While a virtual team has many advantages over a physical one, it is far from perfect. Much of the documentation today which is available on teams focuses on the traditional team, the group of people that work together in the same location with the goal of finishing a specific project.
The concept of a virtual team is relatively new; it is a byproduct of the Information Age, and didn’t exist to a large scale prior to the 1990s. The key factor which separates the virtual team from the physical one is that within the virtual team, the members are separated from each other not only by space, but by time as well. What this means is that the challenges that a virtual team may face will be vastly different from the challenges encountered by a more traditional team.
The discipline which is required to succeed with a virtual team is equal to that of the physical one. For instance, both team types need clear decision making systems, meetings which are planned, and the ability to solve problems and designate roles and responsibilities.
The dividing line between the two is the complexity which is involved in the implementation of discipline within the virtual team. The truth of the matter is that at the most basic level, virtual teams are harder to create when compared to traditional teams, and they also more challenging to maintain. One challenge that virtual teams face is communication which is inconsistent.
Some studies have indicated that as much as 80% of the communication that occurs among humans are things other than the actual words that are used. People often say more with their bodies and facial expressions than they ever say with words. Some of these things include body language, voice tone, and the speed in which a person speaks.
The biggest problem with the Internet is that non-verbal communication is essentially non-existent. Whether you’re communicating by email, through a chat room, or via a message board, the reality is that it is challenging for you to cue in on how a person really feels about a project, or whether or not they’re serious.
Because non-verbal communication doesn’t currently exist in the digital world, this means that misinterpretations may occur when it comes to communication. The words that one person writes in an email might be interpreted differently by the others who read it.
In business, effective communication is absolutely critical, and if team members are not able to properly communicate with each other, there is a good chance that the project will end in disaster. The second challenge which is prevalent among virtual teams is a reduced ability to construct relationships. With virtual teams, there is very little casual communication that exists among the members of the team.
Limited Ability to Build Relationships
The biggest thing which separates members of a virtual team from traditional team members is that with virtual teams, there isn’t a lot of time to get to know the other members on a personal basis. Unlike physical teams, things tend to be highly perfunctory. There may be cases where teammates work together on multiple projects without ever getting a chance to know more about the people they work with.
While some may argue that the knowledge of these personal details is irrelevant, the facts actually show that team members that do know more personal information about each other tend to be more cohesive and effective. While building relationship in a virtual team is possible, it takes a lot more work.
Distant Communication Complexity
With a virtual team, things that would be simple for a traditional team can be a lot more difficult. For example, with a traditional team, scheduling a meeting is relatively easy, since the members tend to live in the same geographical area.
With a virtual team, assembling the same meeting is a lot more difficult. For example, with a virtual team, you will have time zone issues to deal with. If one of the members of your team is in Singapore, and the other member is in St. Louis, one will be sleeping while the other is awake, so this makes putting together a team meeting extremely difficult.