Wide range of industries employ virtual teams for various research and product designs, project development, including software development, and customer support of all levels. Usually, they are located in different parts of the world to guarantee around-the-clock work. Geographical and cultural diversity of the team members allows assigning the most qualified employees to any project. While virtual teams communicate using the latest technologies, their interaction is often complicated without physical presence. Research has demonstrated that virtual teams often find distribution of tasks, priorities settings and decision-making to be difficult. Lack of clear roles and engagement can influence the successful performance of such teams. However, comparing both environments, it is obvious that virtual teams can operate effectively and no less smoothly than face-to face teams on condition of proper management. The articles published in professional journals are investigated in this research.
The 21st century has brought about many opportunities and challenges for organizations. Increased globalization has enabled companies to access new markets, and advances in communication technologies are bridging the gap between locations.
“Virtual teams are groups of individuals collaborating in the execution of a specific project, while located at multiple individual sites or multiple group sites” (Andres, 2002). The idea of employing virtual teams has been brought to life by various needs of organizations. The main purpose of hiring virtual employees is to have the projects done fast and cheap. Utilizing different skills of remote team members that are located worldwide becomes possible with proper management. Successful virtual teams incorporate multiple skills into a joint team of qualified experts needed to solve professional problems effectively.
The purpose of this systematic review is to delve into the question of if virtual teams can perform as well, as face-to-face teams.
For this systematic review a mix of theoretical, empirical, and review articles were used. This was used to provide a clear and collected picture of the question posed.
To improve the validity of the review, only peer-reviewed journals were allowed. Doctoral dissertations were not allowed in the review. Every article found was rated on 5 scales. These scales considered how current the information is, which is important because advances in globalization and communication technology are changing rapidly. The research has evaluated relevancy and accuracy of the source. Studies were found using Proquest and PsychInfo. These are both credible sources of information. Furthermore, all studies were looked at for any overt design problems. The studies using real-life example were given more value.
In total, 57 articles were found; only 20 of them were analyzed in details. The list of references were used provide the complete information on the articles used.
The studies reviewed had a number of shortcomings that had to be further discussed. So, all conclusions cannot be considered final and demand more research.
Firstly, only several studies developed a research in a real-work context. Furthermore, the studies were conducted in different age groups, for example, a research of 19 to 25 years old. The problem is that these generations of young adults is much more technically educated than older generation, which means different results might ensure when virtual teams are taken to the real world. The research involved different cultural and ethnical groups, so the findings might not be applicable universally.
After analysis of the studies, it became clear that most researches pointed that virtual teams can be equally effective to face-to-face teams on condition of careful initial planning. Although, face-to-face teams have a shared interaction, which is often more effective than communication in virtual teams, advanced technologies make virtual communication no less successful. While facial expression or tone of voice can change the general atmosphere and fasten the decision-making, videoconferencing and computer-mediated communication were found no less successful. The issue of trust became apparent in one study. It is a responsibility of every manager to optimize and nurture one's investments in communication technologies in accordance with task interdependence. The overall team structure must be well-known, and each team member must understand his or her role in the context of the project. (Caetano, 2011) While one of the biggest challenges in managing remotely is the lack of face-to-face communication, final outcome of virtual teams was found more accurate. It should be noted that virtual teams are usually more successful when individuals share common ethnicity, culture, and beliefs. Virtual teams tend to be less effective, when they involve representatives of different countries and nationalities. While, no agreement on advantage of working in the face-to-face setting was reached, it is stated that personal communication leads to greater team productivity, perceived interaction quality, and group process satisfaction than in the video-conferencing supported setting.
One of the reasons that prompted virtual team’s employment is the immergence of technology. New technologies in areas of communications, such as e-mailing, chatting and videoconferencing, make the communication of remote employees possible. Advanced computerized technologies have allowed business executives to hold business meetings with their team members at extremely low costs. All stages of successful project implementation, including “generation of the idea, information exchange, problem-solving, clarification of efforts, conflict resolution, negotiation, and decision making” are now possible, disregarding the actual location of virtual team members (Andres, 2002). According to Driskell, virtual team is the “one in which interdependent group members work together on a common task while they are spatially separated” (Driskell, Radtke and Salas, 2003). With information technology playing a greater role in the daily operations of organizations today, virtual workplaces are beginning to replace the traditional office environment of cubicles and office buildings. International organizations have seen significant increase in business in the past decade, due to globalization and widespread use of technology. “Technological mediation can make it more difficult to communicate information to others, and to interpret the communications of others” (Driskell, Radtke and Salas, 2003). They reach a conclusion that contextual information in computerized communications often results in dif?cult mutual understanding and knowledge. Thus, virtual teams face confusion among the members of the team and drawbacks in their performance. Moreover, the emphasize difficulties in “text-only communications rather than for text–audio and for audio–video communications” (Driskell, Radtke and Salas, 2003). They also make a big difference in project types, demonstrating that social and persuasive projects require interpersonal skills, while technical or logical tasks imply greater instrumental requirements.
Kirkman and others investigated the connection between the team empowerment and virtual team performance. They studied peculiarities of 35 sales and service virtual teams’ interaction in a high-technology organization. “Team empowerment was positively related to two independent assessments of virtual team performance process improvement and customer satisfaction” (Kirkman, 2004). They came to a conclusion that the number of meetings, when employees interact face-to-face, can moderate the relationship between the team members and make the process more effective. “Team empowerment was a stronger predictor for teams that met face-to-face less, rather than more frequently.” (Kirkman, 2004) However, they also admit that no influence on customer’s satisfaction had been proven. More empowered teams work better to satisfy their customers, regardless of the number of time they meet. Kirkman insists on further researching of the problem, since various teams have different success drivers.
Hayward P. Andres compared software development teams that worked virtually and face-to face. Software development is a collaborative activity aimed at problem-solving. Its success is highly dependent on information acquisition, sharing and integration. So, the minimization of communication problems is critically important. Andres investigated the impact of videoconferencing technology on software development projects and effective outcomes of dispersed software development teams (Andres, 2002). The results that he reached demonstrate that innovative approach promoting comfortable information exchange with the help of videoconferencing results “in collaborative problem-solving by virtual project team members” (Andres, 2002). While face-to-face meetings are preferable, the videoconferencing significantly lowers the expanses through cutting travel time and costs. Andres implies that, “future research should address the potential of various communication technologies (e.g. desktop videoconferencing) in the construction of ‘virtual teams’ and ‘virtual organizations’” (Andres, 2002). Such advanced technologies could make some collaboration that was impossible, and reduce the time and expenses of joint ventures. Andres further says that new “organizational forms will be able to access highly-skilled professionals that have been traditionally inaccessible because of both temporal and physical boundaries” (Andres, 2002).
Z.Guo in “Improving the Effectiveness of Virtual Teams” demonstrates that there is vital importance of understanding that improved relations in virtual teams for the project success. The study was “conducted in the Chinese cultural context, a collectivistic culture that values consensus” (Guo, 2009), and investigated the meaning of the dialogue technique for shared understanding in Chinese virtual teams. The study proved that virtual team relational development and decision outcomes can be enhanced. The results demonstrated the importance of the dialogue technique for developing team relations. Z.Guo is confident that, “video-conferencing virtual teams with shared mental models may be engaged as effectively as traditional face-to-face teams” (Guo, 2009). The article proved that effective communication strongly influences decision-making. It gives theoretical and practical implications for helping both face-to-face teams and virtual ones.
According to “Computer-mediated instruction”, Tutty argues that, “students in the face-to-face condition performed significantly better on the individual posttest than those in the virtual online condition. Findings suggest that both virtual and face-to-face collaboration can be effective in achieving learning goals.” (Tutty, 2007) The articles insist that group composition is truly important for forming collaborative teams. “Regardless of the mode of collaboration, pairing two lower-ability students has a negative impact on learning facts and procedures and on solving problems” (Tutty, 2007). Since online and distance education is in demand, it is obvious that more students have to master working collaboratively, and use computer-mediated instruction. The authors insist on further research of successful techniques.
Pridmore and Plillips-Wren in “Assessing decision making quality” suggest that advanced tools used for virtual teams can be very effective for operating the environment of the teams.
“New product development decision-making effectiveness” describes the results of 2 decision-making experiments with 411 subjects. Their research examined the effectiveness of the decisions made regarding the new product development. The virtual team was electronically communicating, since they were geographically and temporally dispersed. “Findings suggest that teams make more effective decisions than individuals and virtual teams make the most effective decisions” (Schmidt, 2001). According to the article, virtual teams performed most effectively; face-to-face teams were next the most effective, and individuals were the least effective in NPD project continuation decisions. “The virtual teams communicated solely through Lotus Notes discussion databases, an asynchronous groupware technology” (Schmidt, 2001).
In “Supporting virtual team-building with a GSS”, W. Huang proves that, “with goal-setting structure, virtual teams and face-to-face teams did not differ in terms of team commitment and collaborative climate” (Huang, 2003).
Redman and Sankar in “Results of an experiment” describe the results demonstrated by two classes (Louisiana State University and Auburn University) that were spitted into virtual teams, which communicated using the Microsoft NetMeeting and face-to-face teams. The article states that face-to-face teams are more successful after “comparing virtual team performance with face-to-face teams, the time spent on the project by both types of teams, team members' understanding of the purpose and mission, and team members satisfaction with their experience” (Redman, 2003). The authors provided practical recommendations on running virtual teams, since they admitted that virtual teams had a great potential but “took a great deal more planning and initial effort” (Redman,2003).
On another note, advances in communications technology appear very frequently; therefore, it is crucial to stay up-to-date with these findings, as future developments can completely change how virtual teams operate.
There is no black and white decision to the problem. On the one hand, “virtual teams tend to experience greater and more diverse conflict compared to co-located teams” (Wakefield, 2008). On the other hand, it is recognized that virtual teams can work effectively on condition of creating appropriate communication (Hansen, 2004) (Rhiannon, 2010). S. Knouse develops the idea by emphasizing importance of “partnerships, fluid and flexible boundaries, focused business processes, broad-based skill mixes, decentralized teams, and complex connectivity to information networks” (Knouse, 2003).
However, when distances are involved, cultural differences play a crucial role. Since virtual teams often consist of members from different nations and countries, a global virtual team might be very challenging for any organization. Mentality and thinking models are always influenced by cultural background, so operating global virtual teams is difficult, since different cultural values are to be considered. It still remains unknown whether some advanced communication techniques can assist in establishing shared understanding and thinking models among virtual team members. So, it is obvious that further research is required to check how computerized communication helps virtual teams best manage their cultural differences, in order to develop empowered team mental models. Since video-conferencing is widely used by many organizations, employing virtual teams, a detailed study of video-conferencing usage for virtual communication is vitally important. Results of numerous studies show that virtual teams with improved shared understanding get better outcomes of team meetings, which approach the quality of traditional face-to-face teams.
Data of the research of the teams operating both face-to-face and virtually was used to prove, that although virtual teams take longer to make a decision, their decisions are more accurate in comparison to face-to-face teams. The results of the research suggest that virtual teams can be very effective with the use of advanced technologies and considerate management.
Despite the fact of the growing popularity of employing virtual teams by various organizations, it is still hardly studied about influence of the personality traits on the effectiveness of virtual teams, in comparison to face-to-face teams.
Another important feature of further study is distinguishing among different types of virtual teams. The key point for this research is complexity of the task or project to be developed. It is obvious that leadership challenges of virtual teams are determined by the underlying characteristics of such teams and different types of the tasks performed. Leadership issues demand a serious study.
Although, some most common problems in virtual communication have already been researched, this question is still to be investigated, in order to develop the most appropriate solution. Among such problems, the following are the most popular: the information may be distributed unevenly among the members of the virtual teams, wrong interpretation of actions of the team members occurs, timely feedback is not always received. However, most of the studies imply that quality of the team performance and progress highly depends on the shared mental models. So, the successful management of the virtual teams should avoid mixing diverse backgrounds for short-term virtual teams. Although, operating virtual teams globally can be effective with further research.