Mapping The Virtual Team Ecosystem

OVERVIEW

It’s been calculated 1.3 billion people work remotely today. That’s about 17% of the world’s total population of 7+bn people. By 2020, it’s projected that one-third or more of the world’s labor force will work remotely. In the USA alone there will likely be about 100m remote workers. Virtual teaming is being used in practically every sector. As John Chambers, Cisco’s Executive Chairman, states: Globally linked virtual teams will transform every government and company in the world. Any of our peers who don’t do it won’t survive”.

As the use of virtual teaming continues growing globally, there’s been corresponding growth in related activities spanning research, education, training, consulting, and business management. This involves networks, organizations, academic institutions, companies, and individual professionals. This also includes a growing body of related knowledge and practice (such as applied research, books, training programs, etc). The following roughly maps out this emergent ecosystem.

mapping the virual team ecosystem

TERMINOLOGY

There’s some overlap of meaning between key terms used to discuss the shift to virtual work. –

  • Remote Work: “Work completed in an environment other than the employer workplace.” http://bit.ly/1NYcaE0
  • Mobile Work: “Someone who ​works in more than one ​place or ​travels as ​part of their ​job” http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mobile-worker
  • Telework: “A work arrangement in which employees do not commute to a central place of work” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommuting
  • Remote Team: “Teams that work outside the traditional office that may be separated by time or space and work through electronically linking into the organization.” http://www.slideshare.net/readysetpresent/remote-teamscontensample
  • Virtual Team: “Also known as a geographically dispersed team, distributed team, or remote team [1]…is a group of individuals who work across time, space and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of  communication technology” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_team

Generally, the above terms are used interchangeably. However, at least one virtual team expert, Wayne Turmel, thinks there’s a definite difference between a ‘remote team’ and a ‘virtual team’ (http://bit.ly/1KbGNPC). For Turmel, ‘remote’ team members generally work for the same organization and report to one direct manager, whereas, ‘virtual’ team members generally report to different managers and come from different groups. Whatever you call it, it’s the new norm.

CONSTITUENTS

Like its natural counterpart, the virtual team ecosystem has myriad interrelated, interactive constituents and parts. This includes networks, organizations, academic institutions, companies, and individual professionals along with the totality of the related growing body of knowledge and practice (such as books, training programs, research findings, etc). Again, like its natural counterpart, this ecosystem lives and grows through a continuous exchange of evolutionary energy, knowledge, praxis, and adaptation.

  • Thought Leaders: The Harvard Business Review calls Keith Ferrazzi a ‘thought leader’ in its introduction to the author’s “Getting Virtual Teams Right” (https://hbr.org/2015/02/getting-virtual-teams-right). Keith is “is an American author and the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a research institute and strategic consulting firm. He has written and lectured extensively on virtual team dynamics” (www.ferrazzigreenlight.com). Dr. Jill Nemiro is also a pioneering thought leader in this field. She teaches at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and in the Human Resources Design Masters’ Program at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Nemiro has written and spoken extensively about creativity and virtual teams. Her “The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams: A Toolkit for Collaborating Across Boundaries: Creativity in Virtual Teams (2008)” is a modern classic in the field. Jessica Lipnack is another pioneering thought leader. She is co-founder of NetAge.com a repository of knowledge about virtual team dynamics. She is also co-author of “Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time and Organizations With Technology” first published in 1997.
  • Networks: There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of professionals involved with virtual teaming in some way as participants, trainers, consultants, facilitators, coaches, managers, researchers, educators, designers, etc. Diverse as they may be, many professionals have started forming specialized online networks and groups such as:
    • Virtual Facilitation: “A subgroup of Professional Facilitators Network. This subgroup of the Professional Facilitators Network is sharing knowledge and experiences about Virtual Facilitation.”1300 members. https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Virtual-Facilitation-2971222/about
    • Virtual Work Employers and Employees: “Telecommuting, Telework, Virtual Work, Remote Work, whichever term you are using, this group will discuss and share best practices around work from home and distributed workforces. The group is for member companies and individuals who understand and embrace the value of Virtual environments.” 1262 members. https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Virtual-Work-Employers-Employees-1811905/about
    • The Virtual Project Manager Network: “A network of virtual project management professionals who lead and manage virtual teams. Members of this group include Project Managers, Program Managers, Directors, PMO Leaders, Project Consultants, Project Management Bloggers, and Authors.” 393 members. https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Virtual-Project-Manager-Network-4523302/about
  • Academic Institutions: There are also a growing number of academic institutions involved in teaching, training, and researching about virtual team dynamics. For example –
    • INSEAD offers: “Managing Global Virtual Teams. A one-of-a-kind, action-based programme…will show you how to manage geographically dispersed and culturally diverse teams and achieve maximum impact. Through the use of simulations, frameworks, video-taped exercises, and group coaching you will develop the ability to design and manage a global team in a way that encourages collaboration, improves intra- team communication, builds cohesion and leverages your team’s cultural diversity.”
    • McGill University offers: “Leading Virtual Teams: An Emerging Leadership Competency” within its Continuing Studies Department. This consists of a one-day traditional workshop and two 90-minute virtual sessions. The course ”offers insight into the nature of virtual teams and will equip you with the tools needed to develop competency in building and leading high performing virtual teams.” https://www.mcgill.ca/continuingstudies/programs-and-courses/leadership/courses-and-workshops/leading-virtual-teams-emerging-leadership-comp
    • Brandeis University offers: A variety of courses including: ‪Foundations of Virtual Management across Cultures and Geographies. “This course will introduce an analytical framework for assessing the complex and varied geographic, cultural and regulatory environment(s) in which virtual teams work.” www.brandeis.edu/gps/courses/course?crse_id=012190
    • Yale University Global Network for Advanced Management offers: “Courses…(to) help students develop skills in virtual teamwork and collaboration across time zones.” http://som.yale.edu/news/global-network/global-network-advanced-management-offer-new-virtual-courses
    • Stanford University offers: “Managing Teams for Innovation and Success will help you…create, motivate, and lead more effectively local, global, and virtual teams.” One session is devoted to students working “through an interactive exercise to explore the specific challenges of virtual teams, and then identify and discuss the best solutions from research and practice to make virtual teamwork a success,” http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/exed/mtis/
  • Research Literature: As well, a significant number of universities are also involved in virtual team research. “Virtual Teams Research: 10 Years, 10 Themes, and 10 Opportunities” (2015) is timely, helpful review of this research literature. “In this review, we organize the last 10 years of empirical work around 10 main themes: research design, team inputs, team virtuality, technology, globalization, leadership, mediators and moderators, trust, outcomes, and ways to enhance VT success. These themes emerged inductively because they either represent areas with consistent results, a large proliferation of studies, or a grouping of studies and results that differed from where the literature stood a decade ago.” Another very helpful overview is Dr. Nader Ale Ebrahim’s “Virtual Teams: A Literature Review” in the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 2653-2669, 2009.
  • Companies Using Virtual Teams: Numerous companies now use virtual teaming. This includes 80% of those companies with over 10,000 employees and 66% of multi-nationals. Notable examples include IBM, Dell, Cisco, BP, Ericsson, HP, Honeywell, GE, DaimlerChrysler, Oracle, Merrill Lynch, and AT&T. Dell is a good example. It developed and is implementing a plan called Dell 2020. “In FY16, we will launch a Leading Virtual Teams training to equip Dell leaders with the skills needed to engage geographically dispersed teams and team members working remotely. The training will help leaders develop skills in virtual communication and collaboration, and practice these skills in a simulated virtual team setting.” Moreover, some companies themselves are partially or completely virtual as well as largely managed by virtual teams. In 2014, for example, seventy-six such companies were identified by FlexJobs, itself a virtual company including, for example, Basecamp and Mozilla.
  • Companies Offering Training Programs: As well, a growing number of diverse companies of various sizes specialize in delivering virtual team training. Some companies feature such training as part of a larger menu of services and resources such as diversity training, intercultural communication training, etc. Others specialize only in virtual team dynamics. The many virtual-team training programs on offer are generally similar in content and goals. The following is a good example from Skill Path, one of the generalist training companies. Its program is entitled “Managing Virtual and Remote Teams”. The website states “participants will learn…
    • How to manage remote and virtual employees and teams
    • The essential fundamentals and cutting-edge strategies for capitalizing on this powerful, focused and productive group
    • How to avoid the headaches that trip up most remote-based teams
    • The latest on connectivity—from daily e-mail to networking and team teleconferences
    • How to maintain communication skills and rhythm with virtual teams
    • Tools for performance management and remote teams
    • Legal, compliance and accounting issues related to managing remote and virtual teams”
    • http://www.skillpath.ca/index.cfm/on-site/seminar/topic/managing-virtual-remote-teams
  • Serious Games: It’s also worth noting a virtual team training sub niche, which involves serious games. Since the advent of personal computers in the 1980s, the use of serious games has continued to grow (Wikipedia, 2014). They are seen as vital way to foster team development via emotional engagement, heightened communication, and social interactivity (Ellis, Luther, Bessiere & Kelogg, 2008). The following are three truly virtual team games as innovative as they are different.
    • Prelude – www.playprelude.com (Author’s Note: I’m a co-creator)
    • Virtual Ice Breakers – https://www.virtualicebreakers.com/
    • VirtuWall – www.globalteambuilding.com

CONCLUSION

The magnitude of this new way of working is immense. Hopefully the above helps map and illustrate its dynamic, complex, and evolving ecosystem.


Additional Sources

  • shrm.org/hrdisciplines/orgempdev/articles/pages/virtualteamsusedmostbyglobalorganizations, surveysays.aspx
  • http://www.slideshare.net/cynthiaclay55/leading-collaborative-virtual-teams-47252751
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frankie-rendon/understanding-the-prolife_b_5212366.htmlhttp://www.slideshare.net/cynthiaclay55/leading-collaborative-virtual-teams-47252751
  • http://fortune.com/2015/05/15/office-less-virtual-companies/
  • http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/vn/corp-comm/cr-report-people
Howard Esbin, PhDMapping The Virtual Team Ecosystem