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The way companies are structured has changed as technology has grown. We frequently see companies reorganizing their teams into virtual teams, also known as geographically dispersed teams (GDT). This allows people in different countries to collaborate on a single project. Like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to this style of team and it is not for every business. Is it right for yours?

In the past, it was believed that efficiency had a direct connection with proximity. The idea was held that the more face-time a manager was able to provide their team the more productive they would be. Managers are realizing that this may not be true, and that building a team out of people that work well together and have very targeted skill sets can yield a far more significant result. Another strong factor impacting productivity can be the mindset of the individuals the group is made up of. Some individuals are encouraged by their personal desire to learn more so as to further their careers; this self-motivation is a trait that works well in a virtual team environment. Individuals who are motivated by social interactions or by the desire to avoid negative feedback may not be a good fit for a virtual team.

For some businesses, it can be practical make use of virtual teams.  Many companies, large and small, have embraced this innovative organizational technique. Obviously businesses that require people to physically interact to perform a task, such as construction, aren't candidates for virtual teams. If you think implementing virtual teams as an enterprise wide strategy or smaller capacity is a good fit for your company, here are a few things to think about.
 
Advantages

 

  • Recruitment based on expertise not proximity
  • Team members can work during the times when they operate most efficiently
  • Teams are comprised of members that are self-motivated and self-driven
  • More accommodation for team members’ personal and professional lives
  • No commuting time or expense
  • Reduced overhead, as there is no physical location
  • IT expenses are lowered as most teams use web-based tools for collaboration
  • Managers can better assess the team’s efficiency because there are less social pressures


Disadvantages

  • Less social interaction, which may be a demotivator for many people
  • Loss of trust among team members if there is not assurance that everyone is pulling their own weight
  • Creativity might be stifled, as the physical dynamics are lost
  • Team members may overwork themselves as managers can not physically see the amount of time each task takes
  • Managers may lose track of the team’s progress, i.e. out of site out of mind


Virtual teams interact through a variety of technology including email, audio and video conferencing, and file sharing programs such as Google Docs. Below are a few programs that can assist teams who interact remotely.

  • Go to meetings – a relatively inexpensive way to have remote meetings
  • Yammer – a exclusive social network for companies that allows quick communication and interaction
  • Drop Box – a free way to share files
  • Second Life – allows for interactive meetings with the use of avatars


If you want more information on virtual teams in action, check out the articles below: 
http://www.theanywhereoffice.com/mobile-work/telework-viritual-teams-midmarket-companies.htm
http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/19/virtual-teams-meetings-leadership-managing-cooperation.html
http://www.openforum.com/articles/7-effective-tools-for-managing-a-virtual-team
 

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