Virtual Team: Types of Virtual Teams

Virtual Team Definition

Virtual team is a group of people who work together with a common purpose but are not located in the same place. It may be a team of employees who work in different offices or people who work from their homes. As technological advances have made video conferencing, email, and other forms of communication possible, the virtual team has become more popular. Working virtually may also be referred to as working remotely, telecommuting, or in some situations, working from home.

Generally virtual teams are formed for either finding solution to critical problems, development of a new product/service and the problems of similar difficulty level.

Advantages of Virtual Teams

  1. Cost savings: The biggest advantage of virtual team enjoyed by an organization is the associated cost savings. The organization can do away with huge expenses on office spaces, utilities bills such as gas, electricity, water etc.
  2. Leverage Global Talent: Virtual Teams allows organizations to look for talent beyond their country of origin. This brings together the experts and specialists from across the globe to work together on the project. Increased knowledge sharing and greater innovation happens as organization’s human capital share their understanding of global and local markets as well as best business practices.
  3. Increased Productivity & Higher Profits: Members of virtual teams tend to have higher focus on the task at hand. As a practice virtual team supports flatter organization structure. The members do not have to deal with unnecessary bureaucracy which slows down the decision making. This enhances the productivity which shows as higher profits.
  4. Reduced Time to Market: Since the members span the time zones, there could be different team working on the same project 24*7, so when one member sleeps there will be another one somewhere else who would start work where the former had left. This shortens the product development time as well as faster response time to demands in both global and local markets.
  5. Newer Opportunities: If we see at larger societal level, virtual teams have created newer opportunities for people who are less mobile and hesitant to relocate due to either family requirement or physical challenge. Now any task that does not require the physical presence of a person and which can be supported by communication technology throws an opportunity for many deserving candidates.

Disadvantages of Virtual Teams

  1. Cost of Technology:  The successful working of virtual team is supported by the efficient use of multiple communication technologies such as instant messaging, emails and video-conferencing, among others. No one tool can provide the complete support. The cost associated with these installation and maintenance tools is little on the higher side.
  2. Conflicts, Lack of Trust & Collaboration: The cultural differences between the members of virtual teams gives rise to number of conflicts. For example, while an American would write a straightforward email describing a bad situation, this would be perceived as impolite by a South Asian (say Japanese) member of the team. This would lead to conflicts, mistrust and difficulties in fruitful collaboration which is so vital for the success of virtual team functioning. These challenges are also precipitated by the absence of non-verbal cues so intrinsic to face-to-face interactions.
  3. Social Isolation: Many members of virtual teams are adversely affected by the lack of physical interactions. Most of the communications in virtual environment is task-oriented. In today’s society where job is an important social force for most of us because many of our workplace colleagues also constitute our close friends, this gives a not-so-good feeling of social isolation. This in turn counter-effects productivity as well as leads to stress.

Types of Virtual Teams

  1. Networked Teams: In this team, the team members are geographically dispersed and may have members from outside the organizations. The members are often people with different expertise and plays cross functional role so as to solve a specific issue. Very often the people whose role has been finished leave the team. This type of virtual team is seen in consulting business and technology firms.
  2. Parallel Teams: These teams are forms of the members working within the organization. Apart from looking after the primary responsibilities members are given added responsibilities to take care of which they have to handle parallel and hence the name parallel team. The team is intact till the end and no one leaves in between. Parallel teams are used in companies of R&D, Sales and marketing, wherein all the team members put forth their views and perspective to achieve the determined goal.
  3. Project or Product Development Teams: The classic virtual teams which were developed as early as 1990s. These were actually the pioneer in the development of virtual teams. The project or product development virtual teams are composed of subject matter experts brought together from different parts of the globe to perform a clearly outlined task involving development of a new product, information system or organizational process, with specific and measurable deliverable. For example Whirlpool brought together a team of experts from United States, Brazil and Italy for a period of 2 years to develop a chlorofluorocarbon-free refrigerator. Like network teams their membership is also fluid but unlike parallel teams, these can take decisions and not just recommendations. These are typically found in R&D division of the product-based companies.
  4. Work, Production or Functional Teams: These are formed when members of one role come together to perform single type of ongoing day-to-day work. Here members have clearly defined role and work independently. All of the members’ work combine together to give the end solution. For example, in order to reduce cost many organizations are outsourcing their back-end HR operations or even for that matter the recruitment agencies form functional virtual teams for their clients.
  5. Service Teams: Have you ever wondered how organizations like Vodafone, Make My Trip etc are able to provide customer support 24/7.  This has been made possible by the service virtual teams. Service virtual teams have members across difference time zones therefore when one member in Asia goes to sleep, the other member in America wakes up to answer your queries. This is the basic model of service teams which are formed of members spread across widely distinct geographic locations and though each member works independently but they together perform work in continuation. It is like relay race where one takes baton from the other and run the race. These are effective as technical and customer support teams.
  6. Action Teams: are actually ad-hoc teams formed for a very short duration of time. Members of action team are brought together to provide immediate response to a problem and they disperse as soon s the problem is resolved. NASA forms a virtual action team consisting of leaders sitting in NASA headquarters in Houston, astronauts in space shuttle, engineers & scientists in different locations across the globe for a successful space mission.
  7. Management Teams: Formed by managers of an organization who works from different cities or countries. These members largely get together to discuss corporate level strategies and activities. These are applicable to almost organizations which has office in more than one location.
  8. Offshore ISD Teams: Many companies subcontract or outsource portions of their software development work to a low-cost global location like India, Philippines etc. The team based out of this low-cost location is called offshore team which coordinates and collaborates with onshore team i.e. the main team of the company to deliver results. This model is applicable to software development and outsourcing organizations.