Virtual teams may not be a novel idea, but new technologies are making it easier than every to collaborate with people scattered across the globe.
In a 2011 survey of Canadian and U.S. businesses by Houston–based Chronos Consulting, almost a quarter of respondents said they were deploying virtual teams to save money. Companies also found it easier to connect with global talent.
But when it comes to the virtual working environment, there’s plenty of room to improve on existing technology.
“Virtual teams function really well when they’re allowed to communicate easily,” says Andrew Gaudes, an associate professor of business at the University of New Brunswick. “When we start looking into the future, it’s going to be about how we can make communication among team members more free and easy so that the interaction is more natural,” adds Dr. Gaudes, who has worked with organizations to build virtual teams.
Noting that Skype and other video services are growing in popularity, Dr. Gaudes expects to see touch screens that allow team members in different locations to work on the same document together. He also predicts that organizations will increasingly turn to social media. “We have a greater comfort zone with communicating with people without being in the same room because of sites like Twitter and Facebook,” Dr. Gaudes says.
Dr. Gaudes joined us earlier to talk about the new far-flung workplace.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: Hello everyone.
The discussion will begin in a few moments. Feel free to punch in your questions below, right now.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: Hi Andrew. Are you there, and ready?
Comment From Andrew Gaudes: Yes I am.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: Andrew, let's start with some basics. More companies are using virtual teams, taking advantage of the best new software.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: How does social media work hand-in-hand with this concept?
Comment From Andrew Gaudes: Hi Dave. Thanks for asking. Virtual teams are really a part of everyday business for many organizations today.
Social media has been great for people feeling more comfortable with exchanges that cross time and distance.
Andrew Gaudes: People in work and in social exchanges are feeling more comfortable with brief bursts of information that are part of social media exchanges, rather than very long constructed messages to send and receive. Of course there are tradeoffs
Not everything sent has been carefully constructed (content wise).
Andrew Gaudes: The benefit is that people are getting the pulse of what is going on around them...due to free communication.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: What are some of the problems people have with communicating as a team over long distances?
Andrew Gaudes: Often you find difficulty in expressing thoughts/ideas that have universal meaning.
Team members have to be sensitive, using language that is not misconstrued by other team members. Sarcasm does not work well in a text-based environment!
Andrew Gaudes: However, we have come a long way from relying on e-mail content for messages being sent back and forth...
Skype is a great example where we are able to utilize multiple cues (signals) from each other to get greater meaning in messages.
Andrew Gaudes: Skype allows us to use text, but also audio, and of course video in our messages.
This promotes richer exchange between team members...and in real time.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: What does the future hold for this trend? What are some of the technological advances coming our way?
Andrew Gaudes: Freer communication...greater ability to work on the same document over distances. For example...
Touch screens that we can manipulate documents together.
Andrew Gaudes: Much like an iPad screen that sees manipulation by several members of the team. This will be a great platform for collaboration that involves more than text-based projects.
Design of spaces, manipulation of audio, graphic design will be great beneficiaries of this technology.
Dave M., Globe and Mail: How far away is that iPad screen that everyone can use together? Or is there an app for that right now?