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Virtual teams, tools and technologies

In this video, Dr Nick Patterson explores some of the challenges posed by virtual teams and practical ways to overcome them.
NICK PATTERSON: Due to technological innovation and changing patterns of work, virtual teams are now one, if not the most common, type of team. Hi, everyone. I’m Nick Patterson, lecturer and director of the professional practise programme in IT at Deakin University. A virtual team is a group of interdependent members who work together on a common task while they’re geographically separated. Virtual teams can do all the things that other teams can do, but there are some challenges. First, it’s harder to read people in a virtual setting. Non-verbal communication is the most powerful form of communication at our disposal. And when you can’t see the person you’re communicating with, it’s impossible to interpret their body language.
It’s even harder when you can’t hear the tone of someone’s voice, which is why miscommunication via text or email is so common. Has someone ever misread your information in a text or email? I know this has happened to me a bunch of times. Second, there is limited social contact between virtual team members. Social contact and shared experiences are two important ways that teams develop trust and understanding. These experiences also contribute to the culture that is specific to the team. As such, it’s harder to form team cohesion, which is an important part of team effectiveness. For these reasons, utilising technology to work and manage teams is very critical.
Some of the tools and technologies that you can use to overcome these challenges include digital software for team collaboration, project management, and video conferencing. There are many different products out there you can find for free, so have a hunt around and find the right ones that will serve you best.
Due to technological innovation and changing patterns of work, virtual teams are now one, if not the, most common type of team.
In this video, Nick Patterson explores some of the challenges posed by virtual teams and practical ways to overcome them.
A virtual team is group of interdependent members who work together on a common task while they are geographically separated.
Members of a virtual team are physically diverse and rely on information and communication technology to connect them. Virtual teams allow organisations to overcome ‘time and space’ constraints and also provide flexibility for team members.
Virtual teams may need to work harder to establish norms and form bonds, but there are some simple digitally-enabled ways to do this.

Tips for working in virtual teams

The most important attribute for any team, including virtual teams, is a shared understanding of goals, responsibilities and outcomes. Here are some tips for achieving this.
  • Build a strong team identity with clear norms and goals
    • This can be done by using tools collaborative project management tools like Trello, which allows you to assign tasks to specific team members.
  • Share some personal information so team members can identify with each other as people
    • It doesn’t have to be private information, but could include some detail about each team member’s family, hobbies or interests. This could be achieved through tools like professional networking tools such as LinkedIn or – for more non-work-related information – social media platforms such as Facebook.
  • Share information about day-to-day activities so there are ongoing shared experiences and interaction
  • Identify and share essential knowledge across sites by keeping communication channels open and free-flowing
    • This can be performed by using collaborative team tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack.
  • Encourage periodic face-to-face meetings wherever possible to enhance social cohesion
  • Provide easy access to and support for video conferencing and other online communication, which is the lifeblood of virtual teams
    • Try using free video conferencing tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Not everyone likes working in virtual teams, but they are a reality of the increasingly global and digitally connected world many of us work in.

Your task

Watch this video to hear Nick discuss some of the challenges faced by virtual teams and how you can use digital tools and technologies to enhance your virtual team’s effectiveness.
When you’re done, use the comments to discuss your thoughts about virtual teams. For example:
  • What do you think about virtual teams? In particular, what benefits do you think they may offer?
  • Do you work in virtual team? If so, what challenges do you face and what have you done to overcome them?
  • If you haven’t worked in a virtual team, what concerns do you have? Would any of the tools suggested by Nick help you? Why or why not?
You may also want to check out some of the tools suggested by Nick by taking a look at the ‘see also’ links listed below.
Could you use any of these tools in your current professional context?
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