In today’s fast-paced world, with streamlined development of IT and telecommunication technologies, it can be said that we live in a virtual world. The existence of social media platforms like skype, Facebook, Instagram, e.t.c, which ensure one stays connected with his/her dispersed acquaintances or even makes new friends without having to leave the comfort of your room, provide the social platforms for this ‘virtual world’ to exist. When these groups of people come together for a mutual cause or purpose with a shared vision, they form not just a ‘team’ but what we call today a ‘virtual team’.
The world is continuously evolving and changing, once-local companies are now becoming virtual companies. A virtual team is no longer an oddity. With the help of advancements in technology, organizations have realized that the search for talents doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to their local community. A virtual team is gradually becoming the norm. Also, since the onset of the recent coronavirus pandemic, an increasing number of people have begun working from home when possible which has boosted the whole virtual trend. It is clear that virtual teams are here to stay.
What Is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team in simple words means a group of people working together without being physically together. They are also referred to as a distributed team, geographically dispersed team, or remote team. Though they can be located in the same physical space or area, virtual teams are mostly located and work remotely in different parts of the city, state, country, or even on the other side of the world.
They are a group of workers who communicate and work together using digital tools such as project management software, to communicate and collaborate. They rely on communication technology such as email, instant messaging, mobile IoT, and video or voice conferencing services in order to share information, cooperate, and collaborate.
Virtual teams allow companies to procure the best talent without geographical restrictions. However, because of the distance between members of virtual teams, it is important that they develop trust in the group and foster good communications to avoid misunderstandings and increase chances of success.
Types of Virtual Teams
There are various types of virtual teams, depending on the duration, objective, goals, and roles of the team members. They include:
1. Networked teams
A networked team is a group usually formed with cross-functional members brought together to share their expertise and knowledge to achieve a common goal. The team is generally formed with employees or members from different organizations, that is both within and outside a single company. Membership in a networked team is fluid, that is, people are added whenever it is necessary or removed depending on what tasks are required and which tasks have been completed. The duration these teams last may vary significantly depending on how fast or slow the issue is resolved. These types of teams are often used by technology and consulting companies that serve a range of international clients that occasionally require specific needs that can’t be met by their company alone.
2. Parallel teams
Unlike networked teams, parallel teams are formed by individuals of the same organization. These individuals are assigned to address a problem or system and develop recommendations for its improvement. Parallel teams are very productive in a multinational company where employees are from diverse parts of the world. For instance, when a problem or question arises in one branch of the company, parallel teams can be formed by members of each branch, allowing them to bring in their area of expertise to help solve the problem. This not only introduces multiple unique perspectives but also encourages cooperation and collaboration between the different branches of the company.
A Parallel team also helps in bringing together a wide range of expertise and viewpoints. Though parallel teams are usually formed for a short period of time, their membership is constant, that is, members of a parallel team remain intact until the goal is realized.
3. Product development teams
Product development teams are very similar to networked teams because they are also made up of individuals with expert knowledge on certain topics that are geographically distributed and may operate from different time zones who come together to achieve a common goal. However, unlike networked teams, project development teams are mainly focused on creating new products, information systems or organizational processes for users and/or customers. For instance, if a company seeks to venture into designing and creating new and unique products, a product development team could help their business become more innovative and creative.
They also exist longer than parallel teams and have the added ability to make decisions rather than just make recommendations. Similar to networked teams, project development teams may also add or remove members of their team at any given time, as needed for their area of expertise.
4. Production teams
Production teams are made up of members who work independently on specific roles to complete ongoing, day-to-day tasks. Each member of the team works independently on their clearly defined roles or tasks. When combined, the individual outputs of each member contribute to a larger project or goal. These teams often work together for an extended period of time and are given a new project or goal to work toward once the first has been completed. Examples of organizations that could make great use of production teams include; marketing firms, Editing studios and software development companies.
5. Freelance teams
The combination of a production team and a networked team makes up a freelance team. These people work together for varying durations, completing individual tasks and jobs that contribute to a larger goal. They usually consist of creative individuals, such as writers, editors, and graphic designers, who work together for varied durations and are usually hired on the basis of needs.
6. Service teams
Service teams are made up of people who are geographically located in different time zones and are Most commonly assigned to a particular service such as customer support, network upgrades, data maintenance, and so on.
Service teams offer continual service as each team works on providing the particular service in their daylight hours and at the end of day, work is assigned to the next team which operates in a different time zone so that someone is handling the service 24 hours a day. For instance, when one group on the East coast finishes their day of work, the other group on the West coast can pick up where they left off. With this system, there is always someone on the other end of the line for the customers.
7. Action teams
Action teams are formed for a very short duration and are made up of experts who are tasked with responding to an immediate problem. Action teams are dissolved immediately after the tasks are completed. Action teams are mostly used by companies and organizations that need an immediate solution to a problem
8. Management teams
Management teams are made up of administrative staff of the same organization or company who work in different geographical regions. These teams mainly discuss corporate-level strategies and goals that their staff will implement. This type of virtual team helps companies that have offices in different widespread locations to keep their managerial staff in communication with each other and also boost their efficiency.
9. Offshore ISD teams
Offshore information systems development (ISD) teams are independent service provider teams that a company can subcontract fractions of work to. They are primarily formed by a parent company and a smaller company. The smaller company is hired by the parent company to complete sections of work and is usually found in locations around the world that are considered low-cost. Offshore ISD is commonly used for software development as well as international R&D projects.
Today almost all industry sectors varying from construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and automotive to retail and non-profit are benefiting from the virtual teams. Since almost all major functions or job roles like R&D, sales, engineering, finance, logistics, and HR can be performed in a virtual environment.
However, because virtual team members have limited or, no face-to-face interactions, it throws a myriad of challenges such as technological issues, communication issues, management problems and poor team bonding. Hence, for the success of virtual teams, it is important to overcome cultural differences, communication barriers, power struggles, and conflict to build trust, collaboration, and commitment among the team members. This can be achieved through effective leadership coupled with the right strategies, processes, and tools. With these in place, organizations and companies can benefit greatly from this new-age trend of virtual teams.
These benefits includes the fact that virtual teams create a more equal workplace, discouraging age, race, and disability discrimination by making individuals to interact with others whose differences challenge their assumptions. Physically disadvantaged employees are also able to participate more in teams where communication is virtual, where they may not have previously been able due to physical limitations of an office or other workspace. Virtual teams also save travel time and cost for businesses with multiple locations or that have clients located in multiple places. Which directly translates to saved costs for a company.