Distances are reduced but the challenges are increased.
With the help of advanced Communication Technologies (CT) businesses and Organisations are transforming into a new virtual domain of globally distributed teams. They are far apart from each other but still working together as a single team with the help of advance technologies. This advancement in Organisation has reduced long distances in business relationships to a great ease but at the same time it leads to some ineluctable challenges.
Virtual Teams are far apart from each other but still doing business together as a single team with the help of advance technologies like virtual reality.
Today, critical customer requirements, globalized business and a high-end development in technology have led to robust business competition and market uncertainty. In this world of globalization and complex competition pressure, the way how organizations are working is completely changed. A group of people seating around a spider like Polycom speaker phone or a big video screen in any multiple number of remote location is a very common thing to spot in companies.
With the help of new advanced technologies many organizations are now converting in to High-tech firms where a new concept of “Virtual Teams” is developing and “Technology” works as a backbone of this virtual infrastructure. Technology plays a major role by supporting in wide variety of applications in a virtual team like information sharing, data storing, data modelling, information implementation etc.
What are virtual teams?
Before defining the idea behind virtual teams it is important to define a traditional team because “teams” impart several meanings in different settings. A Team is a group of people with specific skills who are devoted to achieve a common goal working in collaboration with other people holding a responsibility. A traditional team is largely based on three basic building blocks of team building:
A virtual team is a more advanced elevated form of traditional teams. In specific words, "virtual teams are collection of individuals who interact through mutually dependent task guided by a common goal and work across distance, time and organisational boundaries using strong links of communication technologies”.
With the help of globally distributed teams it is now possible for the firms to access the global talent pool with very less expenses and increase the productivity by responding more quickly to the changes in the environment. One of the biggest concern of safety and wastage of time while travelling is successfully overcome by the use of virtual teams in organisations. Now it is possible for organisations to design and introduce potential new products for specific national markets, as with the help of globally distributed teams sensitive barrier of diverse local culture can be understood and defeated efficiently.
However along with potential benefits, virtual teams also bring along with them several challenges like time zone difference, language barriers, trust, different cultures, trust, hard leadership, communication, information sharing etc. This is where “Communication Technology (CT)” came in to picture; as it is implanted in several definitions of virtual teams, use of CT is the back bone of collaboration in a virtual team. Either it is communication or information sharing; CT plays the core supporting role to perform team tasks.
Framework for Communication Technology (CT)
For a globalized organization, working in a virtual team; it is very important to understand which technology they are using and where. Progress of a project based on virtual team can be restricted because of inappropriate use of technology. Past researches suggests that although CT based virtual teams are good in brainstorming and decision making tasks, they are not efficient in problem-solving and conflict management tasks. Also CT based virtual teams are lower in productivity in terms of decision making tasks as compared to face to face teams. Many evidences suggests that millions of dollars are misused by companies for the access and installation of advanced CT systems, which they not even needed or ignored to use because of lack of its awareness and accessibility. Thus a proper decision of utility of CT and its potential effect on team members and organisations is required before adapting it.
Challenges during a Project in Virtual Teams
Some of the major technical challenges like discomfort with technology, equipment malfunction, task-technology mismatch etc. can lead to major productivity loss in a virtual team. Being virtual in nature project team faced many problems and challenges during the whole project work while communicating through various technologies. Main challenges faced by the team are:
Technology is the key root element that makes collaboration in virtual teams possible. If different technology challenges are not handled properly it results in an unproductive virtual team with frustrated team members. Thus it is very important for a virtual team to better realise the use of technology. CT tools with features which fulfil all group needs and supports both synchronous and asynchronous interactions must be used. Main steps which a virtual team must follow to effectively use technology for communication are setting a technology protocol, right selection of technology and training of team members.
Technology protocol: Restriction to the use of CT in a virtual team up to a certain level with rules and standardisation is termed as a technology protocol. It is like a code of conduct agreed by whole team to follow certain rules while communication. It will help to reduce the frustration and confusion created in a virtual team because of complex technology. Also by the standardising the media exchanged (for example: An email must be of short length and must be of standard format etc.) helps in overcome major technical challenges like discomfort with technology, ineffective communication, lack of feedback and lack of trust.
Use of right technology: Selection of right technology is the key factor which leads to a successful virtual team. A careful strategy must be planned while selecting a CT. An optimal strategy would be to make an initial choice based on the theoretical and conceptual framework presented in the paper and finally matching the technology as per the richness of media and degree of collaboration required by the task. Major challenges including ineffective communication, lack of feedback and trust can be solved with the right selection of CT. Also in a situation when a task requires a very high level of collaboration which is not possible by a virtual meeting than a face to face meeting with agreement from all team members either including all or some of the team members must be planned.
Training of Team members: With the increase in the complexity of CT systems, it is important to provide time to time training to virtual team in order to get the best use of technology. Full advantage of a selected technology is possible only when it is used correctly. Training must include all the aspects of effective use of technology like its features, dealing with malfunctioning, maintenance etc. All major problems like Discomfort with technology, Unawareness, Task-technology mismatch etc. can be solved with the help of proper training of team members.
Also by sharing important information like schedule, agenda etc. well before a virtual meeting and leave some time for socializing at the end or beginning of the meeting will help in building social relationship and trust among team members.
Thus a unified CT system which is capable of overcoming all these challenges is still required to be invented. However with the implementation of technology protocol, right selection of technology and training of team members in an organisation, new heights in the era of “use of CT in virtual teams” can be achieved.