together for resolving a problem and disperse as soon as the solution is found.
7. Management teams:
Big MNC’s have the management team dispersed all over the nation or the world, while taking important and difficult decision for the company , management teams are formed and they come together visually to solve the corporate level strategies.
8. Offshore ISD Teams:
Many companies outsource the tasks to other countries, where the cost of getting the work done is less, thus the team at two different location fine tunes by effective give and take of tasks and results. This model is followed by all software development outsourcing firms.
So we saw how virtual team is beneficial in various scenarios. One may think it is full of advantages, but everything has its pros and cons. Let’s discuss them
Advantages or Benefits of Virtual Teams:
1. Saves Resources:
When team is working virtually from the comfort of home, one saves cost of electricity, computer, internet and other admin services and facilities.
One may think how much one save can by this. But if you think about it, furniture, computer, electricity, internet expense, a good place for people to sit comfortably, then admin charges like I-cards, canteen, lunch room will add up to considerably large amount.
2. Wide Availability of talent:
If you are not bound by one geography to look for talent then too many avenues open up and one can get excellent talent from around the world. One can look for the most cost effective resources and earn lots of profit too.
3. Low attrition rate:
Employees enjoy working from home as they get freedom; they have a good work life balance and at the same time a satisfaction towards their work. A higher level of satisfaction makes employees to stay in company for a very long time and hence benefitting the company. Company saves a lot on recruiting and training costs and has a skillful resource working for them.
4. Avoids wastage of time:
Very often companies or rather teams have too many unnecessary meetings which wastes the precious resources and time. The communication and coordination between the team and having pleasantries and discussion of agenda etc eats away lots of time. Virtual teams discuss precisely and work very fast.
5. Reduces cost of travelling:
Everyone is tired of traffic, pollution and bad weather conditions. Travelling in train or bus in summers and in heavy traffic drains half of the energy. It takes lots of time to be able to work efficiently post one reaches the office. In virtual team the time, efforts and money of commuting to workplace is saved.
6. Increased productivity:
Employees often face distractions from gossip, unnecessary comments, office politics and the like. These distractions are ruled out in virtual team and hence help to have higher productivity.
7. 24*7 work possible:
If company hires virtual teams from different time zones then they can work 24*7 and thereby giving a huge boost to the company revenue.
Disadvantages of Virtual Team:
Though virtual team sounds very exciting and workable, it is not totally perfect. Following are the disadvantages of virtual team
1. Problems arising out of technological issues:
Virtual teams are totally dependent on internet and computer for getting there work done, power cuts, bad computer hardware/software, virus attack , internet issues creates many difficulties and the work is totally put on hold until the technological issue is resolved.
2. Communication gaps:
Not being present face to face gives an ample chances to have a misunderstanding. The non verbal communication is often misjudged. Lack of face to face communication makes it difficult to establish trust and a common knowledge sharing ground.
3. Less team bonding:
Virtual team members, connect each other for some time, discuss the decided points and then disconnect themselves. Teams hardly have time for getting to know each other and disuses things apart from work. This results in very low team bonding. A bad team bonding can make a team very weak. A healthy and impromptu communication helps have effective collaboration.
4. Less cohesiveness:
Organizations work successfully due to the collective efforts of employees. When a company faces some crisis, a collective effort to solve the problem is missing in case of virtual teams. Everyone staying at their homes and working will arise in this issue.
5. Uneven distribution of knowledge:
While discussing on a critical topic, one needs to assure that the same data is shared and studied by all and accordingly team members are supposed to come with a informed solution or suggestions.
But at times it may happen that one or more team member has not received complete data or they missed out the mail by mistake. In such cases, sender feels that the receiver is ignoring the information while the receiver is innocent and do not have any mistake.
It takes a lot of time where things went wrong and consumes takes lots of time to correct it. Thus uneven distribution of data is a major problem faced in virtual team.
6. Difference of speed and timing:
Though gathering talent from all parts of world seems very interesting and cost effective. But one has to face the difficulties in regards to the various time zones, timings and the cultural know how.
Team from India will have holiday in Diwali whereas team of US will expect to have a vacation in Christmas. Laying rules and policies and making things work becomes difficult and hence a cause of concern for companies following virtual team structure.
7. Uncertainty about the meaning of silence:
Silence in communication often notifies disagreement and is considered as rude. But very often the silence in communication is due to technological issues. Silence is ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways by different people. Teams members may harbor negative feelings against each other for no reason and hence damaging the team temperament.
Tips for Making the Virtual Team Work:
1. Promote team bonding by physical meeting in the very beginning:
Before the virtual teams become fully functional, arrange a ace to face meeting and decide on the factors like- way of communication, channel of communication, things to do in case of communication gaps and the like. Suitable and common guidelines are to be defined and should be communicated to everyone.
Also a face to face meeting helps team members to know each other better and thereby increasing the team bonding. Rather than making a one time thing, regular meetings helps to generate higher productivity and lesser misunderstandings.
2. Clarification on tasks and roles:
250The way it is necessary to define goals and roles, equal importance should be paid to tasks and processes. Segregate the big task in smaller chunks and delegate responsibilities among all team members. Make sure everyone is informed about the tasks they are supposed to handle. Defined tasks and processes help to make the coordination easier.
3. Inculcate discipline:
Though organizations nowadays consider their employees sound and responsible, they do not make them abide on strict rules. But certain basic rules like- avoiding background noise, talking at a clear pace and audible voice and some guidelines for the communication should be in place to make sure all are on same page and the work goes on smoothly.
4. Have a technological setups which are similar among all team members:
When one team member is having a high end device and the other one is struggling to even meet the basic computer hardware and software needs, then the technological problems are bound to happen. Make sure the systems are compatible to each other in team and pre test the communication like connectivity and speed of communication
5. Work on time zones:
Make sure none of the team member is feeling bad, due to overwork or working on unusual timings; make sure you have rotational shifts for sharing the burden amongst all the team members.
6. Have team building games:
It helps increase team bonding and thereby has positive effect on productivity.
7. Track commitments:
Make sure a system is in place to recognize the efforts of the team members and make sure they are duly rewarded and recognized for the same.
8. Shared leadership:
Make contribution from all team members as important and make sure all are getting heard. Shared leadership helps in distributing the work load evenly amongst all and increases the engagement of team members.
Thus we say face to face communication always has a upper hand rather than all the types of virtual communication. But with the advent of globalization having there are few advantages of virtual communication and also is rather a necessity than an option.
Though not having face to face communication will make one face many challenges, but following simple virtual team management tips and tricks will make it work and prove to be a very effective working model for the organization.
For the success of virtual team it becomes essential to have the guidelines and standards in place, overcome the time zones issues and have a system to develop trust and reduce misunderstandings. With dedication, one can surely ace this dynamic team model.