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Virtual Teams and Their Impact on the Corporate World

As we advance through the Information Age at light speed, a new form of corporate infrastructure has emerged in the workplace.  Network organizations, or virtual teams, are groups of qualified individuals dispersed across different time zones, cultures, languages, ethnicities, and skill sets, brought together by a common professional goal.

Virtual Teams - woman typing at laptop_smartphone

Technology and virtual impact

Virtual teams are initiated through telecommunication and information technologies to accomplish a specific task; whether to solve a problem, develop a product, or provide a service. Yet, while we associate the concept of virtual teams with the new millennium, it is in fact, the past which brought us to this center.  The initiation of PCs in the 1960s, the emergence of cellular phone technology in the 1970s, voicemail messaging in the 1980s, and the World Wide Web and internet in the 1990s, have created such sweeping changes not only to humanity, but also to the constructs of companies and organizations in related industries.

However, it is in most recent years that technology has expanded to the point where the concept of virtual teams can not only be considered a reality, but a standard corporate practice.  As technology became mobile, advancing from simple PCs to laptops and mobile devices, and basic email to live chat and video conferencing, virtual teams have become more prominent, even in Fortune 500 companies. With increasing marketplace competition, decentralizing and globalizing certain work processes has become a necessity. Companies now have the ability to access to a broader range of talent, as international boundaries disappear.

Benefits of going virtual

Creating virtual teams allows an organization to gather experts in a specific field without relocating them.  Suddenly accessible, is the possibility to build a multinational operation without the additional costs of international offices, travel and staffing. Moreover, different time zones allow for around-the-clock production or customer service, while cultural and language diversity allows for a greater marketing and customer spectrum.

There are several other advantages to employing virtual teams, including the attractive cost savings from the elimination of real estate, office space, utilities, support staff, and travel. Marketing time is enhanced, as global teams from different time zones continue to work around the clock. Those less mobile or unwilling to relocate now have the opportunity to add their talent to a global corporation. Furthermore, since virtual teams call for less bureaucracy, productivity is typically increased.

Virtual challenges

While the advantages of virtual teams characteristically outweigh the drawbacks, there are a few aspects to consider.  Employers must be sure to remain connected with the remote members of their team.  Since virtual workers are more isolated from the center of the organization, maintaining contact via email, instant messenger, conference calls, or virtual meeting platforms, is vital to establishing effectual and successful communication and collaboration.  While technology cannot completely replace face-to-face work interactions, it can bridge the gap between the complete unknown and a reliable, trusted, albeit virtual, team member.

Virtual team leaders

Until recently, there has been noticeably less focus placed on creating effective virtual team leaders than on merely integrating talented virtual team members into preexisting organizations. The unique purpose of an effective virtual team leader is to assimilate and bond the team, convey crucial information, and essentially, be the liaison between the structural portion of the company and the virtual one.  Proper virtual leadership can be the difference between a productive long-term virtual team and a vague short-term contract.

Types of virtual teams

Different types of organizations require varied forms of virtual teamwork. Here are eight of the most common, and a brief review of the functions.

  1. Project/Product Development Teams: the original or “pioneer” virtual teams, which began to appear in the 1990s.   These groups were based on assembling topics from different areas of the globe to execute a clearly defined task with the ultimate goal of developing a new product or service.
  2. Service Teams:  generally comprised of members across several time zones, so that one can pick up where the previous member left off for the night.  These teams are most common in customer support settings.
  3. Networked Teams: are typically geographically varied, and may include contracted members from beyond the organization to construct a team based on specific types of knowledge and expertise.
  4. Functional (Work Production) Teams:  are shaped by similar members who aim to carry out singular daily work tasks.  Roles within these teams are distinct, and members usually work autonomously.
  5. Parallel Teams:  usually consist of members from the same company.  These associates maintain their main roles within the organization in addition to secondary responsibilities, which often include process reviews, troubleshooting, and recommendations.
  6. Action Teams:  are impromptu groups formed for temporary durations of time.  These members connect to offer immediate or emergency responses to a problem; then immediately disband until their services are needed again.
  7. Offshore Teams:  created by organizations choosing to subcontract or outsource segments of their workload to remote low-cost locations.  The teams who are based out of these low-cost areas synchronize with the onshore or main location of the company to produce results.
  8. Management Teams:  are formed by managers of organizations with more than one location; and are extremely common, since many companies have branch offices beyond their headquarters.  Members of these teams typically discuss corporate planning and activities.

Virtual Teams - word collage

In conclusion

It could be stated that the concept of virtual teams is relatively new in comparison to other traditional business practices, yet more organizations seem to be catching on to the functionality and cost effectiveness involved with employing virtual teams.  However, as business leaders become more educated and aware of how to circumnavigate the inevitable, yet non-prevailing, challenges associated with managing on the virtual level, the corporate world is beginning to recognize that companies who properly embrace virtual teams are no longer just paving the way of the future. They are the successful corporations of today.

Fred Coon, CEO


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