Degree of Virtuality in Virtual Teams

Most of the discussion about the virtual teams is centered around 100% virtual teams i.e. pure virtual team. Earlier only the extent of geographical distribution of team was used to determine the virtuality of teams. But now more and more research is being conducted to look at other dimensions which affect the level of virtuality. If we look at the present workplace scenario, there is rarely any team which fits the definition of a pure co-located team or that of a pure virtual team. Virtuality is a continuum in which the pure co-located team and pure virtual team represents the two extremes. Most of the current teams fall in between these two extremes.

  • Dependency on the Virtual Means of Communication comes across the first and underlying factor to determine the level of virtuality. On one end there are pure co-located teams which interact solely through face-to-face interactions while on the other end there are pure virtual teams which interact through ICT only. In between the two lies the real-world teams where sometimes geographically dispersed members get to meet at an offsite location or those co-located colleagues interact through instant messenger while one is on long term work-from-home arrangement. So the higher the extent of use of virtual means of communication, the higher is the level of virtuality.

  • Value of Information Provided by the Communication Tool - There are number of information and communication tools available in workplace such as email, videoconferencing, instant messaging, phone, group chats etc. Each tool has its own capacity to convey the information. For example videoconferencing enables members to see each other and it gives a feeling of a boardroom meeting thus it involves a low level of virtuality whereas email enables members to only share written information thus it involves high level of virtuality. So the richer the communication media, the lower is the level of virtuality.

  • Synchronicity of Information Exchange depicts whether the information is exchanged on real-time or with a time lag. The time lag could happen because of difference in time zones, need to research before responding etc. If the members are engaged in real-time exchange of information as with videoconferencing or instant messaging, it is as good as face-to-face interactions, thus the level of virtuality is low. While in case of asynchronous information exchange, there is interruption in interactions, this result in higher level of virtuality.

In addition to the above three there are other factors such as number and location of work sites as well as the types of culture and languages of virtual team members.

Conclusion

Thus we see that virtuality of a team is largely interplay of these three dimensions. Various combinations of these three dimensions results in the different levels of virtuality on the continuum. A highly virtual team is one in which members are located in opposite time zones, hence they use only emails for communication plus there is a time lag between each response, then such a team has high level of virtuality. The members of this team never get to understand the personality, body language and non-verbal cues of each other. Based on our understanding of the level of virtuality, we can customize and deploy the essential strategies to build an effective virtual team.


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