What is a virtual group?
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Thomas P. Wise, author of Trust in Virtual Teams, writes that virtuality is a critique of how work gets done.
Before I read the book I thought of a virtual team as a team that was spread over multiple locations. If the team is physically located together, they aren’t virtual.
Wise however sees it differently. Wise believes there are many ways to define a virtual group, and that location is only one.
What is a virtual group?
A virtual team is one that is either
Geographically separated – not in the same location
Dependent on technology to communicate most of their time.
If you communicate mainly through Zoom, webex or email, you can still be in the same office with your colleagues.
This is pretty much the case for most of my virtual teams.
Let’s take a closer look at these criteria.
You can spend more time working together with your team in the same place, and the less you rely on electronic email and other forms of computer-mediated communication. This will make your team less virtual.
The bonding of a virtual team at the start of a project is also affected by geography. The more experience people have in working with virtual teams, the better they are at it. They also tend to be more comfortable starting from a trusting place which helps build trust quickly.
Wise states that offshore outsourcing companies that work only in this manner tend to be very efficient at getting the job done because they have a lot of experience working with teams that are not located in the same place.
They trust others and assume the same working methods that are used in virtual teams. However, team members who have never worked with virtual teams before will need to take some time to get comfortable with this new approach.
Team conflict can also manifest differently due to geographical distance. This is something project managers need to be aware of, as it can be difficult to spot.
It can be difficult to manage a team member who has a negative attitude if you are far away.
You may not realize how to manage team conflict until it is too late.
Wise states, “Virtuality is measured in the way team members work together, not in the place they work.” “Communication is often regarded as a sign of team virtuality.”
This is something I didn’t think of, but I’m sure that you have worked in an office where the majority of the team spends time instant messaging and emailing each other even though they could walk up to the person’s desk.
Wise reports that 70% of people believe that over half of their communication is electronic. If this is true, then it means that there are many teams who are physically located together and are using a virtual team approach.
Wise adds another criteria to make a team virtual: culture.
I don’t think the book does a good job of explaining the culture aspect.
Wise states that young people have a unique culture, which I agree with. However, I would go so far as to say that each age group has its own culture, as Larry Johnson and Meagan Johns explain in their book, Generations, Inc.
Wise does not explain why culture makes virtual teams, but he does include it in the chapter on virtual teams. Wise does mention that culture is measured by the extent to which we find teammates like ourselves.
This could mean that team members who are not in the same place as us aren’t ‘like us’ and it makes it harder to build a relationship.
Given that workplaces are often multicultural and diverse, and that we should be looking for opportunities for diversity, virtual teams can be defined as those that include ‘others’.