About Virtual Teams
"Virtual teams also address new workforce demographics, where the best employees may be located anywhere the world, and where workers demand increasing technological sophistication and personal flexibility. With virtual teams, organizations can build teams with optimum membership while retaining the advantages of flat organizational structure. Additionally, firms benefit from virtual teams through access to previously unavailable expertise, enhanced cross-functional interaction, and the use of systems that improve the quality of the virtual team's work."
Townsend, DeMarie and Hendrickson (1998, p. 17)
Virtual Environment Aspects
The model of Rutkowski, et al. (2002) has nine layers:
· Motivational: motivational issues relate to work-related goals, both personal goals and the project itself. Expectations, rewards and benefits are also in this layer. It is understood that these aspects are responsible for the involvement and commitment created by the participants. Motivation may be intrinsic or extrinsic, and in this model what we can observe is how extrinsic motivation and rewards are generally used. Researchers have found that goal settings in virtual teams is positively associated with cohesion, commitment, collaboration, quality of decision and number of alternatives generated. It is argued that the development of a shared vision or mission may be more hard for virtual teams, since it is often more difficult for members to establish a unified sense of purpose because of fewer interactions among members.
· Context preparation: relates to the creation of materials for a common base and the development of a cultural awareness.
· Technology: category that involves problems with access, performance and availability of the media.
· Interaction: address problems such as lack of communication for long periods. Since the technological infrastructure becomes stable and presents no barriers to participation, the observed factors that determine the team's performance were social factors by nature. The interaction increases as the motivational, context and technological issues were addressed, resulting in fewer episodes of project dissonance.
· Structure: denotes ways to reduce the variability in activities and procedural aspects of projects, as well as the use of technologies. Technology, when properly configured to support appropriate processes, can provide a degree of freedom to help multicultural teams achieve synergy and operate efficiently. The imposition of structure can help avoid chaos. It is especially important to recognize that the structure needs to be dynamically adjusted to suit the characteristics of the design phases and the composition of the team.
· Process: approach to be followed and activities such as planning. Team processes can be defined as how teams achieve their goals. They can be classified as planning processes, action processes and interpersonal processes. Planning processes encompass mission analysis, goal settings, strategy formulation, and other processes related to how to direct group efforts. Warkentin and Beranek (1999) say that planning improves the processes of interaction, trust, and commitment. Action processes are the dynamics that occur during group task performance, such as communication, participation, coordination and monitoring of group progress.
· National cultural experience: differences in behaviour or openness of communication that are accepted or tolerated by participants from different cultures.
· Professional experience: reflects different ways and methods of working.
· Creative content formation: it is associated with different opinions about the current content of the final material and where lack of integration and synergy may be the major barriers.
At the core of the model, when all the requirements of the nine layers are observed and addressed, one finds the formation of creative content.
Accordingly to Buffer 2018 Research about remote work, loneliness and how to collaborate and communicate are the workers' biggest struggles. How can we create solutions and reduce these aspects?
"The challenges detailed above have the potential to create a radically different work environment for the virtual team participant, both because of the change from face-to-face to some degree of virtual interaction, and because the virtual team is expected to operate in a different form of organization and assume new organizational roles. These changes in the work setting affect the way that team members conduct their work and how they communicate and express themselves:
* Virtual team members must learn new ways to express themselves and to understand others in an environment with a diminished sense of presence.
* Virtual team members will be required to have superior team participation skills. Because team membership will be somewhat fluid, effective teams will require members who can quickly assimilate into the team.
* Virtual team members will have to become proficient with a variety of computer-based technologies.
* In many organizations, virtual team membership will cross national boundaries, and a variety of cultural backgrounds will be represented on the team. This will complicate communications and work interactions, and will require additional team member."
Key components to a creative environment for virtual teams, Jill Nemiro (2004)
Characteristics of a creative virtual environment
Creativity can be stimulated by the work environment, where the act of sharing new ideas and suggestions is encouraged and valued, without unnecessary criticism from other members. Psychological safety and freedom, a high level of internal motivation, and the absence of a necessary external evaluation are elements that allow creativity to flourish.
What is the current role of virtual platforms? How can they be not only passive spaces of information exchange, but actively stimulate engagement and collaborative creativity?
Nemiro, in her book Creativity in Virtual Teams (2004), examines five factors that she believes are fundamental for virtual teams to achieve a high level of team creativity. At the intersection of these five elements, it would be possible for teams to achieve their highest potential for creativity.
Several factors are related not only to resources and features the platforms can offer, but to the teams' behaviours. However, it is possible to analyse whether digital platforms and environments facilitate or provide means for people to develop each one of these aspects.
In the Climate component, Nemiro (2004) describes the effort to create an environment that encourages people to work together. A creative environment includes strong connections to tasks as well as interpersonal levels among team members and appropriate conditions that support the creative process.
A virtual space that stimulates collaboration and constructive tension. Conflict is not necessarily bad and different opinions, in fact, can lead the group to think in different ways and minimize biases. Within this environment, it's necessary to take care to have a balance so the group does not act only in group agreement and does not fall in group thinking. Also allow a high degree of honesty among the members, making participants feel comfortable sharing their ideas as well as making suggestions about other people's ideas.
In this sense, technologies can make collaborative work easier, but not necessarily that will determine the success of the process.
Personal connections for creative environment
The most fundamental and basic aspect of successful creative work is building trust within the team. It is not an easy task to accomplish, especially in a virtual environment where human contact tends to be minimized.
The human aspect is essential so that the creative work can be realized, either presencial or virtually. It is not possible to ignore the social context. Building an interpersonal connection and trust between peers is crucial to achieving high levels of team creativity. As Hoefling (2008, p. 93) points out:
"Virtual teams sometimes can not become synergetic teams because they do not recognize the deep truth that most of the work is done through relationship, not task."
Teamwork is fundamentally a social experience.
Informal communication has already been pointed out as one of the central elements for the maintenance of the social fabric in the workplace, as Sam Redfern and Niall Naughton (2002) point out. This type of communication, in turn, encourages the sharing of information related to work and the development of collaborations. According to Redfern and Naughton (2002), social conversations account for twice as much communication in relation to work-related conversations. Interaction patterns show that this type of social communication provides the foundations for the community, which in turn supports the development of effective work-related and problem-solving collaboration.
In this sense, in order to create a proper environment to creativity, it is of fundamental importance to establish a connection between the team members, where it is possible to develop self and interpersonal awareness and where it is possible to perceive other styles, beliefs and standards. When thinking about virtual teams, we must take into account all good practices for creative and collaborative work in face-to-face teams, but with more rigor and emphasis. When teams are co-located, some of the information is transmitted informally or subjectively, and this hardly happens in the virtual environment. All necessary information must be explicitly communicated.
One of the barriers to establishing this environment is the level of "dehumanization" and social isolation, which creates a sense of social anonymity. Interpersonal communication goes far beyond textual and verbal content, and virtual communication often loses or weakens non-verbal elements, such as gestures, expressions, postures, among others, which leads to this dehumanization of other interlocutors.
Building a personal connection between the team members can require time, a time not always available given the deadlines and workload. However, the effort dedicated to strengthening the team is rewarded by greater collaboration among its members. Interpersonal connections lead to higher levels of information sharing and trust. It provides greater interpersonal connection, a "family" feel, a sense of connection that team members have a commitment to each other and take care of each other.
Social proximity in virtual teams needs to be stimulated because in the virtual environment it encounters more obstacles to happen. This closeness gives team members opportunities to become familiar, identify common interests, and assess interpersonal compatibility. Moreover, closeness aids trust, which encourages practitioners to be more likely to ask questions to other members they trust and feel comfortable, as it reduces the sense of expected reputation damage when a question is made or a critical answer is received. Proximity increases communication as a whole.
Another important factor is that good ideas and solutions often arise from moments where members are more relaxed. This feeling is only possible in reliable environments where alertness is minimized.
To build these connections and consequently a more functional environment, you have to keep in mind:
1 - How much contextual information do individuals need to feel connected at the interpersonal level and thus create a commitment in conjunction with the tasks and goals of the team?
2 - How many of this contextual information can be effectively communicated through the limits of time and distance?
Among the activities pointed out that may contribute to the construction of interpersonal connections, Nemiro points out:
- Meetings and face-to-face conversations - if not possible, use media rich, such as video and audio. The richer the media is in human and social elements, the more it is possible to reduce the distance and aspects of electronic communication.
- Create a space to relax and share humorous communication such as cartoons, but being careful not to share offensive pieces due to gender, diversity and cultural issues.
- Promote games and activities that strengthen the interpersonal ties of the team and their identity.
- Share information and personal interests, as well as difficulties and problems. The sharing of personal aspects, which often occurs in the informal spaces of companies, needs to be stimulated in the case of virtual teams. Despite the non-relevant aspect to work, this coexistence allows humanizing work partners and creating greater emotional bonds.
- Make time to listen to each other in a personal way.
- Provide a support network with each other.
Proximity and interpersonal connections lead to a much higher level of trust. Confidence has been studied extensively in the literature that deals with teamwork, and has been noted as a determinant factor in the effectiveness of activities requiring coordinated actions (MCALLISTER, 1995). In virtual teams, it is no different, as Martins, Gilson and Maynard (2004) points out, trust building can lessen the unfavourable impact that geographical distribution can have on psychological closeness. In this way, trust has been described as the "glue of the global work environment" (O'HARA-DEVEREAUX; JOHANSEN, 1994). If there is no trust, it is not a team.
How does confidence manifest within a team?
- A feeling that individuals will do what they have been assigned;
- Trust in information provided by other members;
- Trust that other members will make honest and constructive comments about the ideas, thoughts, and creative efforts shared electronically;
- Trust in the knowledge, experience, and ability to do the work efficiently;
- Trust that other members will maintain confidentiality about shared ideas, if requested.
It is interesting to note that both high and low performance virtual teams start working with the same level of trust, but high performance virtual teams are more able to develop and maintain high levels of trust throughout the project (KANAWATTANACHAI; , 2002). Trust is based on constant and positive experiences.
It should be emphasized that it is necessary to train members in active listening, attentive perception of non-verbal communication, empathic response, conflict resolution, interpersonal trust, and understanding of communication between different cultures.
Snowdon, Churchill and Munro (2002, p. 10):
"Conversations are crucial for negotiation and communication about collaborative activities. Collaborative work requires the negotiation not only of task-related content, but also of task structure in terms of roles and activities and task/sub-task allocations. Further, informal conversations underpin the social fabric that sustains ongoing collaborative relationships."
At the center, the individual
In the center of the digital ecosystem it was possible to identify the individual. Through the interviews was possible to map that the most relevant elements were roles people are designated or naturally assume, skills that everyone brings to the team, and the level of personal engagement in the project. These elements, often intrinsic to individuals, determine how the person will engage to the team and how much they are willing to collaborate with their peers.
The individual is at the center so behaviours and personal characteristics impact in a decisive way in the rest of the process.
The individual and interactions with the whole team
Naturally, this is the most relevant layer when we think about team work.
The moment of the relationship with your peers is when the professional has more tools available. As it was possible to identify in the conversations, much of the dynamics of collaborative work takes place through videoconferences. Videoconferencing, the resource that offers the greatest wealth of information, synchronous in nature, allows people to have a more agile communication, with less noise and misunderstandings and also promotes greater personal contact, contributing to human connections. The frequency of these conversations is also an important factor: the greater the number of relationships and contacts, the greater the chances of building the security and confidence environment, and the greater the chances for creative collaboration.
Asynchronous forms of communication or even less rich media, such as chats, e-mail, and text documents, also continue to have their space. There are tasks that require more time for reflection, a different development and the formal registration of this information. At this time, these other tools complement synchronous communication.
Another important aspect that was verified in the interviews were the individual conversations, one-on-one in the jargon, that emphasized the importance of personal contact, where it is possible for people to be more vulnerable, showing what they do not know, giving more opportunities to be heard, as opposed to large group meetings.
Finally, as has already been pointed out, the human connection does not only happen in work situations, but in different moments where people can show their other sides. In this sense, talking about subjects outside work, "gossip", are elements that arise and that yes, collaborate to foster trust between peers. The big difference between face-to-face and remote work is that while these social dynamics happen naturally in the offices, as the coffee moment or the water cooler corner, in virtual teams in general these situations still do not have a proper substitute.