Challenges to Managing Virtual Teams and How to Overcome Them

Remote work allows companies to compete in an increasingly globalized society, so the real challenge becomes adapting to the new workplace.

Rebecca Bakken

In theory, virtual teams give employers the chance to build a dream team without boundaries. For employees, it offers the freedom and flexibility to attain a healthy work-life balance. In practice, things aren’t always so rosy.

Communication can get muddled if teams never meet face to face, trust and collaboration suffer when workers are siloed, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if employees are tasked with too little — or too much.

Despite these challenges, virtual teams are here to stay. Remote work allows companies to compete in an increasingly globalized society, so the real challenge becomes adapting to the new workplace. 

The Rise of Virtual Teams

Statistics show a steep increase in the number of remote workers in the United States, a trend that is only likely to continue. In 2017, for instance, more than 60 percent of companies offered ad-hoc telecommuting benefits, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits Report . 

In 2019, that number increased to 69 percent, according to SHRM’s  2019 Employee Benefits Report . Plus, the on-demand economy has resulted in more freelancers and contractors in the workplace. According to the latest data from Upwork , 35 percent of the US workforce engaged in at least some freelance or contract work in 2019.

And remote work has been shown to both increase productivity and lower attrition, according to research from a Stanford professor . His study showed that employees working remotely found it easier to concentrate and were less likely to take sick days or prolonged breaks. In addition, employers saved an average of $2,000 per employee each year on real estate costs.  

Still, large companies like Yahoo and IBM have recently walked back their work-from-home policies. This belies the trends but underscores the problems some businesses have with remote teams.   

Research published in the Harvard Business Review states that remote employees are more likely to feel alienated or disconnected when compared to onsite employees. These communication issues become a problem for leaders. If you’re managing a group of employees, you also need to think about whether everyone is working toward the same goal and putting in their appropriate hours.

Rather than reverting back to the old ways of doing business, you can directly address the challenges of managing virtual teams. When you successfully identify and remedy remote workplace issues, you can build a strong, agile team that’s collaborative from all corners of the globe.

“Managing a virtual team requires managers to double down on the fundamentals of good management, including establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths,” says Julie Wilson , founder of the Institute for Future Learning and instructor at Harvard University.

Wilson co-teaches Essential Management Skills for Emerging Leaders , along with a roster of other experts.

Let’s examine the top three problems leaders encounter with remote employees, and the solutions to solve them. We’ll discuss issues pertaining to communication, trust, and productivity.

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Challenge 1: Communication

Communication is key in any workplace — especially one where most interactions occur via email, chat, or calls. Ensuring a free flow of accurate information throughout your company’s structure means hiring the right people, fostering a communicative culture, and using the right tools for the job.

“Close attention to relationship-building and a process to ensure good communication is really important. When the group or the organization has a strong culture that supports collaboration, this can stand in for many of the detailed steps — it really helps,” said Jennifer Stine, former head of executive and professional education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Solution: Hire the Right People

The interview process is a great way to find out how well someone communicates. Your employees’ communication skills are a big factor in the success of virtual teams.

Accurately gauging communication skills in one interview is hard. So consider having several rounds of interviews via multiple mediums.

If the person will work remotely full time, it’s important to see how they communicate through writing and on calls. That said, face-to-face communication can be telling. Try to arrange an in-person interview, if possible.

Also, have several hands on deck when interviewing new candidates to get a range of opinions. This also gives candidates a glimpse into your company culture, helping them determine if it’s a good fit.

Solution: Foster a Culture of Communication

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to foster a culture of communication throughout the organization. Lead by example by giving regular updates and holding check-ins with your team. If your staff sees that you’re an effective communicator, they’ll follow suit by picking up your good habits.

Be explicit about how your staff should communicate. Remove the ambiguity that so often surrounds workplace communication by providing written guidelines that outline what kind of messages should be sent through which mediums, and how team members are expected to interact with each other.

This is especially important when you have a culturally diverse staff or members who are located in different time zones. Address any language or time barriers directly. And provide tips on how to effectively communicate in spite of them. (For instance, if not everyone is a native English speaker, you might suggest that employees avoid using slang or colloquialisms.)

If possible, make a point to get the whole team together in person once or twice a year. Meeting face-to-face as a group is an ideal way to team-build. It allows remote employees the chance to get to know each other beyond their job roles.

Solution: Choose the Best Tools

Technology is what makes virtual teams possible. Don’t shy away from the tools and software that can make your job easier. Below is a list of the types of tools that can facilitate communication in virtual teams, and some popular options* for you to consider:

  • Chat: Slack , Twist , Google Hangouts
  • Project management: Trello , Jira , Asana
  • Web and video conferencing: Google Meet , Zoom , Cisco Webex
  • Collaboration and prototyping: Invision , Marvel , Adobe XD
  • Scheduling: Calendly , Doodle
  • Workflow automation: Zapier , Microsoft Flow , Monday

Not every tool is going to be a good fit for your team. Consider trial periods or task someone with researching all the options to determine which suit your needs best. Provide training for your staff on the tools you select to ensure everyone is using them consistently and to the fullest benefit.

Developing communication strategies that resonate across your entire organization, including in-person and virtual teams, can be challenging. Some of our Professional & Executive Development programs are designed specifically to help leaders deliver clear, concise messaging to their teams.

Challenge 2: Trust

Trust is key in any relationship. When employees trust their managers and believe they’re working toward a shared vision, collaboration and engagement happen naturally. But it’s hard won in an environment where face-to-face interaction is a rarity. A shared mission, collaborative spirit, and strategic team building can help instill trust in remote and onsite workers alike.

Solution: Establish a Mission Statement

In a few sentences, document why your business is doing what it’s doing. Ideally, this should speak to the greater good of humanity, but obviously related to your industry somehow.

Nontraditional workers (especially millennials) value mission-driven organizations because they want to feel their time is being used for something worthwhile. State your mission clearly and embed it in everything you do. Demonstrate your dedication to the cause by donating to charity, holding volunteer days or incentives, or partnering with nonprofits that share your mission.

Solution: Encourage Collaboration and Team Building

Effective collaboration helps teams bond and builds trust as people get to know one another’s thought processes and working styles. When staff are able to build on each other’s ideas and play to their strengths, relationships flourish.

First, it helps to have clearly defined teams. This sets the expectation that people should be working collaboratively, even from a distance. It may seem like a no-brainer, but startups and small businesses sometimes undermine collaboration by failing to form teams within the company. This can lead to confusion and low cooperation among employees. Particularly with remote workers, it’s important for people to know where they belong and to whom they report.

Encourage teams to meet regularly via video conference, as these virtual face-to-face meetings can help build a sense of community and familiarity. As a manager, be sure to communicate your expectations for each team so they know they’re working toward a shared goal.

Solution: Establish a Shared Goal

What is your team’s overarching goal and how will it know when it has achieved it? You might have one goal, or you might have several. Regardless, it is vitally important that your team has a shared goal (or goals) and a common understanding of how progress will be measured.

These goals will likely be dictated by broader business goals, or it may be up to you and your team to establish your goals. This is a great opportunity to meet in person if at all possible, get to know each other better as colleagues, and work through a strategic planning process. If it’s not possible to meet in person, this work can be facilitated via video conference.

Challenge 3: Productivity

Low productivity is an obvious risk when employees work outside of a traditional office. In an environment without day-to-day oversight, some team members may not use their time wisely. On the other hand, certain employees risk burnout when working remotely due to a lack of boundaries.

Solution: Ensure Accountability

Without invading privacy, the best way to ensure everyone’s doing their job is to set clear expectations for each role and have regular check-ins to gauge progress. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to work at the same pace, but you should have a general idea of how long tasks take and how much each person is accomplishing week by week, if not day by day.

You might also find it’s necessary to have team members track their hours using a tool like Harvest or Toggl *, particularly for those who do client work, because it gives you a clear sense of billable hours spent.

Even for those who don’t perform work for clients, tracking hours provides an unparalleled level of transparency. By seeing how long it takes to complete certain jobs, you are able to set baseline expectations that are useful for both current and future roles.

Solution: Form Supportive Structures

Be sure to pay attention to your best performers as much as you do the rest of your team. These may be the people at risk of overworking themselves. Without the clear boundaries that office life provides, the go-getters on your team may have workdays that never end, setting themselves up for exhaustion and resentment toward the company.

Encourage your staff to keep regular business hours and take advantage of their paid time off. Check in if you suspect someone is burning the midnight oil. Erratic or moody behavior, emails sent at odd times, and a drop in work quality are all signs that a remote worker needs to take a breather.

Conduct regular one-one-ones with each team member to not only hold them accountable for performance, but also to check in on workload and support needed.

Solution: Develop Processes

Many teams may find daily stand-ups — a.k.a. daily scrums or huddles — are essential to fostering productivity, transparency, and collaboration. Having an informal group check-in each day keeps the team on the same page and holds everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects.

In addition to group check-ins, make it a rule for managers to set up one-to-one time with their direct reports every month or quarter. This takes the stress out of a sudden request for a meeting, and gives employees a designated time to talk about their progress or any issues they might be having at work.

Devising a Game Plan

“Managing a virtual team can be challenging, but addressing those challenges head-on is worth the effort,” said Julie Wilson.

When you overcome the challenges, you’ll enjoy the rewards of leading a cohesive virtual team — i.e. setting goals and reaching them; watching your team members develop and lean into their strengths; and benefiting from a healthy team dynamic that ensures the right decisions are made and implemented.

The challenges and solutions discussed in this post are complex, so approach any changes methodically and seek outside counsel if needed. 

*Disclaimer: Mentions of any proprietary tools or software are merely examples and do not constitute endorsements by Harvard University or any of its subsidiaries.

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Technologies, E-business, and Virtual Organizations

Information Technology remains the key agent of change in the business world. IT has not only enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of businesses but has also led to the creation of new business models and forms. E-business has emerged due to the impacts of IT on the business sector.

The electronic economy has been marked by the emergence of pure virtual organizations and semi-virtual businesses. These organizations are growing at a faster rate compared to the brick and mortar companies in the physical world (Adams, 2003). This study highlights the importance of technology to the business world. The paper also gives attention to the importance of E-business and virtual organizations.

Benefits of Information Technology

Information Technology is the major tool that has transformed the business world. IT has increased the efficiency and effectiveness of E-business. The technology enables business organizations to improve the accuracy of business operations. Operational errors are easily identified and controlled through effective utilization of IT-enabled devices.

Business organizations use technology application tools of business management such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Supply Chain Management (SCM) to eliminate errors in operations and achieve efficiency. For instance, businesses can use ERP to ensure effective planning and allocation of resources (Collier & Bienstock, 2006).

The tool enables businesses to design effective strategies of resource allocation and control processes. ERP integrates all the operations of an organization through effective utilization of the available data. It can be used in project management to identify sources of deviations and ensure proper scheduling of project operations (Barua & Konana, 2001).

Enhanced communication is the other advantage of IT to the business world and especially in the field of E-business. Unlike brick and mortar companies that rely on paper for communication, virtual organizations utilize their virtual nature to enhance communication. In this case, the organizations can easily send and receive messages through internet-enabled devices.

Elimination of paperwork in E-business also reduces the cost of operation and improves the performance. Information Technology has, therefore, reduced the cost of doing business for many organizations, which exist in the physical and virtual space (Barua & Konana, 2001).

Technology has also reduced the initial capital that is needed to start an online business. For example, starting a business in the virtual space only requires an entrepreneur to establish a reliable and effective website. The cost of establishing the website is a one-off investment that is not incurred on repetitive basis.

The websites used in the E-business also enable investors to reduce the cost of product promotion (Bapna & Gupta, 2005). Time management is another beneficial aspect that is associated with technology in business. The entrepreneurs in E-business can easily sell their goods and services without travelling to the physical market place.

The same case applies to the consumers who are able to access different varieties of goods and services at their own convenience. The customers who use online business services are able to choose different goods from different vendors. They determine the prices of the various goods and services through their purchasing power and the supply patterns in the market (Adams, 2003).

General Environment of E-Commerce

Online transactions are the major components of E-commerce. However, the transactions may take place in different environments. These environments determine the type of organizations in E-commerce (Collier & Bienstock, 2006). Pure virtual environment is the most common type in E-Commerce. In such environments, the organizations assume virtual existence in the online world.

The organizations in the pure virtual environment rely on internet connection to provide goods and services to their customers. Such businesses offer product catalogues at their websites for the customers. Their operation systems are automated by software, which offers direct services and assistance to the clients. Organizations that specialize in data management are some of the businesses that operate in the pure virtual environment.

Other organizations include the Wedding Channel, Amazon, online advertising companies, and Ensemble. Organizations that exist in the virtual environment enjoy a low cost of operation and a reduced initial investment. For example, such organizations do not have to spend a lot of funds in building physical offices, buying machines and equipment, and incur maintenance cost.

Virtual organizations also spend less money in advertising and product promotion. Apart from the pure virtual organizations, click-and-mortar is another form of business environment in E-commerce. An organization that exists in a click-and-mortar form has some aspects of virtual and physical existence. Such businesses may exist in the physical world and also in the online platform.

The businesses can attract customers from both environments. The organizations give their customers the opportunity to choose the most reliable and efficient transaction. The customers can either transact online or go to the physical offices of the company. A good example of a click-and-mortar organization is the online banking method that has been adopted by most banks around the world.

In the contemporary society, customers have the opportunity to bank online or visit the physical location of their banks (Adjei & Noble, 2012). Another business environment in E-commerce is brick and mortar. The organizations in this type of environment rely on physical existence to conduct their transactions. The businesses conduct most of their transactions offline.

However, they rely on online transactions to attract more customers to their website and increase their sales. The businesses may also conduct online transactions when they purchase their raw materials from suppliers located in other countries. Unlike completely virtual organizations that mainly focus on digital products, brick-and-mortar organizations offer both physical and digital products.

The organization may outsource the services of a virtual organization when selling their products in the online world. A good example of businesses that operate in the brick-and-mortar environment includes hotels and restaurants in the physical world. Most hotels and restaurants rely on online marketing to attract to their products.

The online booking services offered by air flight companies are also a good example of a brick-and-mortar environment. In such cases, the customers buy the tickets online while the actual services are offered in the physical environment. Brick-and-mortar companies depend on their physical existence to offer customers services and increase customer satisfaction (OMB, 2008).

E-Commerce Classification

Based on the aforementioned E-commerce environments, it is, therefore, essential to classify the different categories involved. E-commerce is classified according to the nature of the parties involved. For example, in B2B classification the business transactions, in this case, involve businesses. Businesses are able to trade in the online world to get the right goods and services from different sources.

One organization may act as a supplier of particular goods and services while the other receives the goods. For example, a private company in the online world may supply data management services to a government entity such as the ministry of registration. B2B classification involves the transaction of high volumes and value that take place mainly between two organizations (Barua & Konana, 2001).

In B2C classification, the business sells the goods to the consumers. This is the most common classification in E-commerce since most business organizations involve businesses and consumers. For example, when Amazon sells its books to the individual consumers such as students, the nature of the business involved in this case is B2C. The business targets its products to the direct consumers of the product (Anthony & Grabski, 2006).

C2B classification takes place when an individual consumer sells goods or services to a business. In this case, the business acts as the consumer of the products. For example, when a customer sells used books to Amazon, the nature of the business is C2B. The transaction mainly takes place when the company involved is interested in recycling the old products (Adams, 2003).

C2C approach is another classification that is used in E-commerce. The transactions involve two different customers. Individual customers may exchange goods or services for reducing the cost of buying the goods from the organizations. C2C classification mainly takes place where consumers would like to exchange different goods or services. For example, students in different locations may exchange books or electronic materials (Adjei & Noble, 2012).

Financial Infrastructure for Development

E-business development requires a well organized and comprehensive financial infrastructure. The development of the infrastructure must be based on the various activities involved in the operation of E-business. The most important aspect in the development of E-business is the establishment of a reliable website. The supplier building the E-business website should provide accurate invoicing for the various equipment involved.

The other important element is the payment system which enables the customers to pay for their services immediately after buying the purchase. A good payment system should facilitate sharing of information between the various departments of the organization. For instance, the production department should be able to share the information with sales section.

The two departments determine product pricing and the profits of an organization (Anthony & Grabski, 2006). Service architecture also determines the financial infrastructure in E-business development. Ability to access the services offered by an organization with regards to the location and the people involved determines the financial implications involved when selling the products.

Another element that determines the service architecture is the range of services offered. In this case, elements such as interaction, integration, product features, and functionality greatly determine the financial requirements when developing the products. Reliable service architecture in E-business should enable the customers to perform multiple transactions at low cost.

Integration of various systems in an organization also determines the financial infrastructure in E-business development. Integration of the service architecture with information system may require an organization to spend a lot of funds in developing the reliable programs and software for automated transactions.

A good example is the integration of the ordering system with the distribution mechanisms, which employ the requirements of the information system and the service architecture. The requirements may also be extended to include vital operations such as security issues and cost control measures (OMB, 2008).

In other situations, operations such as hardware installation, training services, marketing initiatives, and customer relationship management may be not included when determining the initial investment in E-business. These operations tend to change with the existing business conditions and customer requirements. However, wages to be paid to the employees should be determined during the initial stages.

The number of employees should be determined during E-business development stage. In addition, tax requirements or other funds that have legal obligations should also be determined during the initial stages (Bapna & Gupta, 2005).

Based on the infrastructural requirements in E-business development, different technological tools are important for the existence of E-business. Technology determines the various frameworks used in E-business environments. For example, the network computing system has enabled organizations and consumers to conduct their transactions in various ways (Bapna & Gupta, 2005).

E-business framework may involve individuals within a common network in an organization. For instance, intranet connection may be used in an organization to facilitate the transactions between individuals in the entity. Individuals may also use peer-peer network connection to conduct business transactions. E-business framework may also exist in the form of extranet network system.

Extranet networks enable individuals in the intranet system to conduct transactions with others in the external network. The ultimate framework used in E-business transactions is the internet. This form of network connects various individuals and organizations in various networks from peer-peer network, intranet, and extranet (OMB, 2008).

Information technology is the key building block of E-business. IT integrates the technical requirements of technology with the goals and information needs of E-business. The technology facilitates interaction between the restructuring and design requirements with data architecture, organizational structure, and information architecture.

The concept of utility computing is another technology that is important in the development of E-business. The technology is important to facilitate sharing of resources in a computer network. Utility computing has various tools that are important for the operations of E-business transactions (Adjei & Noble, 2012). Such tools include virtualization tools and policy-based resource management devices.

The virtual tools facilitate storage and retrieval of data. The tools also facilitate uninterrupted flow of information within the computer network. On the other hand, policy-based resource management devices enable the customers to post queries on different products and services that are offered by an organization.

Such tools are also used to ensure that product catalogues and product carts are used in the online business. Service provider applications are also important kinds of technology used in E-business. The applications facilitate the interaction between the customers and the organization (Bapna & Gupta, 2005).

Major Issues in E-Business and Virtual Organizations

E-business and virtual organizations are affected by myriad range of issues. Security factors top the list of issues that affect E-business. Security issues that are associated with theft of customer’s information and use of unreliable payment systems greatly affect the efficiency of E-business. Customers and organizations have lost a lot of funds and confidential information due to theft and fraud (Bahmanziari, Odom & Ugrin, 2009).

Apart from security issues, legal factors also affect the efficiency and effectiveness of E-business and virtual organizations. Legal requirements have been set governments and trade entities to regulate online transactions. Despite the fact that such regulations implemented to improve efficiency in the E-business sector, they have serious financial implications that are very expensive for a small business in the online world.

The regulations tend to reduce the rate of growth in the sector (Adjei & Noble, 2012). Issues of trust also dominate the list of factors that affect E-business. Most customers rely on E-business to achieve convenience. However, the level of trust is very low. Customers tend to believe that online organizations are fraudsters or scams that are formed to steal from innocent people.

The level of trust in E-business has reduced due to rampant cases of computer crime and internet theft (Anthony & Grabski, 2006). System implementation and integration are the technical issues that affect the performance of virtual organizations and efficiency of E-business.

Issues such as system architecture, information flow, and other technical requirements affect the effectiveness of E-commerce. In some cases, a virtual organization may use incompatible software and computer programs, which may result in the opportunity for the customer to access the goods and services offered by the organization (Bahmanziari, Odom & Ugrin, 2009).


Performance matrices should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of E-business. The business should be evaluated against important elements of cost, security, convenience, efficiency, trust, the range of goods and services, and technical requirements. With regards to convenience, E-business should be evaluated in terms of promptness and ability to supply various goods and services to meet the needs of the customers.

E-business should also be evaluated against the security to ensure that businesses are operated in secure environments (OMB, 2008). Evaluation of E-business in terms of efficiency should focus on the performance of various elements such as network connectivity, the speed of browsers used by the website, and organization of business processes.

For example, the payment and the ordering systems should be efficient to enable the customers to access the products and pay for them in time. The product catalogues should provide for accurate description of the products. Moreover, the shopping carts should enable the customers to access the various options offered by an organization (Adjei & Noble, 2012).

Cost is another vital aspect that should be considered during the evaluation process. The main goal of E-business is ensure cost reduction. Cost elements in E-business such as cost of website maintenance, cost of product promotion, wages paid to the employees, and taxes should be controlled to ensure effective performance of the system. Cost evaluation should be based on the ability of the E-business organization to control these elements.

For example, the organization can operate in using cost-efficient website applications (Bahmanziari, Odom & Ugrin, 2009). Performance evaluation on the basis of security should be based on the ability of the organization to the network system used by a company.

The ability of the network to prevent entry of intruders is very cardinal to ensure the performance of the website. The effectiveness of security control measures such as data encryption, security certificates, and firewalls forms the basis of the assessment (Collier & Bienstock, 2006).

To achieve the aforementioned performance matrices, effective strategies should be established to improve the performance of E-business (Bahmanziari, Odom & Ugrin, 2009). The stakeholders in the sector should consider the following recommendations.

  • Adoption of reliable payment systems
  • Conducting businesses in a secure environment by protecting computer networks
  • Adoption of compatible software and computer programs for system integration
  • Adherence to the legal regulations in the business environment
  • Establishment of cost control measures


Information technology has played an immense role in transforming the business environment. Information technology has enabled many countries around the world to establish the online economic system where online trade activities contribute to the economic development of states. This study has brought into perspective the benefits of E-businesses.

E-business enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of business activities. The method also reduces the cost of doing business. Moreover, it enables customers to access different varieties of goods. E-business is conducted in various environments such as pure virtual space, click and mortar, and brick and mortar environments. The classification of E-business is based on the category of participants.

For instance, the transactions involve consumers and businesses that interact in different levels. E-business development and financial management is also another aspect that has been highlighted in the study. Financial infrastructure should be in tandem with the technical requirements of E-business development.

The funds used in the development should enable the business to attain service requirements, system architecture, and information systems. To understand these requirements, it is also important to highlight the technology involved in E-business. Computer networks and utility computing systems are very important in the performance of E-businesss.

However, E-business is affected by various issues such as legal requirements, security issues, trust issues, performance, and cost factors. Therefore, to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of E-business, there is need to adopt effective strategies that can be used to manage the problems affecting the business.

Such recommendations include the adoption of effective and secure computer networks, establishment of cost control strategies, and regular assessment of website performance. These recommendations will have an important role in transforming E-business and enhancing the development of electronic economy.

Adams, F. (2003). The E-business revolution & the new economy: E-economics after the dot-com crash . New York: South-Western Educational Publishing.

Adjei, M. &Noble, S. (2012). Enhancing relationships with customers through online brand communities. MIT Sloan Management Review, 34 (2), 22-24.

Anthony, J. & Grabski, S. (2006). Market reaction to e-commerce impairments evidenced by website outages authors’ response. International Journal of Accounting Information Systems, 7 (2), 87-90.

Bahmanziari, T., Odom, M. & Ugrin, J. (2009). An experimental evaluation of the effects of internal and external e-Assurance on initial trust formation in B2C e- commerce. International Journal of Accounting Information Systems, 10 (3),152- 170.

Bapna, R. & Gupta, A. (2005). Pricing and allocation for quality-differentiated online services. Management Science, 46(7), 1141-1150.

Barua, A., & Konana, A. (2001). Driving e-business excellence. MIT Sloan Management Review, 45 (3), 36-44.

Collier, J. E. & Bienstock, C. (2006). How do customers judge quality in an e-tailor? MIT Sloan Management Review, 38 (4), 35-40.

OMB, A. (2008). U.S.2009 budget goes paperless. Information Management Journal, 42(3), 11-14

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IvyPanda. (2023, November 22). Technologies, E-business, and Virtual Organizations.

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  • Changes in a Brick-and-Mortar and Virtual Organizations
  • Transforming Brick-and-Mortar into E-Business
  • Supply Change: From Brick-and-Mortar to E-Business
  • Is E-Commerce Killing Brick and Mortar?
  • E-business Programs Implementation
  • Internet and E-Business
  • E-Business Security Concerns
  • E-Business Site Performance Evaluation
  • E-Business and E-Commerce and Information Systems
  • E-business and Small Organizations
  • Company Internet Market Analysis
  • Definitions of Networks Organization
  • The Factor Influence on On-Line Purchase Behavior
  • E-Business and E-Commerce
  • Kids Designed Craft Cards: E-Business Planning

Challenges and barriers in virtual teams: a literature review

  • Research Article
  • Published: 20 May 2020
  • Volume 2 , article number  1096 , ( 2020 )

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  • Sarah Morrison-Smith   ORCID: 1 &
  • Jaime Ruiz 2  

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Virtual teams (i.e., geographically distributed collaborations that rely on technology to communicate and cooperate) are central to maintaining our increasingly globalized social and economic infrastructure. “Global Virtual Teams” that include members from around the world are the most extreme example and are growing in prevalence (Scott and Wildman in Culture, communication, and conflict: a review of the global virtual team literature, Springer, New York, 2015). There has been a multitude of studies examining the difficulties faced by collaborations and use of technology in various narrow contexts. However, there has been little work in examining the challenges faced by virtual teams and their use of technology to mitigate issues. To address this issue, a literature review was performed to highlight the collaboration challenges experienced by virtual teams and existing mitigation strategies. In this review, a well-planned search strategy was utilized to identify a total of 255 relevant studies, primarily focusing on technology use. The physical factors relating to distance are tightly coupled with the cognitive, social, and emotional challenges faced by virtual teams. However, based on research topics in the selected studies, we separate challenges as belonging to five categories: geographical distance, temporal distance, perceived distance, the configuration of dispersed teams, and diversity of workers. In addition, findings from this literature review expose opportunities for research, such as resolving discrepancies regarding the effect of tightly coupled work on collaboration and the effect of temporal dispersion on coordination costs. Finally, we use these results to discuss opportunities and implications for designing groupware that better support collaborative tasks in virtual teams.

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1 Introduction

Virtual teams (i.e., geographically distributed collaborations that rely on technology to communicate and cooperate) have several potentially beneficial aspects that aid productivity. Much like collaboration in co-located teams, collaboration in virtual teams refers to synchronous and asynchronous interactions and tasks to achieve common goals. The use of virtual teams allows organizations to enroll key specialists, regardless of their physical location [ 106 , 151 ]. This allows organizations to optimize teams by using only the best talent available [ 63 , 136 ]. In theory, virtual teams also reduce the need for travelling between sites, which should reduce costs in terms of time, money, and stress [ 196 ]. It was estimated that by 2016, more than 85 % of working professionals were in some form of virtual team [ 235 ]. This implies that, as a result, virtual teams have become vital to maintaining our increasingly globalized social and economic infrastructure.

Similar to co-located teams, virtual teams participate in a variety of collaborative activities such as formal and informal meetings using technology like video conferencing (e.g., Zoom [ 121 ] and Skype [ 175 ]) and text (e.g., Slack [ 232 ] and Microsoft Teams [ 176 ]), file transfer, and application sharing [ 191 ]. As a result, virtual teams are experiencing difficulties collaborating that are making it difficult for them to be as successful as co-located teams [ 64 , 151 , 191 ]. As a result, virtual teams spend substantial time and money to relocate team members for specific projects to avoid the hindrances to teamwork associated with distance [ 231 , 257 ]. It is therefore important to develop technology that can better support virtual teams, reducing the need for costly re-locations and mitigating the problems that arise when relocation is not a viable solution.

Despite previous research examining the difficulties faced by collaborations and use of technology in specific contexts, such as distributed software development, there has been little work in examining the challenges faced by all virtual teams and their use of technology to mitigate issues. This understanding is vital to the development and utilization of technology to support virtual teams. Thus, this paper has two goals: (1) to elucidate the factors and challenges that hinder collaboration in virtual teams and (2) provide recommendations for designing groupware to better support collaboration in virtual teams, while also identifying opportunities for the Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) community to design this technology.

To achieve our goals, a Literature Review (LR) was performed with a well-planned search strategy that identified a total of 255 relevant studies, primarily focusing on technology use. Based on the selected studies, we categorized challenges as being related to: geographical distance, temporal distance, perceived distance, the configuration of dispersed teams, and diversity of workers. In addition, results from this LR identify opportunities for research, such as resolving discrepancies regarding the effect of tightly coupled work on collaboration, the effect of temporal dispersion on coordination costs, and whether virtual teams encounter more work-culture related problems than co-located teams. From the synthesis of these papers, we present four design implications for designing groupware that better support collaborative tasks in virtual teams.

This literature review explores the factors and challenges associated with collaboration in virtual teams. This paper begins with a review of related LRs in the domain of collaboration in Sect.  2 and progresses to a description of the method used to conduct the LR in Sect.  3 . Sections  5 and 6 explore issues related to distance and other contributing factors, respectively. Next, in Sect.  7 , findings from Sects. 5 and 6 are summarized, leading to Sect.  8 which completes the LR by presenting a set of four design implications for the development of groupware that supports collaboration in virtual teams.

2 Related work

Prior work includes eight systematic literature reviews surveying various topics related to distance collaboration. These topics fall into two categories: investigations of virtual teams in the domain of distributed software development (DSD) and explorations of the factors that influence collaboration in broader contexts.

Research into the challenges faced in DSD have resulted in determination of the factors associated with the relationship between distribution, coordination, and team performance that are the most commonly studied in software development, namely dimensions of dispersion (e.g., geographical, temporal, organizational, work process, and cultural dispersion) and coordination mechanisms (e.g., organic or social coordination and mechanistic or virtual coordination) [ 183 ]. Several challenges (e.g., including geographical, temporal, cultural, and linguistic dispersion [ 146 , 185 ]) and best practices or practical solutions (e.g., agile methods, test-driven development [ 146 ], frequent site visits and face-to-face meetings [ 185 , 233 ]) have been identified for traditional DSD teams [ 185 ] and teams that use a ‘follow-the-sun’ approach (i.e., where teams hand off work at the end of the day in one time-zone to workers beginning their day in another) [ 146 ]. Additional work identified opportunities for future research, such as addressing challenges present in multi-organizational software projects and supporting the development of coordination needs and methods over the course of a project [ 184 ]. This category of research also includes a study that classified empirical studies in DSD [ 64 ], revealing that communication warrants further exploration to better support awareness in this context [ 239 ].

These studies are informative and discuss several of the challenges that appear later in this LR (e.g., geographical, temporal, cultural, and linguistic dispersion). However, it is not guaranteed that the findings from the DSD studies with regards to these dimensions directly translate to collaboration in another context. In contrast, this paper examines distance collaboration in all virtual teams.

Other studies have studied the factors affecting collaboration in general. Mattessich and Monsey identified 19 factors necessary for successful collaboration, including the ability to compromise, mutual respect and trust, and flexibility [ 167 ]. Similarly, Patel et al. [ 201 ] developed a framework based on the categorization of seven factors related to collaboration (e.g., context, support, tasks, interaction processes, teams, individuals, and overarching factors) for use in collaborative engineering projects in the automotive, aerospace, and construction sectors.

In contrast to the results of the DSD studies, these findings apply to a broad range of contexts. However, since these literature reviews primarily focus on co-located collaboration, it is difficult to discern how the factors identified by these studies influence virtual teams. This paper differs by focusing only on virtual teams.

Relevant papers were extracted for LR using the guidelines proposed by Kitchenham and Charters [ 138 ] for performing Systematic Literature Reviews in software engineering, with the adjustments recommended by Kitchenham and Brereton [ 137 ]. These guidelines divide the review process into three steps:

Planning the review In this step, the research questions and review protocol are defined. This will be discussed in the remainder of Sect.  3 .

Conducting the review This step focuses on executing the review protocol created in the previous step. This will also be discussed in Sect.  3 .

Reporting the review This final step documents, validates, and reports the results of the review. This will be the subject of Sects. 5 and 6 .

3.1 Planning the review

This subsection will focus on developing the list of research questions used to generate the list of keywords for extracting papers and specify the search methodology.

3.1.1 Specifying research questions

The first stage of this literature review began by defining research questions using the Goal-Question-Metric approach described by Van Solingen et al. [ 258 ], which systematically organizes measurement programs. This model specifies the purpose, object, issue, and viewpoint that comprise a goal, which is then distilled into research questions and used to create metrics for answering those questions. The goal of this LR is:

Purpose Understand and characterize

Issue The challenges

Object Related to collaboration

Viewpoint Faced by workers in virtual teams

Using this goal, these research questions were derived:

What are the factors and challenges that impact distance collaboration?

What factors specific to distance cause issues?

What other factors contribute to these issues?

How can we design technology for supporting virtual teams?

The purpose of asking question 1 is to outline previous research investigating collaboration challenges. The expected outcome will be a comprehensive view of challenges affecting collaborations and identification of gaps or areas warranting future exploration. Research Question 1a will be the topic of Sect.  5 while Research Question 1b will be explored in Sect.  6 . Research Question 2, however, focuses on the development of technology for supporting collaboration. The answers to this question will yield an overview of design implications for the creation of groupware, which will be discussed in Sect.  8 .

3.1.2 Developing and executing the search strategy

The research questions listed above were used to identify keywords to use as search terms. For example, for the sub-question ‘ What factors can be attributed to distance ?’ the following keywords were selected: collaboration , distance , challenge ; in addition, synonyms and related words were also searched (e.g., geography, teamwork). This search can be described by the following boolean search query:

(collaboration OR teamwork OR CSCW) AND (challenge OR problem) AND (distance OR geography)

Our search methodology used multiple searches as terms were either exhausted or identified by collected papers. The generated search terms were used to conduct searches using Google Scholar since this search engine conducts a meta-search that returns results from several paper repositories (such as Science Direct, ResearchGate,, and the ACM digital library). During the review, it became apparent that after the first 8–9 pages of results, we reached concept saturation. As a result, we limited our search to the first 10 pages for a total of 1200 potential sources.

In addition, collected papers were used to generate additional searches via a ‘snowballing’ effect [ 26 , 249 ]. Specifically, collected papers were used to generate additional keywords, identify additional papers through the bibliography, identify newer papers that cited them, and identify authors who had written important papers published in relevant conferences. These included papers published in the ACM conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) and the ACM International Conference on Supporting Group Work (GROUP). These authors were searched for using the identified search engines, and all their papers were evaluated for inclusion. In addition, other researchers proposed sources that were used to boost paper extraction. These additional methods were used because prior work by Greehalgh and Peacock [ 91 ] found that less efficient methods like snowballing are likely to identify important sources that would otherwise be missed, since predefined protocol driven search strategies cannot solely be relied on.

3.1.3 Inclusion and exclusion criteria

The first ten pages of results from Google Scholar were reviewed since occasionally keywords resulted in a high amount of potential papers. All papers were reviewed from searches resulting in fewer than ten pages of results. As part of our search methodology, we utilized several inclusion and exclusion criteria to filter the collected papers from the potential papers found using the systematic search and snowballing. These inclusion and exclusion factors are listed in Table 1 . Figure 1 shows the number of identified papers that met the inclusion criteria across 5-year periods.

figure 1

Distribution of cited papers across time

3.1.4 Paper categorization

To facilitate analysis, the papers identified as part of the LR, shown in Fig.  1 , were further categorized by study type and contribution. Tables  2 ,  3 ,  4 ,  5 ,  6 ,  7 and  8 in the “ Appendix ” contain each paper organized by these categories.

4 Factors affecting virtual teams

Virtual teams are affected by physical factors such as geographic distance, in addition to temporal and perceive distance, which are time-based and cognitive respectively. These factors are tightly coupled with social and emotional factors, including trust, motivation, and conflicts. Based on the papers in this literature review, we separate these factors into the categories of distance factors, (which include geographical (physical), temporal, and perceived distance) and contributing factors that are driven by distance (including the nature of the work, the presence or need for explicit management, and group composition). Each category correlates with a set of challenges that greatly affect virtual teams. Distance categories and their associated challenges are discussed in Sect.  5 to answer Research Question 1a: what factors specific to distance cause challenges that impact distance collaboration? Contributing factors are discussed later in Sect.  6 .

5 Distance factors

Distance can be categorized as being primarily geographical, temporal, or perceived. Each category correlates with a set of challenges that greatly affect virtual teams. Distance categories and their associated challenges are discussed in the following sections to answer Research Question 1a: what factors specific to distance cause challenges that impact distance collaboration?

5.1 Geographical distance

Geographical distance has been defined as a measurement of the amount of work needed for a worker to visit a collaborator at that collaborator’s place of work, rather than the physical distance between the two collaborators [ 2 ]. Thus, two physically distant locations could be considered geographically close if they have regular direct flights. Even a distance as small as 30 meters has been shown to have a profound influence on communication between collaborators [ 4 ].

Furthermore, geographical distance is well known to pose challenges for virtual teams [ 191 ]. Olson and Olson explored these challenges at length in 2000 [ 191 ] and 2006 [ 193 ]. Their first work compared remote and co-located work through an analysis of more than ten years of laboratory and field research examining synchronous collaborations [ 191 ]. The 2006 paper presented a follow-up study that synthesized other prior work [ 78 , 190 ] to expand their 2000 contribution [ 193 ]. Findings from both studies identified the following ten challenges that hinder distance work:

Awareness of colleagues and their context

Motivational sense of presence of others

Trust is more difficult to establish

The level of technical competence of the team members

The level of technical infrastructure

Nature of work

Explicit management

Common ground

The competitive/cooperative culture

Alignment of incentives and goals

Challenges 1–5 will be discussed in this section while Challenges 6–10 will be topics of interest later in Sect.  6 .

5.1.1 Motivation and awareness in distributed collaborations

The motivational sense of the presence of others has well established ‘social facilitation’ effects, particularly the observation that people tend to work harder when they are not alone [ 193 ]. However, these effects are harder to find and cultivate in remote work, which poses an additional challenge to collaboration. In a similar vein, the difficulties associated with maintaining awareness of collaborators’ work progress at remote locations without the ability to casually ‘look over their shoulder’ is a significant challenge to collaboration [ 193 ]. The cause of these problems is likely because co-located workers have more opportunities for casual encounters and unplanned conversations [ 144 ], which boosts awareness. Similarly, distance prevents the informal visual observations necessary for maintaining awareness [ 8 ]. This is important since workers use the presence of specific teammates in a shared space to guide their work and prefer to be aware of who is sharing their work space [ 71 ]. Furthermore, the inability of virtual team members to observe each other’s actual effort tends to lead to a greater reliance on perceptions and assumptions that could be both biased and erroneously negative [ 206 ]. In addition to this, in situations where disengagement is not apparent, virtual team’s reliance on technology to communicate allows team members to disengage from the team due to decreased social impact [ 16 ]. Isolation can have an effect as well—when members of a virtual team become more isolated, their contributions and participation with the team decrease [ 32 ].

The importance of awareness in collaboration is discussed at length by Dourish and Bellotti [ 62 ], who investigate awareness through a case study examining ShrEdit [ 171 ], a text editor that supports multiple users synchronously. In this paper, awareness is defined as ‘an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity’ [ 62 ]. Dourish and Bellotti further stipulate that this context is necessary for guaranteeing that each person’s contributions are compatible with the group’s collective activity and plays a critical role in assessing individual actions in accordance with the group’s goals and progress. This context further allows individuals to avoid duplication of work. Collaborative work is significantly delayed without such awareness [ 193 ]. Moreover, awareness is a mandatory requirement for coordinating group activities, independent of the domain [ 62 ].

Many computer-based technologies have been developed to assist distance workers in maintaining awareness of their collaborators. Research suggests that the adoption of tools that allow members of virtual teams about the timing of each other’s contributions and activities may improve team coordination and learning [ 18 ]. Systems that provide real-time visual feedback about the behaviors of team members can be used as tools to mitigate various sources of “process-loss” in teams (e.g., team effort) [ 89 ]. Some early systems (e.g., [ 17 , 81 , 160 ]) were designed to feature computer-integrated audiovisual links between locations that were perpetually open, the idea being that providing unrestricted face-to-face communication and a ‘media space’ would facilitate collaboration as though the workers were in the same physical space. Since then, a number of modern systems (e.g., [ 153 , 197 ]) have been developed. For example, Glikson et al. [ 89 ] developed an effort visualization tool that calculated effort based on the number of keystrokes that team members made in a task collaboration space. They found that the visualization tool increased team effort and improved performance in teams that had a low proportion of highly conscientious members [ 89 ]. This effect did not hold true for teams with a high proportion of highly conscientious members. See the work of [ 154 ] for a more comprehensive review of awareness-supporting technology.

The concept of awareness as a direction for research has been criticized. In 2002, Schmidt argued that the term awareness was ‘ambiguous and unsatisfactory (p. 2)’ due to its exceptionally wide range of diverse applications and tendency to be paired with an adjective (e.g., ‘passive awareness’ [ 62 ]) in an attempt to lend some specificity. Instead, Schmidt recommended that researchers pursue more explicit, ‘researchable questions (p. 10)’ rather than focus on the enigmatic concept of awareness. This is more than a call to change terminology, but rather a fundamental shift in the way that research in this area is approached. Despite this recommendation, the awareness approach is still a commonly explored area [ 7 , 134 ], indicating disagreement within the community that has yet to be resolved, presenting a research opportunity.

5.1.2 Establishing trust

Throughout the relevant studies canvassed in this paper, trust has been defined in a multitude of ways. Cummings and Bromily [ 53 ] define trust within a collaboration as the worker’s belief that their team (a) ‘makes a good-faith effort to behave in accordance with any commitments both explicit or implicit, (b) is honest in whatever negotiations preceded such commitments, and (c) does not take excessive advantage of another even when the opportunity is available’. Pinjani and Palvia [ 208 ], in contrast, have a simpler definition of trust as the ‘level of confidence exercised among team members,’ and Choi and Cho [ 42 ] describe interpersonal trustworthiness as characterized by ability, benevolence, integrity, and goal congruence. Trust in the business literature is described as a person’s psychological state which indicates the person’s expectation that their team member will not act in a self-interested manner at the expense of the person’s welfare, which increases readiness to accept vulnerability [ 44 ]. Cho redefines this as a person’s believe in the beneficial actions of another even with the other is given the opportunity to act in self-interest [ 41 ]. Along with this, De Jong et al defines trust as ‘a shared and aggregate perception of trust that team members have for each other’ [ 59 ]. Lastly, Meyerson et al. [ 174 ] describe a specific type of trust, known as ‘swift trust’, which occurs in temporary organizations. The commonalities among these definitions include a perception that trust involves the belief that a collaborator will act in a beneficent manner as opposed to self-interest, acts in good-faith to honor commitments.

According to prior work [ 23 , 42 ], trust is the key variable that is crucial for all aspects of collaboration This includes team effectiveness, since trust determines whether team members ask each other for help, share feedback, and discuss issues and conflicts [ 23 ]. Team trust has a significant effect on team performance [ 59 ] and can be considered the ‘glue’ that holds collaborations together [ 48 ]. In fact, building mutual trust and personal knowledge about collaborators is more important to a good collaboration than resolving technical issues [ 250 ]. Furthermore, trust is particularly important in virtual teams since interactions on computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies tend to be superficial (i.e., lacking contextual cues such as facial expressions and tone of voice) [ 38 , 155 , 267 ], impersonal, and less certain [ 155 ].

Trust is linked to positive aspects of collaboration. For example, commitment to the team and project is greatly influenced by trust [ 28 ]. Trust can also improve collaboration infrastructure [ 10 ] and is also crucial for the occurrence of normative actions [ 48 ]. Maurping and Agarwal [ 165 ] found that building trust early on in a virtual collaboration plays a critical role in developing adequate group functioning and the ability to manage social activities. In addition, virtual teams that develop trust early may notice information confirming the competence of their team members and may not notice contradicting evidence [ 273 ]. As a result of their early development of trust, members of these teams also gain the confidence to engage in normative actions that sustain both trust and later performance [ 48 ]. While some research has found that the relationship between early trust and performance is stronger in highly virtual teams than in less virtual teams [ 163 ], whether the performance actually improves is up for debate. Some prior work [ 128 ] reports positive effects of trust on performance while others report negligible or no effects [ 124 ]. That being said, trust has an affect on the perception of performance such that when trust is high in a collaboration, the team’s perception of its performance is higher [ 182 ].

Trust is more difficult to establish and maintain in geographically dispersed collaborations [ 170 , 193 , 220 ] for a variety of reasons including the lack of strong relationships common to co-located teams [ 36 , 37 , 38 , 123 ] difficulties having in-depth personal interactions due to the absence of nonverbal cues and difficulties inferring the intentions of others [ 67 ]. Trust is also dependent on frequency of interactions, which may be less in virtual teams [ 273 ]. Swift trust in virtual teams is particularly fragile due to the unexpected disruptions and differences across time, distance, organization, and culture in virtual teams [ 266 ]. Teams that interact virtually are considerably less likely to develop trust [ 216 ]. Furthermore, trust develops in a sequential approach in co-located tams but follows an ad-hoc, unpredictable approach in virtual teams [ 147 ].

This difficulty in establishing trust has profound effects on collaboration, (e.g., (1) corrosion of task coordination and cooperation [ 193 ], (2) decreased eagerness to communicate [ 101 ], (3) inability to systematically cope with unstructured tasks and uncertainty [ 123 ], (4) fewer members willing to take initiative [ 123 ], (5) lack of empathy for teammates [ 132 ], (6) lower amounts of feedback from collaborators [ 123 ]), and increased risk [ 218 ]. Additionally, several studies (e.g., [ 116 , 142 , 188 ]) showed that low trust caused by distance affected workers’ identification of themselves as belonging to a team spanning locations. These issues have detrimental effects on collaborations that can delay or even halt the progress of a project.

Lack of trust is most pronounced during the initial stage of the collaboration and tapers off throughout the course of the project [ 21 ], implying that there are mitigating factors for the effect of distance on trust. Taking social approaches, such as promoting social exchanges early on in the life of a project [ 123 ], or creating opportunities for casual, non-work-related interactions between collaborators [ 193 ], can improve trust. However, these types of informal interactions more commonly occur face-to-face [ 193 ]. Furthermore, [ 186 ] identified face-to-face communication as having an ‘irreplaceable’ role in building and repairing trust.

Face-to-face communication is not always possible in distance collaborations, which is why [ 20 ] investigated challenges associated with trust—particularly delayed trust (slowed rate of progress towards full cooperation) and fragile trust [susceptibility towards negative ‘opportunistic behavior (p. 1)’]—via an evaluation of four communication methods commonly used in distance collaborations: face-to-face, audiovisual (e.g., Skype [ 175 ], Google Hangouts [ 90 ], FaceTime [ 6 ]), audio (telephone), and text-based (email, [ 232 ]) tools. They found that the absence of body language, subtle voice inflections, facial expressions, etc. cause delays in workers’ decisions whether to trust a new collaborator and impede expression of their own trustworthiness. This finding agrees with Olson and Olson’s assertion that the presence of video when communicating helps in situations where workers are not familiar with each other [ 193 ]. The effect of stripping body language, subtle voice inflections, facial expressions, etc. from communication was clearly shown by the performance of people participating in a social dilemma game who relied on distance technology for communication—these collaborations markedly showed more fragile trust than those that communicated face-to-face. Textual communication was especially worse with regards to establishing and maintaining trust, although audiovisual and audio technologies did have some effect on delayed and fragile trust. It is unsurprising then that trust development is enhanced by facilitating an initial face-to-face meeting at the beginning of a team’s relationship [ 163 ]. Furthermore, the effectiveness, reliability, and usefulness of the CMC technology used by the virtual team affects trust [ 42 ]. The personal characteristics of team members (e.g., ability, integrity, competence, fairness, honesty, openness) and the level of autonomy in a team play an important part in establishing trust [ 42 ].

From these works, we see that not only does distance influence trust, but this effect can partially be attributed to the use of communication technology adopted by distance collaborations. This influence may be further affected by the manner in which communication technology is used, since irregular, unpredictable, and inequitable communication between collaborators hampers trust [ 123 ]. Thus, it is important for future research seeking to address trust in collaboration to consider communication methods, particularly since trust in collaboration is still a relevant issue [ 29 , 30 , 217 ].

5.1.3 Informal and face-to-face communication

Prior work has identified team communication as one of the fundamental challenges associated with virtuality [ 5 ]. Communication in virtual teams is a key predictor of various outcomes such as improved performance and increased commitment [ 76 ]. Often in co-located collaborations, informal communication (i.e., ‘coffee talk’ [ 57 ]) accounts for up to 75 minutes of a workday [ 102 ]. These crucial exchanges often occur after meetings or during unplanned encounters in the hallway [ 8 ] and have profound effects on collaboration. In contrast, communications in virtual teams are often more formal than in co-located settings and focus more on work-related issues [ 13 ]. This is as a result of limited opportunities for the informal and unintentional information exchanges that often happen in shared spaces such as the hallway, water cooler, or parking lot [ 13 ]. This in turn diminishes a virtual team’s ability to share knowledge [ 92 ]. Informal contact plays an important role in facilitating trust and critical task awareness [ 2 ]. Spontaneous, informal communication has been shown to foster the feeling of being a part of a cohesive team [ 11 , 102 , 132 ] and assist the provision of corrective feedback [ 8 ]. These types of informal encounters are particularly important for unstable, dynamic groups [ 2 ].

Informal communication is associated with face-to-face encounters [ 73 , 191 ], thus, face-to-face communication plays an important role in collaboration [ 64 ] and has been described as being ‘crucial’ [ 196 ] or ‘indispensable’ [ 11 ], particularly at the beginning of a project. Frequent face-to-face interactions enable collaboration in virtual teams [ 54 ] and is credited with the ability to dramatically boost the strength of work and social ties within the team [ 133 ], which promotes a worker’s sense of belonging to the team and awareness of group activities [ 2 ], as well as boosting mutual trust and understanding, which is critical for preventing conflicts [ 8 ]. In addition, face-to-face communication is associated with higher levels of consensus within groups, higher perceived quality, more communication, and greater efficiency in completing tasks [ 86 ]. For this reason, it is recommended by many authors that members of virtual teams meet face-to-face when possible, particularly during the initial launch [ 136 , 151 , 265 ], when a face-to-face meeting can create a lasting bridge across geographical, temporal, and socio-cultural distance [ 265 ]. (Socio-cultural distance will be discussed in further depth later in Sect.  6.4.2 ) It is unsurprising, then, that traveling for obtaining face-to-face contact is imperative for project success [ 116 ].

Opportunities for informal interactions are greatly reduced by geographic distance between collaborators [ 93 , 132 ]. As a result, remote collaborators are often excluded from spontaneous decisions that are made outside formal meetings [ 8 ]. This exclusion is partly as a result of the increased effort needed to reach out and contact a teammate [ 101 ], and likely partly due to the correlation between distance and diminished face-to-face communication [ 52 , 133 , 141 , 144 ]. Geographic barriers to face-to-face communication include an increase in cost and logistics [ 2 ] and the burdens of travel in terms of money and time [ 11 ].

It is no surprise, then, that virtual teams show a marked increase in online activity [ 191 , 213 ] and have a higher reliance on CMC technology [ 215 ]. computer-mediated communication technology refers to the use of computers for communication between individuals []. This technology includes audiovisual, audio, and text-based tools. Use of this technology comes with significant challenges. Synchronous technology (i.e., audio and audiovisual tools) requires that all parties be available at a particular time. Some research has shown that it may be difficult to ascertain a remote collaborator’s availability for a synchronous meeting [ 101 ] and electronic-communication dependence constrains informal, spontaneous interaction [ 61 ], while others argue that CMC is dynamic and can be used on an ad-hoc and as-needed basis with no need for scheduling, presenting fewer logistical challenges [ 234 ]. However, it is important to note that, like in the case of the telephone, initiating spontaneous communication could be perceived as intrusive [ 144 ]. In addition, audio technology ‘distorts’ verbal cues and removes visual cues [ 20 ]. Audiovisual technology is also known to mask both verbal and visual cues in addition to constraining the visual field [ 20 ]. CMC often lacks support for non-direct and nonverbal interactions (e.g., body language, facial expressions) which greatly hinders communication in geographically dispersed virtual teams [ 67 ] by making interactions more difficult [ 92 ]. Thus, the choice of CMC technology has a heavy influence on communication because each method offers a different capacity to convey verbal and nonverbal cues [ 178 ]. It is therefore recommended to use several types of CMC technologies either concurrently (e.g., face-to-face communication accompanied by documents; telephone conferencing with synchronous electronic conferencing) or consecutively (e.g., conveying information via e-mail first, followed by con verging over the phone) [ 60 ].

Virtual teams that rely on CMC in lieu of face-to-face communication are more likely to experience less positive affect and have a diminished affective commitment to their teams [ 126 ]. Furthermore, compared to face-to-face feedback, computer-mediated feedback reduces perceptions of fairness [ 3 ]. This lack of face-to-face contact results in virtual teams having a lower sense of cohesion and personal rapport between team members [ 263 ]. Members of virtual teams may also divide their attention between various tasks while simultaneously participating in teamwork interactions due to the asynchronous nature of communication media, resulting in a lack of investment in the tasks [ 163 ]. As a result, communication timeliness has a higher influence on performance in virtual teams [ 163 ]. Furthermore, virtual teams that rely on CMC technology (e.g., instant messaging) to supplement communication in the absence of face-to-face interactions may have difficulties in their decision-making processes [ 173 ].

However, overall, communication technologies (including text-based tools) take more time and effort to effectively communicate information and are missing important social information and nonverbal cues that help establish ties between collaborators [ 64 ]. This has important implications for situations where a high volume of communication is necessary. Due to the extra effort required to communicate through computer-mediated modalities (e.g., email), virtual teams must put in extra effort to manage high volumes of messages, which can hinder performance [ 163 ]. Furthermore, when teams use email for communication, it becomes difficult to determine whether the information contained within the email was understood in the absence of vocal and nonverbal cues [ 163 ]. To combat this, Marlow et al. [ 163 ] suggest using closed-loop communication to prevent misunderstandings by providing opportunities for clarification that would otherwise not accompany virtual communication. They argue that the use of closed-loop communication will enhance performance in virtual teams [ 163 ].

Since remote collaborations must rely on technology in lieu of face-to-face communication, the level of technical competence of the team members can pose an additional challenge [ 193 ]. Teams that are unable to adopt and integrate basic technology into their everyday workflow are unlikely to use more complicated and sophisticated collaboration technology (e.g., multi-pane videoconferencing) [ 191 ] that may better support visual and verbal cues, enriching distance communication. Furthermore, the level of technical infrastructure can also create collaboration challenges [ 193 ]. Technology for remote work fails without adequate technical support or resources. Reliability is also an issue with communication technology—new technology must be stable enough to ‘compete with the well-established reliability of the telephone’ [ 15 ].

There are some advantages to using commuter-mediated communication technology in virtual teams. For example, asynchronous technology (e.g., text-based tools) provide provide the ability to take one’s time when asking a question or crafting a response [ 144 , 261 ], which leads to efficient, focused conversations [ 77 , 144 ] that can be quicker than other forms of communication. CMC is also shown to increase participation among team members [ 212 ], facilitate unique ideas [ 86 , 212 ], and reduce the number of dominant members [ 212 ]. In a similar vein, Fjermestad [ 79 ] found that groups that relied on CMC experienced higher decision quality, depth of analysis, equality of participation, and satisfaction than groups that primarily met face to face. Finally, virtual teams that do not meet face to face may be better at adapting their conceptualization of a task in response to a team member completing a task in a novel manner [ 163 ]

Additional factors, such as experience with a task, interdependence, and the temporal stage of team development can impact team performance when relying on CMC technology. For example, when teams have experience with the task at hand, with each other, and with their communication method, there is less of a need for synchronous CMC technology (e.g., video conferencing) [ 60 ]. In contrast, when teams do not have this extensive experience, there is a greater need for synchronous CMC technology [ 60 ]. Organizational structure, levels of interdependence, and media richness (which ranges from face-to-face communication to simple documents) also influence the effectiveness of communication [ 140 ]. These factors vary depending on the communication method’s capacity for immediate feedback, ability to facilitate nonverbal cues, and level of personalization [ 140 ]. In addition to this, Maruping and Agarwal [ 165 ] found that matching the functionalities of the CMC technology to specific tasks will result in higher levels of effectiveness in virtual teams. Furthermore, stage at which a virtual team is at in their development will also affect communication [ 165 ]. Teams in their early stages of development should use CMC technologies that facilitate expression in order to mitigate relationship conflict [ 165 ]. Video-conferencing technologies are particularly suited for this situation being both synchronous and media rich [ 165 ].

From the identification of these challenges, we can clearly see that existing tools and infrastructures have limitations that are preventing communication technology from fully supporting informal interactions. Thus, we are left with a need for other methods that support informal communication in geographically dispersed collaborations.

5.1.4 Intra-team conflict

In Jehn et al.’s exploration of everyday conflict through qualitative investigation of six organizational work teams, intra-team conflict is categorized as being either affective (i.e., interpersonal), task-based, or process-based (i.e., relating to responsibilities and delegation of workers for tasks) [ 125 ]. All three types of conflict have been investigated within the context of geographically distributed versus co-located teams, with mixed results. Several researchers have concluded that geographically distributed teams experience higher levels of conflict [ 8 , 46 , 103 , 108 , 188 , 261 ]. In particular, geographically distributed teams are more susceptible to interpersonal [ 108 ] and task-based conflict [ 108 , 179 ]. There is some evidence that conflict has a more ‘extreme’ [ 107 , 159 ] or ‘detrimental’ [ 179 ] effect on distributed teams as opposed to co-located ones. This effect can likely be attributed to the evidence that conflict in distributed teams is known to escalate and often remains unidentified and unaddressed for long periods of time [ 8 ]. As a result of reliance on computer-mediated communication, virtual teams featuring high geographical dispersion have higher perceptions of unfairness, which also leads to internal conflict [ 244 ].

One pervasive issue is the development of geographically based subgroups within a collaboration that provoke us-versus-them attitudes [ 8 , 46 ]. Armstrong and Cole observed that the word ‘we’ was often used to refer to co-located workers, regardless of which group the workers were assigned [ 8 ]. In another case, a team of international collaborators spread across four sites ‘fought among themselves as if they were enemies’. Interviews exposed that the team was actually comprised of four groups under one manager and did not act or feel like one cohesive team [ 8 ]. These conflicts are similar to those associated with communicating at a distance. Conflicts frequently occur as a consequence of assumptions and incorrectly interpreted communications [ 103 ]. Furthermore, missing information and miscommunications between geographically distant sites result in teammates making harsh attributions about their collaborators at other locations [ 46 ]. These types of intra-group conflicts can have important ramifications for distant collaborations. Us-versus-them attitudes often lead to limited information flow, which in turn leads to reduced cohesion and faulty attributions [ 46 ]. Moreover, intra-team conflict causes problems that result in delays in work progress [ 8 ] and resolution of work issues [ 103 ].

Researchers have identified several things that can mitigate conflict in virtual teams. Both shared context [ 108 ] and a shared sense of team identity have a moderating effect on conflict [ 108 , 179 ], particularly task and affective conflict [ 108 , 179 ]. Familiarity, in addition, has been shown to reduce conflict [ 107 ]. Spontaneous communication—which, as previously discussed, is primarily achieved face-to-face—has been demonstrated to mitigate conflict in virtual teams, particularly due to its role in facilitating the identification and handling of conflict [ 108 ]. There are also more instances of task conflict in teams that rely heavily on communication technology [ 179 ]. Specific types of conflict can be managed through different forms of computer-mediated communication technology. Task related conflict, for example, is best managed through synchronous communication technologies such as video-conferencing [ 165 ]. Conflict related to processes can be effectively handled using asynchronous communication technologies that also document the team’s agreements regarding tasks and responsibilities [ 165 ]. In this case, immediate feedback is not as necessary [ 165 ].

Although the above work has come to an agreement as to whether geographic distance has a negative effect on conflict, contradictions do exist in the literature. In particular, Mortensen and Hinds’ [ 179 ] examination of 24 product development teams found no significant difference in affective and task-based conflict between co-located and distributed teams, which is in direct conflict with their later work [ 108 ]. This discrepancy is particularly interesting given that the participants in both studies did research and product development, and are therefore comparable. Thus, it is uncertain as to which conclusion is accurate, presenting an open question.

5.2 Temporal distance

Temporal distance is distinctly different than geographical distance and should be treated as a separate dimension [ 49 ]. While geographical distance measures the amount of work needed for one collaborator to visit another at that collaborator’s place of work, temporal distance is considered to be a directional measurement of the temporal displacement experienced by two collaborators who want to interact with each other [ 2 ]. Temporal distance can be caused by both time shifts in work patterns and differences in time zones [ 219 ]. In fact, time zone differences and time shifts in work patterns can be manipulated to either decrease or increase temporal distance [ 2 ]. It can be argued that temporal distance is more influential than geographic distance [ 75 , 213 , 243 , 250 ] due to the challenges it poses on coordination [ 49 , 74 , 75 , 141 , 183 , 213 , 243 ].

One key disadvantage to high temporal distance is the reduced number of overlapping work hours between collaboration sites [ 11 , 33 , 132 ]. Although in an ideal situation, having team members dispersed across time zones can allow continual progress on a project as each team member works within their respective workdays [ 256 ], this isn’t always the case. In fact, temporal distance can lead to incompatible schedules that result in project delays and can only be overcome with careful planning [ 230 ]. Fewer overlapping work hours results in communication breakdowns, such as an increased need for rework and clarifications, and difficulties adjusting to new problems [ 73 , 74 ]. Additionally, reduced overlap in work hours results in coordination delays [ 49 ]. For example, a distant teammate may not be available when their expertise is needed [ 2 ]. In some cases, this unavailability causes the collaborator in need of help to make assumptions based on local culture and preferences in order to reach an immediate resolution of issues—which can cause rework when these assumptions are incorrect [ 250 ]. The issue of the lack of overlapping work hours also causes problems with synchronization; synchronous communication is often significantly limited in temporally dispersed collaborations, which can delay vital feedback [ 2 ] and increase response time [ 219 ]. In fact, scheduling global meetings can be virtually impossible for this reason [ 250 ]. Furthermore, as with geographic distance, temporal distance decreases the number of opportunities for informal communication [ 93 , 132 ] since the window in which all collaborators are available is small.

Communication can be disrupted by temporal distance in other ways. Bjørn and Ngwenyama found that in some virtual teams, communication would become limited to temporally co-located teammates because it was easier, bypassing teammates at other sites who should have been included [ 14 ]. This invisible communication would result in collaborators feeling left out of key decisions, which had toxic effects on the project. This effect is especially unfortunate given that temporal distance makes repairing the consequences of misunderstandings and reworking portions of the project more costly [ 73 ].

In addition to these issues, temporally dispersed collaborations are often plagued by delays, while co-located collaborations are considered more efficient [ 19 ]. Coordination delay increases with temporal distance—delay between collaborators located in the same city was smaller than that for collaborators in different cities, which was smaller than the delay found in collaborators located in different countries [ 49 ]. Delays in responses from collaborators can be especially frustrating and problematic [ 116 ] and can lengthen the amount of time required to resolve issues [ 19 ], sometimes dragging problems out across multiple days [ 120 , 132 ]. When work is organized such that a team member’s contribution is dependent upon a task completed by a team member in an earlier time zone, a failure to complete the earlier task can result in the loss of an entire workday [ 250 ]. Thus, timely completion of tasks in temporally dispersed collaborations is crucial [ 250 ]. Coordination delays are also shown to cause additional problems, particularly decreased performance in terms of meeting key requirements, staying within the budget, and completing work on time [ 49 ].

There are several social approaches to mitigating these issues. For example, collaborators can cultivate flexible work schedules [ 116 ], often by modifying a ‘typical’ workday by working either extremely early in the morning or very late at night so that there are overlapping work hours [ 250 ]. In contrast, Holmstrom et al. found that both Hewlett Packard (HP) and Fidelity employed a ‘follow-the-sun’ concept where work is handed off at the end of the day in one time-zone to workers beginning their day in another [ 116 ]. Follow-the-sun methodologies, if used effectively, can result in efficient, 24/7 productivity since work can be completed by one team member during another’s off hours [ 2 , 93 , 103 ]. However, this technique requires additional oversight time to facilitate the transfer of work from one team to the other, including time to discuss arising issues [ 250 ]. A competing technique is to limit the number of time zones in which sites are located [ 116 ]. Additionally, some coordination issues can be mitigated by careful division of work which takes into account being separated by several time zones [ 49 ].

Technology also plays a key role in mitigating the effects of temporal distance. Asynchronous communication tools (e.g., email, fax [ 19 , 57 ]) allow collaborators to coordinate shared efforts across time and distance with the additional benefits of leaving a written communication history [ 31 ] that supports accountability and traceability [ 2 ]. However, using asynchronous tools is known to increase the amount of time that a collaborator has to wait for a response [ 2 ] and make temporal boundaries more difficult to overcome than spatial boundaries in instances where sites do not have overlap in their workdays [ 49 ]. Furthermore, the process of writing ideas in emails increases the risk of misunderstandings between collaborators [ 57 ] over talking in person or via the telephone. Finally, developers starting their workday may become overwhelmed by the number of asynchronous messages left during the previous night [ 19 ]. Given these drawbacks to current technology and the unlikelihood that global collaboration is going to stop, it is worthwhile to ask how can we better support communication in temporally distant work.

There is also some question as to whether coordination costs are higher in teams that are temporally distributed. Both Ågerfalk et al. [ 2 ] and Battin et al. [ 11 ] assert that temporal distance greatly increases the cost and effort of coordination due to the added difficulties of dividing work across multiple time zones. Espinosa and Carmel [ 73 ], however, state that temporal distance reduces coordination costs when team members are not working concurrently because no direct coordination takes place when the two teammates are not working at the same time [ 2 ]. Clearly, this discrepancy needs to be resolved.

5.3 Perceived distance

As previously discussed in Sects. 5.1 and 5.2 , distance is commonly conceptualized in terms of geography or time zones [ 4 ] (i.e., spatio-temporal distance). In contrast, perceived (a.k.a. subjective) distance is characterized by a person’s impression of how near or how far another person is [ 270 ]. These perceptions of proximity have both an affective and a cognitive component [ 189 ]. In this case, the cognitive component refers to a mental judgement of how near or distance a virtual teammate seems while the affective component is concerned with the idea that a person’s sense of perceived proximity is neither purely conscious or rational but is instead dependent on emotions [ 189 ]. Perceived distance is a distinctly different idea than spatio-temporal distance and one is not necessarily related to the other [ 215 ]. Rather, perceived distance is the “symbolic meaning” of proximity rather than physical proximity and is suggested to have a greater effect on relationship outcomes [ 189 ]. This symbolic meaning is defined by the teams sense of shared identity and their use of communication media, which is primarily synchronous [ 189 ]. In fact, as people interact strongly and frequently with other team members, they can create a sense of closeness independent of physical proximity [ 214 ]. For example, free and open source software developers often perceive high levels of proximity due to their strong and intense communication and “hacker” identities [ 214 ]. The concept of perceived distance is why collaborators may be geographically distant and yet feel as though they are proximally near [ 162 ]. Perceived proximity can have a profound influence on team interaction [ 34 , 82 , 189 ] For example, perceptions of proximity are known to influence decision making in virtual teams [ 198 ].

In 2014, Siebdrat et al. surveyed 678 product developers and team leaders in the software industry to investigate perceived distance and challenge the notion that geographic and temporal distance directly translates to perceived distance. They found that perceived distance was more strongly affected by a team’s national heterogeneity than by their spatio-temporal distance. Furthermore, Siebdrat et al. found that perceived distance had a significant effect on collaboration while spatio-temporal distance had no impact. As a result, they concluded that perceived distance is more indicative of collaboration challenges than spatio-temporal distance.

Findings from other work implies that distance can affect collaborators that are all in the same country at a single site [ 4 ], with low national heterogeneity and low spatio-temporal distance. It is uncertain whether this situation would still have high perceived distance given the limited work available. Therefore, there is a clear need for a better understanding of the relationship between perceived distance, spatio-temporal distance, and collaboration.

6 Contributing factors

In addition to the challenges associated with the three main types of distance discussed previously in this paper (i.e., geographic, temporal, and perceived distance), several contributing factors intersect with distance to cause additional challenges for virtual teams. To answer Question 1b (What other factors contribute to the factors and challenges that impact distance collaboration?), this paper will discuss these key factors, namely the nature of work, the need for explicit management, configuration, and diversity of workers in a collaboration.

6.1 Nature of work

Work can be categorized as either loosely or tightly coupled [ 191 ]. Tightly coupled work relies heavily on the skills of groups of workers with exceedingly interdependent components; this type of work necessitates frequent, rich communication and is usually non-routine. Loosely coupled work, in contrast, is typically either routine or has fewer dependencies than tightly coupled work. Interdependence between components, and thus tightly coupled work, is at the heart of collaboration [ 225 ]. In addition, complex tasks lead to higher trust and collaboration than simple tasks and task complexity is a critical factor that molds the interactions and relationships between team members [ 42 ]. Furthermore, interdependence is not merely an issue of sharing resources, but instead ‘being mutually dependent in work means that A relies positively on the quality and timeliness of B s’ work and vice versa and should primarily be conceived of as a positive, though by no means necessarily harmonious interdependence’ [ 225 ]. Marlow et al. [ 163 ] found that as interdependence increases, communication becomes increasingly critical. They therefore suggest that communication becomes increasingly important to promoting high levels of performance. In 1988, Strauss described the additional work necessary for collaborators to negotiate, organize, and align their cooperative (yet individual) activities that occur as a result of interdependence. In doing so, Strauss discusses the concept of articulation work—by his definition, work concerned with assembling tasks and adjusting larger groups of tasks (e.g., sub-projects and lines of work) as a part of managing workflow. Articulation work is further described as the additional work needed to handle the interdependencies in work between multiple collaborators [ 72 ].

Virtual teams face greater challenges when managing these dependencies as a result of distance, both spatial and temporal, and culture [ 72 ]. Because interdependent (i.e., tightly coupled) work requires a high amount of interaction and negotiation, it is very difficult to do at a distance [ 191 ]. In contrast, loosely coupled work does not require as much communication as tightly coupled work, and so is easier to complete in geographically distant collaborations. Thus, tightly coupled work in virtual teams leads to less successful projects [ 193 ]. This observation is important since most projects have both varieties of work [ 191 ].

To combat the challenges associated with relying on tightly coupled work, many organizations take a social approach that arranges for co-located team members to work on tightly coupled aspects of the project while distance workers tackle loosely coupled parts [ 64 , 193 ], facilitated by deconstructing tasks into smaller pieces [ 93 ]. For tightly coupled work, some organizations choose to use extreme [ 161 ] or radical [ 246 ] collaboration setups where teams work in an enclosed environment in order to maximize communication and facilitate the flow of information. In contrast, for loosely coupled work, some organizations choose to minimize interaction [ 104 ]. Creating rules and norms for communication between team members early in the team’s life cycle can also increase effective communication and therefore improve performance during complex tasks [ 262 ]. This is essential for managing highly complex tasks and avoiding misunderstandings that can arise as a result of high task complexity combined with high virtuality [ 163 ].

However, the idea that tightly coupled work challenges collaboration is contested by Bjørn et al. [ 15 ]. This case study is centered on a large research project investigating global software development with several geographically dispersed partners. This study also provides evidence that tightly coupled work resulted in stronger collaborations. They observed that tightly coupled work required collaborators to frequently interact to do their work and, as a result, forced these collaborators to know more about each other, help each other, and cultivate strong engagement despite being at geographically distant sites. In contrast, loosely coupled work did not require the same level of engagement, resulting in collaborators feeling more detached from the project. Thus, Bjørn et al. proposed that tightly coupled work in geographically distributed teams involves processes that help collaboration [ 15 ].

Complex, tightly coupled tasks may be more difficult to the reliance of virtual teams on virtual tools and tendency to disband after a task has been completed [ 12 ]. Furthermore, the combination of high task complexity and high levels of virtuality lends itself to misunderstandings and mistakes [ 163 ]. As a result, effective communication is more critical for high performance in virtual teams for these tasks [ 163 ]. Despite this, Marlow et al. suggest that virtual teams can successfully complete these tasks if team members cultivate shared cognition. Given the characteristics of CMC technologies like video conferencing, which preserve much of the nuances present in face-to-face communication, we posit that shared cognition can be developed through the frequent, consistent use of this medium for communication.

Given the contrast between the work suggesting that tightly coupled work hinders distance collaboration [ 72 , 191 , 193 ] and work by Bjørn et al. [ 15 ] that suggests the opposite, there is clearly room for further research on the subject. This is especially true since Bjørn et al. focused only on global software development, and thus their findings might not generalize to other types of collaboration.

6.2 Explicit management and leadership

One of the largest challenges faced by virtual teams is the management of team effort [ 207 ]. Explicit management is needed for distributed, collaborative work, particularly by leaders trained in project management, in order to ensure the success of a project [ 150 , 193 ]. Collaborative projects are considered difficult to manage, especially as the number of workers associated with the project increases. Leadership is challenging in geographically dispersed teams because effective leadership is highly dependent on quality interactions that are more difficult across distance [ 157 ]. For example, Hoch and Kozlowski [ 111 ] found that hierarchical leadership is less effective in geographically dispersed teams than in co-located teams. It is also more challenging to ensure that the team’s work is given priority by the team members in geographically dispersed teams [ 131 ]. Furthermore, distributed projects face even more obstacles, such as increased coordination problems [ 188 ] including identifying and overcoming cultural differences, ensuring that all team members are heard [ 193 ], and regulating the inter-dependencies between resources, task components, and personnel [ 158 ].

Virtual teams face challenges related to leadership, such as nourishing an environment that fosters creativity [ 96 ] and emergent leadership [ 35 ]. Effective leadership benefits geographically dispersed virtual teams in a multitude of ways, including helping virtual teams overcome many of the challenges caused by distance, including facilitating satisfaction and motivation [ 88 , 169 ]. Virtual leadership can help collaboration within the team through providing training, guidance, resources, coaching, and facilitating relationship building [ 150 ]. Furthermore, leadership in virtual teams can facilitate knowledge sharing and the building of shared mental models [ 150 ]. Mental models are defined by Johnson-Laird [ 126 ] as internal representations of knowledge that match the situation they represent and consist of both abstract concepts and perceptible objects and images. These mental models may reflect detailed information about how the task is to be performed (i.e., task-related team mental models) or information about team member’s roles, tendencies, expertise, and patterns of interaction (i.e., teamwork-related mental models) [ 226 ]. These benefits, in turn enhance virtual team effectiveness [ 150 ]. Task complexity can be a mitigating factor in the effectiveness of leadership. Leadership benefits the team more in an environment where tasks are highly interdependent and/or highly complex [ 150 ]. In addition to this, team members’ perceptions of their leaders’ use of communication tools and techniques can impact their perceptions of overall team performance [ 182 ]). In particular, positive perceptions of leadership communication results in positive perceptions of performance [ 182 ].

Leadership can have a strong influence on interpersonal team dynamics and trust as well. Prior work indicates that leaders play an important role in enhancing team performance by demonstrating empathy and understanding [ 131 ], monitoring and reducing tensions [ 260 ], and clearly articulating role and relationship expectations for team members [ 131 ]. Leaders in virtual teams have the capacity to prevent and resolve team relationship and task conflicts [ 150 ]. Furthermore, effective leadership can have a positive influence on affection, cognition, and motivation [ 150 ]. It is particularly important for leaders to bridge co-located and remote team members in order to promote team effectiveness [ 150 ]. Leaders can build trust within virtual teams by engaging in behaviors such as early face-to-face meetings, using rich communication channels, and facilitating synchronous information exchange [ 150 ]. High levels of consistent communication between leaders and team members is positively related to trust and engagement within virtual teams [ 80 ].

Individual leadership styles have their own impact on virtual team productivity. Prior work has focused on four key types of leadership: transformational, empowering, emergent, and shared. Transformational leadership is characterized by idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individual consideration, and intellectual stimulation [ 65 ]. This type of leadership enables followers to reach their potential and maximize performance [ 65 ]. However, transformational leadership, while effective in co-located or slightly dispersed teams, is less effective in improving the performance of highly geographically dispersed teams [ 69 ]. This may be due to the difficulties associated with facilitating communication across distance, which can cause the leader’s influence to have counterproductive effects [ 69 ]. In this case, the leader is likely to be “too far removed” to authentically want to make a difference [ 69 ]. In fact, a transformational leader’s influence on team communication decreases as the team becomes more and more dispersed [ 69 ].

Empowering leadership combines sharing power with individual team members while also providing a facilitative and supportive environment [ 236 ]. High empowering leadership has the effect of positively influencing team members’ situational judgement on their virtual collaboration behaviors and, ultimately, individual performance [ 105 ]. Moreover, empowering leadership has a positive effect on team performance at high levels of team geographic dispersion [ 105 ]. However, it is important to note that teams may miss out on the benefits provided by empowering leadership if they lack situational judgement [ 105 ]

Emergent leaders are people who exert significant influence over other members of a team, even though they may not be vested with formal authority [ 227 ]. Emergent leadership has a positive relationship with virtual team performance [ 110 ]. In particular, emergent leadership has positive relationships with team agreeableness, openness to experience at the individual team member level, and emotional stability [ 110 ]. In addition, emergent leadership has a positive relationship to individual conscientiousness, which is associated with being careful, responsible, and organized [ 110 ]. These all have positive influences on virtual team performance [ 110 ].

Shared leadership is a collective leadership processing featuring multiple team members participating in team leadership functions [ 110 ]. This form of leadership can be described as a “mutual influence process” where members of a team lead each other towards the accomplishment of goals [ 109 ]. Shared leadership has a positive influence on the performance of virtual teams [ 110 , 150 ]. The structural support provided by shared leadership can supplement traditional leadership; in this situation, shared leaders assume the responsibility of building trust and relationships among team members [ 150 ]. Shared leadership provides many benefits to virtual teams such as emotional stability, agreeableness, mediating effects on the relationship between personality composition and team performance [ 110 ]. Shared and emergent leadership styles share some effects on virtual teams. Specifically, these types of leadership will affect the relationships between team conscientiousness, emotional stability, and team openness such that they will be stronger in teams with higher levels of virtuality than in teams with lower levels of virtuality [ 110 ]. However, shared leadership is facilitated by the socially-related exchange of information that creates commitment, trust, and cohesion among team members [ 110 ]. In co-located teams, this exchange of knowledge is enabled through social interactions like informal conversations, socializing outside of work, and through meetings [ 110 ]. However, this type of informal and face-to-face communication is less common and feasible in virtual teams for reasons that will be discussed later. As a result, it is necessary for organizations to make efforts to facilitate shared leadership through training [ 110 ].

In addition to leadership style, the level of authority differentiation and skill level of the team members have an affect on team-level outcomes. Among teams with less skilled members, centralized authority (i.e., high authority differentiation) will have a positive influence on efficiency and performance in virtual teams [ 223 ]. In contrast, centralized authority has a negative influence on team innovation, learning, adaption, and performance as well as member satisfaction and identification among teams with highly skilled members [ 223 ]. Decentralized authority (i.e., low authority differentiation) when combined with careful intervention of a formal or informal leader can benefit coordination, learning, and adaptation in virtual teams with high skill differentiation and high temporal stability [ 150 ].

Other studies showed that virtual teams face challenges that could be mitigated with explicit management [ 83 , 188 , 243 , 261 ]. O’Leary and Mortensen investigated the effects of configuration (i.e., the distribution of team members across multiple sites) on team dynamics at the individual, subgroup, and team level [ 188 ]. They found that geographically defined subgroups led to significantly negative outcomes with regards to coordination problems (e.g., difficulties with coordination-related decisions about schedules, deadlines, and task assignments). The effects of configuration on distance work will be discussed further in this section. Similarly, problems of coordination (e.g., ‘reaching decisions’ and ‘division of labor”) were significantly increased by distance [ 261 ]. These results are complemented by findings that distance hampers the coordination of virtual teams via synchronous meetings [ 243 ]. Similarly, coordination in distance collaborations is hindered by difficulties in scheduling synchronous meetings due to limited windows of time where all parties are able to be present [ 83 ]. These findings complement those of Sect.  5.2 discussing the effect of temporal distance on collaboration.

Prior work has suggested various strategies for effective leadership and explicit management. For example, Hill and Bartol [ 105 ] suggest team training that focuses on strategies for overcoming challenges encountered in dispersed teamwork. Another, related, strategy is to focus more attention on setting norms for behavior that may aid appropriate situational judgment among team members when launching geographically dispersed teams [ 105 ]. A different approach is to consider personality dimensions such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, emotion stability, and moderate extroversion, which all have positive influences on team performance, when selecting virtual team members [ 110 ].

However, some types of collaborations, particularly research collaborations consisting mainly of scientists, avoid the application of explicit management in their projects [ 193 ]. There is an opportunity for research to investigate how to support explicit management in distance collaborations that typically reject this type of administration.

6.3 Configuration

Like O’Leary et al. [ 188 ], in this paper, configuration is subdivided into three dimensions: site, imbalance, and isolation. Site dispersion is best characterized as the degree to which collaborators are at distinct geographic locations [ 187 ]. There is an inverse relationship between the number of sites and project success [ 50 , 51 , 133 ]. High site dispersion is associated with higher amounts of faultlines (i.e., theoretical divisions within a group that create subgroups) which damage team collaboration [ 47 , 210 ]. Specifically, faultlines escalate polarization, subgrouping, and the effect of causing collaborators in other locations to feel more distant [ 47 ]. Having a large number of sites, in particular, increases the odds that differences in demographics will create these divisions [ 47 ]. Additionally, greater numbers of sites predict fewer coordination activities and decreased outcomes [ 133 ]. Knowledge sharing decreases [ 40 , 83 ] and the cost of managing team goals increases [ 97 ] as the number of sites increases.

Imbalance refers to the proportion of collaborators dispersed across a set of sites and can have negative effects on collaboration, such as conflicts between large and small sites [ 8 ]. For example, imbalanced teams often have unequal amounts of contribution towards shared team tasks [ 188 ]. Furthermore, levels of conflict and trust differ between imbalanced and balanced teams [ 188 , 210 ]. In particular, larger subgroups in imbalanced teams feel stronger effects from faultlines on conflict and trust [ 210 ]. However, it is unclear what the ramifications are of these differences in trust and conflict [ 188 , 210 ], presenting an opportunity for research.

Imbalanced teams consisting of one isolated collaborator working with a co-located team function differently than highly dispersed, balanced teams [ 188 ]. For instance, communication in these imbalanced teams is different because the co-located team members communicate both face-to-face and electronically with each other, but, in the absence of travel, only communicate electronically with the isolated team member [ 231 ]. This disparity in communication methods impedes informal interaction and spontaneous communication [ 45 ]. This also has a unique effect on communication where the co-located team feels compelled to communicate with those isolated collaborators more frequently to make up for this difference [ 188 ]. Also, isolated members tend to contribute more frequently than their co-located counterparts because they feel as though they need to ‘speak up’ and be ‘heard’ over the co-located team [ 141 , 188 ].

Furthermore, isolation negatively affects a worker’s awareness of collaborator’s activities [ 187 ]. Isolated workers are also more likely to feel the effects of a lack of motivational sense of the presence of others [ 193 ]. These isolated workers identify less with the team and feel less like they are part of the group, leading to a feeling of distance from the rest of the team [ 45 ], which translates to feeling differently about group processes and outcomes [ 27 ]. Furthermore, isolation and feelings of alienation can have a negative effect on relationships among workers in geographically dispersed virtual teams, increasing the likelihood of feeling discomfort and reducing the likelihood of trusting team members that they do not know well [ 67 ].

Configurationally imbalanced teams (i.e., teams that have an uneven distribution of members across sites) tend to have lower identification with teammates and higher levels of conflict [ 188 ]. Conflict can be reduced by a shared sense of team identity [ 108 , 179 ], meaning that fostering this sense of identification with the team can mitigate both problems. Since team identification can be built via face-to-face communication [ 54 ]; we posit that in the absence of face-to-face communication, imbalanced teams should make use of CMC technologies that facilitate nuanced expression, such as video conferencing tools.

6.4 Group composition

The diversity of a team encompasses several factors that correlate with a set of challenges that greatly affect virtual teams. This section will focus on the issues of common ground, socio-cultural distance, and work culture. In the process, this section will discuss the remaining challenges identified by Olson and Olson [ 191 , 193 ], (continued from Sect.  5 ): common ground, the competitive/cooperative culture, and alignment of incentives and goals.

6.4.1 Common ground

Distance collaboration becomes easier if team members have common ground (i.e., have worked together before [ 54 ], have shared past experiences [ 54 ], vocabulary [ 191 ], or mental models [ 168 ] etc.) since it allows them to communicate via technology without requiring frequent clarification [ 193 ]. This challenge is also referred to as the ‘mutual knowledge problem’ [ 46 ]. The concept of mutual knowledge between teammates is based on the idea of ‘grounding’ in communication [ 43 ], which is done by both communicating and confirming understanding using words or body language [ 43 ]. Schmidtke and Cummings [ 226 ] found that as virtualness increases in a team, mental models become more complex, which negatively affects teamwork. They also found that as virtualness increases, similarity and accuracy of mental models decreases [ 226 ]. Accuracy and similarity play vital roles in reducing the negative effect of complexity on teamwork behaviors [ 226 ]. Fortunately, specialized training can increase mental model accuracy [ 226 ].

As virtual teams rely more on computer mediated communication, temporal stability (i.e. “the degree to which team members have a history of working together in the past and an expectation of working together in the future” [ 115 ]) more strongly influences teamwork [ 223 ]. High temporal stability is associated with positive team outcomes related to related to adaptation, learning, innovation, and performance, as well as satisfaction and identification with the team [ 223 ]. In addition to this, the extent to which virtual team members share common goals is critical in determining the success of the team [ 42 , 230 ]. For this reason, team leaders should ensure that team members commit to the task and common goals [ 10 ].

Research [ 168 ] has shown that it is more difficult for virtual teams that are geographically dispersed to develop a shared mental model. In particular, the process of grounding is made more difficult when there is a higher risk of misinterpretation, such as in the presence of multiple cultural practices and languages [ 191 ].The significant amount of time required to establish common conceptual frameworks and personal relationships can pose a significant constraint on collaboration in virtual teams [ 54 ].

The consequences of lack of common ground are primarily difficulty building trust [ 123 , 202 , 273 ] and difficulties associated with communication. Lack of common ground can limit the ability to communicate about and retain contextual information about teammates located at other sites, including their teammates situation and constraints, especially as the number of sites increases, in turn hindering their collaborative interactions and performance [ 46 , 230 ]. This contextual information includes, but is not limited to, local holidays and customs, site-specific processes and standards, competing responsibilities, and pressure from supervisors and teammates [ 46 ]. Common ground is also necessary to understand which messages or parts of messages are the most salient, which is particularly problematic because there may be restricted feedback [ 46 ]. The lack of common ground can also create problems interpreting the meaning of silence, which makes it difficult to know when a decision has been made [ 46 ]. Furthermore, lack of common ground can result in an uneven distribution of information and differences in speed of access to that information, which causes teammates at different sites to have different information and creates misunderstandings that are nontrivial to rectify [ 46 ].

Thus, the establishment of common ground is of utmost importance to virtual teams.

6.4.2 Socio-cultural distance

Socio-cultural distance has been defined as a measurement of a team member’s perception of their teammate’s values and usual practices [ 2 ]. This concept encompasses national culture and language, politics, and the motivations and work values of an individual [ 2 ]. It is known that geographically distributed collaborations are more socio-culturally diverse than co-located ones [ 179 ] because distance typically increases demographic heterogeneity (especially racial or ethnic heterogeneity) [ 107 ]. Members of a virtual team with different cultural backgrounds are likely to have different behaviors within the teams, including how they interact with their teammates [ 123 ]. For this and other reasons, virtual team’s cultural composition is the key predictor of the team’s performance [ 242 ].

Cultural differences go beyond national differences. There is a tendency for researchers studying cross-cultural organizational behavior to focus on national issues or use nation as a substitute for cultural values [ 245 ]. However, nation is not the only meaningful source of culture [ 84 , 149 ]. In addition to this, there may be multiple subcultures within a nation and the national culture may not be completely shared [ 135 ]. In fact, variation of cultural values within a country may be higher than variation between countries [ 114 ]. Therefore, a virtual team with high national diversity may not necessarily be culturally diverse [ 86 ].

Prior research has identified three levels of diversity: surface-level, deep-level, and functional-level [ 99 , 177 ]. Surface-level diversity is primarily observable differences such as race, age, and sex, while deep-level diversity is comprised of more subtle differences in personal characteristics such as attitudes, beliefs, and values, which are communicated through interaction between team members and information gathering [ 177 ]. Functional-level diversity, in contrast, refers to the degree to which team members have vary in knowledge, information, expertise, and skills [ 10 ].

The individualism-collectivism dichotomy is a ‘major dimension of cultural variability’ [ 112 ] that contributes to high socio-cultural distance. Socio-cultural distance is associated with higher levels of conflict as well as lower levels of satisfaction and cohesion [ 238 ] and has a profound impact on team performance [ 70 ]. Hardin et al. [ 98 ] found that the individualistic-collectivist dichotomy results in some cultures being more open to working in geographically dispersed environments due to their levels of self-efficacy beliefs about virtual teamwork.

Collectivist cultures place the needs, beliefs, and goals of the team over the those of an individual [ 94 , 112 ]. Virtual teams characterized by collectivist culture are less likely to use CMC technologies [ 143 ]. When they do choose to adopt CMC technologies, collectivist teams tend to choose synchronous methods that provide high relationship-related informational value [ 143 ]. Informational value in this context refers to the extent to which CMC technologies convey information benefits team effectiveness [ 143 ]. Virtual teams that favor in-group members and accept perceptions of inequality are said to be characterized by “vertical collectivism” [ 254 ]. These teams are less likely to rely on CMC technologies, and are more likely to accept varying forms of informational value [ 143 ]. They are also more likely to employ asynchronous methods [ 143 ]. In contrast, teams that perceive equality amongst team members regardless of their role within the organization experience “horizontal collectivism” [ 253 ]. In this case, members of the team view themselves as being part of a collective and treat all team members as equal. [ 253 ]. While these teams are also likely to limit reliance on CMC technologies, they tend to require higher informational values and prefer synchronous methods [ 143 ].

In contrast to collectivist cultures, individualist cultures place the needs, beliefs, and goals of the individual over the those of an team [ 112 ]. Virtual teams with high levels of individualism are more likely to use CMC technologies, especially those that are high in task-related informational value, and tend to work asynchronously [ 143 ] Furthermore, team members from individualist cultures tend to communicate more openly and precisely [ 112 , 113 ] and are more willing to respond to ‘ambiguous messages’ [ 94 ], which is considered to be an indicator of trust [ 203 ]. This observation indicates that team members from individualistic cultures may be more ready to trust other teammates when communicating via technology than team members from collectivist cultures [ 123 ]. Thus, the issues and recommendations regarding technology and trust are applicable.

Teams with members that prioritize their own intrinsic and extrinsic goals while also favoring status differences are said to be “vertically individualistic” [ 156 ]. These teams are characterized by competitive members that are motivated to “win” [ 156 ]. In addition, while these individuals tend to belong to more in-groups than collectivists, they are not very emotionally connected to these groups [ 181 ]. Virtual teams with high levels of vertical individualism are more likely to adopt CMC technologies, tolerate varying forms of informational value, and will use asynchronous methods when required by superiors than teams characterized by horizontal individualism or any type of collectivism [ 143 ]. Team members with horizontal individualistic orientation prioritize their own self-interest while also viewing their teammates as equals [ 143 ]. Virtual teams with high levels of horizontal individualism are more likely to adopt CMC technologies, tend to require higher informational value, and will use synchronous methods when required by superiors as opposed to teams characterized by vertical individualism or any type of collectivism [ 143 ].

Socio-cultural diversity can also be characterized by the temporal orientation of their goals. Teams that focus upon the future and are willing to delay success or gratification for the purposes of future gain have a “long-term orientation” culture [ 143 ]. Cultures with long-term orientation tend to value perseverance, persistence, and focus on future-oriented goals [ 143 ]. In contrast, cultures characterized by “short-term orientation” are focused on the immediate needs of their teams with little consideration of the impact of their decisions on the future [ 143 ]. Virtual teams defined by long-term orientation are more likely to adopt asynchronous tools with high informational value and tend to be slower to rely on CMC technologies than short-term orientated teams, which prefer synchronous tools with low informational value [ 143 ].

Cultures can also be characterized by the amount of contextualizing is performed by an individual during communication [ 95 ]. For example, Japan, a high-context culture, relies more on the use of indirect communication via contextual cues (e.g., body language) to convey information [ 139 ]. Contextualization also affects choice of CMC technologies. High-context teams tend not to rely on CMC technologies and will prefer tools that high high informational value [ 143 ]. Low-context teams, in contrast, will rely on CMC technologies and will prefer those with low informational value [ 143 ].

Virtual teams are also affected by the levels of affectiveness/neutrality present in their culture. Affectiveness in this context refers to the amount of emotion that individuals usually express when they communicate [ 143 ]. For example, individuals from affective cultures such as Italy commonly exhibit their emotions publicly. [ 143 ]. In addition, individuals from affective cultures often feel that more neutral cultures (e.g., Japan) are more intentionally deceitful because they tend to hold back on their emotions [ 240 ]. Affective teams will be less likely to rely on CMC technologies and will prefer ones with high informational value [ 143 ]. In contrast, teams with neutral cultures will highly rely on CMC technologies and will prefer tools with low informational value [ 143 ].

Other types of socio-cultural diversity influence the performance of virtual team. For example, heterogeneity in the extent to which gender roles are traditional is positively related to team performance [ 70 ]. In a similar vein, heterogeneity in the extent to which there is discomfort with the unknown has a positive effect on issue-based conflict [ 70 ]. Uncertainty avoidance also affects tool use in virtual teams. Teams that have high amounts of uncertainty avoidance are more likely to use a synchronous CMC technology with high informational value. In contrast, teams with low uncertainty avoidance are unlikely to have a preference [ 143 ]. In addition to this, the degree of inequality that exists among members of virtual teams has an affect on the tools chosen for communication [ 143 ]. Teams with a high degree of inequality (i.e., high power distance) are more likely to use synchronous tools while teams with a low degree of inequality (i.g., low power distance) will prefer asynchronous tools [ 143 ]. Specificity also plays a role in virtual team performance. Someone from a specific culture (e.g., the United Kingdom) is more likely to view their coworkers as people with whom they only have a business relationship with, [ 87 ]. In contrast, more diffuse cultures (e.g., China) are more likely to view their teammates as friends and include them in their social lives [ 143 ]. This affects the choice communication methods employed by the team as teams characterized by high specificity are more likely to rely on CMC technologies than diffuse teams [ 143 ].

High socio-cultural distance is the cause of several types of collaboration problems. For example, high socio-cultural distance reduces communication and increases risk [ 2 ] caused by relationship breakdowns between distributed teams [ 250 ] and results in more processes challenges and lower team performance [ 86 ]. Socio-cultural distance also tends to worsen the way leaders sense, interpret, and respond to problems [ 271 ]. Cultural heterogeneity also tends to result in divergent subgroup identification [ 68 ] that may subsequently have a negative effect on team interactions and performance [ 67 ]. Furthermore, in accordance with similarity/attraction theory, team members attribute positive traits to team members that they believe are similar to themselves and prefer to interact with them [ 216 , 255 ]. Negative traits are thus associated with teammates that they believe are dissimilar from them and sometimes actively avoid interactions with those teammates [ 24 ]. As a result, the belief that others are different in terms of education, race, and attitudes (i.e., perceived diversity) is frequently associated with the negative consequences of team heterogeneity [ 100 ], such as unwillingness to cooperate and coordinate activities [ 56 , 117 , 148 ].

Furthermore, teams with high socio-cultural distance are more likely to have issues with integration and communication and have more conflict [ 269 ]. Both task and affective conflict are increased as a result of the differences in perspectives and approaches related to work, which further exacerbates differences in expectations, attitudes, and beliefs [ 195 , 204 ]. These differences in belief structures are particularly common in heterogeneous groups (i.e., groups with high socio-cultural distance) [ 268 ] which, in turn, increases conflict due to differences in interpretations and opinions of work processes [ 205 ]. Thus, there is a vicious cycle between differences in belief and intra-group conflict that is detrimental to collaboration.

The most commonly experienced problems correlating with socio-cultural distance are difficulties associated with diversity in language preferences, proficiency, and interpretation, which can create barriers for many projects [ 116 ], such as requiring increased effort [ 74 , 170 , 183 ]. This challenge is not just a matter of different languages, even native speakers of one language may have problems because of differences in dialects and local accents [ 33 ]. In many global collaborations, some (if not all) of the collaborators only speak English as a second language [ 132 , 219 ]. This situation causes problems when collaborators need to synchronously communicate via teleconferencing—these team members can become overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the conversation [ 132 , 219 ]. Furthermore, this language-based disadvantage can cause non-native speakers of the dominant language to feel alienated and as though they have a disadvantage when speaking [ 219 ]. Prior work has also shown that virtual teams whose members have different first languages have more conflict and lower levels of satisfaction and cohesion [ 238 ].

Misunderstandings can occur even in cases where all collaborators are fluent in a language if there are other differences in culture—a seemingly harmless joke could have a massively detrimental impact on the success of a project if it is misunderstood as an insult [ 250 ]. Olson and Olson observed one such misunderstanding where team members in the United States ended a video conference without expressing a ‘proper farewell’ to a European teammate [ 191 ]. In this case, the curtness was due to pressure on the American team, who were unaware of the cultural expectations regarding farewells, to cut costs by conducting short video conferences [ 191 ]. The European team, however, was unaware of this pressure and perceived the lack of a proper farewell as an insult [ 191 ]. Also, conflicts can arise when teammates from a culture where saying ‘no’ is considered impolite (even when saying ‘yes’ is a problematic answer) interact with teammates who do not share this compunction [ 116 ]. Treinen and Miller-Frost encountered an instance where collaborators from one culture did not ask many questions of their teammates and instead affirmed that they had a clear understanding of requirements, but were in reality too polite to express concerns [ 250 ]. In this situation, the other collaborators were unaware of this cultural difference and did not realize that their questions should not have formulated as ‘yes or no,’ but rather should have elicited responses that indicated understanding.

Other types of socio-cultural differences such as those caused by religion, generation, and doing orientation, can also affect virtual team success. Religious differences, for example, can make it difficult for team members to understand each others norms and traditions, which has a negative influence on collaboration [ 221 ]. Generational differences can affect how a team member responds to collaborating via CMC technology because not every has the high levels of technical expertise that makes them a “digital native” [ 129 ]. Finally, differences in the extent to which work is valued as a central life interest (i.e., “doing orientation”) is negatively linked to productivity [ 135 ]. However, differences in the extent to which team members have a sense of personal control over their work and life events are positively linked to team productivity, cooperation, and empowerment [ 135 ].

A review of literature reviews and meta-analyses suggests that the “main-effects” approach, where researchers focus on relationships between outcomes and diversity dimensions, ignoring moderating variables, cannot truly account for the effects of diversity [ 86 ]. The effect of socio-cultural diversity depends on other features of the team [ 272 ], such as how long members have interacted, the types of diversity investigated, and the types of outcomes under scrutiny [ 86 ]. High task complexity, high tenure, large team size, and low levels of geographic dispersion are found to moderate the effects of socio-cultural diversity on virtual teams [ 237 ]. Experience with CMC technology can also moderate socio-cultural diversity; high heterogeneity in technical experience heightens the negative effect that differences in nationality has on creativity [ 164 ]. Socio-economic variables (e.g., human development index (HDI)) has a significant impact on a country’s scientific production and collaboration patterns [ 118 , 152 , 199 ]. Kramer et al. found that socioeconomic similarities and economic agreements between countries have contributed to increased collaboration in the scientific field [ 143 ], which is likely to be virtual. The phase in which a virtual team is at in the project life-cycle affects assessment of team performance in culturally diverse teams. Culturally heterogeneous virtual teams will outperform culturally homogeneous teams during the later part of the project life-cycle [ 264 ]. This is likely a result of teams becoming more homogeneous over time as shared team values, associated norms, and identity enables the team to overcome process challenges that occur when team members encounter cultural differences [ 86 , 264 ].

Computer-mediated communication technology (e.g., email, video-conferencing) can reduce the negative effects of socio-cultural diversity early on in the life of a diverse virtual team due to their reductive capabilities [ 32 ]. In fact, use of these tools may even be beneficial for diverse teams for this reason [ 32 ]. Many issues regarding language barriers are surmounted by the use of asynchronous technology that allows workers to reflect and carefully consider their position before answering a question posed by a collaborator that primarily speaks another language [ 2 , 116 ]. These benefits result in the heavier use of asynchronous tools, which introduces the disadvantages of asynchronous tools (e.g., increased time and effort to effectively communicate, absence of important social information and nonverbal cues) [ 2 ]. Furthermore, asynchronous communication is not feasible in every situation. And, as discussed above, language barriers can cause problems during synchronous communication. Thus, developing technology that better supports synchronous communication across a language barrier is a promising opportunity for research in supporting collaboration.

Contradictions exist in the literature with regard to the effect of socio-cultural diversity on team performance. Edwards and Shridhar [ 66 ], for example, found no relationship between a team’s socio-cultural diversity and the learning, satisfaction, or performance of its members. Other research has suggested that socio-cultural diversity is unrelated to conflict [ 108 ]. Finally, Weijen found that whether or not members of a virtual team spoke English (specifically) did not have an influence on international collaboration, likely due to the pervasiveness of English as the default language for many international journals and indexed databases [ 259 ].

It is also recommended that the addition of basic cultural awareness [ 250 ] and language training [ 120 ] be incorporated into the beginning of every project to mitigate these issues before they become major problems. One specific suggestion is to employ some of the guidelines from agile development methodology (i.e., Scrum), such as daily status meetings, to mitigate the effect of assumptions by providing an opportunity to address issues or questions during the hand-off and allocation of tasks [ 250 ]. Given the plethora of tools developed for supporting Scrum (e.g., [ 209 , 229 , 251 ]), it would be interesting to see how these tools could be adapted to smooth over collaboration issues arising from cultural differences.

6.4.3 Work culture

Socio-cultural distance can be highly influenced by the work culture dimension. For example, there may be conflicts from high socio-cultural distance between two teammates from the same country that come from very different company backgrounds [ 8 ], while the opposite may be true of teammates with different cultural and national backgrounds who share a common work culture [ 2 ]. The success of a virtual team can hinge on factors such as differences in understanding with regards to processes and knowledge, institutional bureaucracy, status differences between team members, unworkable expectations reagarding shared goals and products, and conflicting or competing institutional priorities [ 54 ]. Power asymmetries in particular can create systemic bariers that need to be explicitly navigated (as opposed to expecting perfect process design will resolve them) [ 54 ]. While differences in work culture have the potential for stimulating innovation, proving access to richer skill sets, and sharing best practices, it also has the potential to cause misunderstandings [ 2 ] and communication breakdowns [ 14 ] between teammates. This influence is partly due to the difficulties associated with communicating subtl aspects of the team culture over distance (e.g., ‘how we do things around here’ [ 8 ]). For example, differences in the competitive or cooperative culture of a workplace can pose challenges [ 191 ]. Workers are less likely to be motivated to share their skills or ‘cover for each other (p. 1)’ in organizations or cultures that promote individual competition rather than cooperation. In contrast, cooperative cultures facilitate sharing skills and effort. This issue is particularly difficult to overcome in virtual teams.

Other differences in organizational structure and leadership can have a profound impact on successful collaboration in distributed groups. The characteristics of authority and authoritative roles vary across cultures [ 8 , 145 ] which can cause conflicts and undermine morale [ 2 ]. For example, [ 33 ] observed that in a collaboration between teams located in Ireland and the United States, the Irish workers required that authority figures earn their respect while the American workers were more likely to unquestioningly give respect to superiors. Another study that focused on a collaboration between teams in the United States and Europe had contrasting results [ 8 ]. Instead of the unquestioned respect found by Casey and Richardson, [ 8 ] saw that American workers were more confrontational with their superiors and verbally expressed objections and questions while the European teams had a more formal, hierarchical management structure. These differences indicate that support for differing work cultures needs to focus on the needs and conventions of the individual organizations and refrain from imposing standards based solely on the country in which the organization resides. The degree to which an organization allows autonomous decision-making afects relationships and behaviors between teammates and can inpact things like readiness to use technology in the collaboration or willingness to exchange knowledge [ 166 , 180 ].

Teams can also vary in their goals, norms, and incentives. A lack of alignment of incentives and goals as well as differences in expectations can pose very serious problems for a collaboration [ 191 ]. These misalignment’s are difficult to detect at a distance and require substantial negotiation to overcome [ 191 ], which is nontrivial using today’s technology. For example, collaborators may have different perceptions of time as a result of temporal discontinuities caused by differences in time zones, which may further reflect differences in the value systems of collaborators at each site [ 222 ]. Tensions may arise between workers at an American site that views time as a scarce commodity and perceives time as being something that can be spent, wasted, or lost, and collaborators at a Japanese site that view time as a cyclical, recurrent entity that is in unlimited supply [ 222 ]. Along with this finding comes different expectations with regards to how many hours a day team members are expected to work, or differing definitions of what it means to work hard [ 14 ], which often varies between countries [ 22 ]. These differences in expectations are particularly problematic when one team expects that another work more hours than they previously had been working [ 14 ]. Building a sense of shared goals and expectations happens more slowly in distributed groups [ 8 ], a process that could likely be assisted by the development of new communication technology. In addition, competing incentives can undermine a team’s performance [ 54 ].

Competitive funding models may affect willingness to collaborate and disincentivize team members to share skills, knowledge, and unpublished data [ 247 ]. For example, for the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia project, the core partners each created an individual grant agreement with the International Development Research Centre [ 54 ]. However, while the expectation was that partners would collaborate with each other, the partners were disincentivized to collaborate due to the individual grant agreements since the partners reported individually to the funding agency, rather than collectively [ 54 ]. Unfortunately, it is frequently unrealistic to expect these dynamics to resolve themselves in a short period of time and shift into an open and trusting relationship [ 54 ].

Expectations can be strongly influenced by the language used by different groups (e.g., ‘test procedure,’ ‘phase completion’) within a virtual team, sometimes creating animosity [ 8 ]. Language is further associated with methodology—for example, disparities in definitions of quality can be reflected in different assessment procedures [ 8 ]. Misunderstandings caused by differences in work practices and methodologies can affect coordination and cooperation [ 2 ], causing delays and conflicts [ 8 ]. In these situations, a common technical language must be developed to ensure understanding, which can be an extremely difficult task [ 15 , 122 , 172 , 252 ]. This need provides an opportunity for the development of technology to assist the creation and use of project-specific technical language.

In addition to differences in technical language, various groups within a virtual team may have different backgrounds that need to be reconciled, as different organizations within a group may have different expertise and experience that create incompatible views [ 55 ]. This issue is often unavoidable since one group may have specific knowledge necessary for the project to succeed [ 120 ]. Furthermore, differences in discipline and background have a stronger effect for distributed collaborations [ 211 ]. However, there are inconsistencies in the literature with regards to the effects of discipline on collaboration. Cummings and Kiesler, for example, found that field heterogeneity has a positive effect on distributed project success [ 50 ]. Specifically, they showed that projects including many disciplines had disclosed as many positive outcomes as did projects that involved fewer. However, in an earlier study, they found that projects incorporating many disciplines were less successful than projects that relied on fewer disciplines [ 133 ]. Thus, it is uncertain as to which conclusion is accurate, presenting open questions.

The way that administrative communication is managed [ 250 ] and tasks are allocated can play a big role [ 8 ] in the success of a virtual team. For example, a project manager could assign tasks differently and adjust the way that he or she communicates with management in accordance with the team’s culture and nationality [ 8 ]. Collaborations can further benefit from creating structured understandings about how to best work together by establishing expectations and definitions to undercut assumptions [ 8 ]. The challenge then becomes finding ways to develop technology that supports these structures while still facilitating innovation, ingenuity, and ‘rapid response to organizational threats or opportunities’ [ 64 ]. However, there are also inconsistencies between studies exploring the effects of work culture on collaboration. While Walsh and Maloney [ 261 ] stated that remote collaborations did not experience more work culture problems than co-located teams, McDonough et al. [ 170 ] found that differences in work culture and practices resulted in management problems in virtual teams. This disparity presents another open question.

7 Summary of findings and open questions

In this literature review, the major factors and challenges that impact collaboration in virtual teams were identified. Section  5 discussed distance factors (geographical, temporal, and perceived distance) and their associated challenges, including reduced motivation and awareness and difficulty establishing trust. In addition, barriers to informal and face-to-face communication, particularly the team’s technical competence and access to the appropriate technical infrastructure as well as prevalence of intra-team conflict were reviewed. Additional factors that particularly affect distance collaborations were outlined in Sect.  6 , namely the nature or coupling of the work, the need for explicit management, the configuration of dispersed sites and intra-team diversity along the dimensions of common ground, socio-cultural distance, and work culture. Several open questions and directions for future research were identified in the process of conducting the review; these are divided into questions of theory, questions of technology, and recommendations for future research. These findings are used to create design implications for the development of groupware targeted towards virtual teams later in Sect.  8 .

7.1 Questions of theory

7.1.1 should future research pursue ‘awareness’.

There is currently disagreement within the community as to whether or not ‘awareness’ should be taken as a conceptual approach to investigating collaboration challenges. Critics of ‘awareness’ describe the term as ‘ambiguous and unsatisfactory’ [ 224 ] and point towards it’s tendency to be paired with an adjective (e.g., ‘passive awareness’ [ 62 ]) in an attempt to lend some specificity [ 224 ]. Despite this, the awareness approach is still a commonly explored method [ 7 , 134 ], which suggests that there is a research opportunity to address this controversy.

7.1.2 Are coordination costs higher in teams that are temporally distributed?

There is also a lack of consensus within the community as to whether coordination costs are higher in teams that are temporally distributed. For example, while Espinosa and Carmel [ 73 ] state that coordination costs are reduced when team members are not working concurrently because no direct coordination takes place when the two teammates are not working at the same time, Ågerfalk et al. [ 2 ] and Battin et al. [ 11 ] assert that temporal distance significantly increases the cost and effort of coordination due to the added difficulties of dividing work across multiple time zones.

7.1.3 How do the disparities in levels of conflict and trust between balanced and imbalanced teams affect collaboration?

As previously discussed, levels of conflict and trust differ between balanced and imbalanced teams [ 188 , 210 ]. Specifically, subgroups in balanced teams experience weaker effects from faultlines on conflict and trust than large subgroups in imbalanced teams [ 210 ]. However, the ramifications are of these differences in trust and conflict are unknown, suggesting an opportunity for research.

7.1.4 Does tightly coupled work have a negative or a positive effect on collaboration?

Several studies [ 72 , 191 , 193 ] suggest that that tightly coupled work hinders distance collaboration. However, [ 15 ] found that tightly coupled work required collaborators to frequently interact to do their work and, as a result, forced these collaborators to know more about each other, help each other, and cultivate strong engagement despite being at geographically distant sites—which actually helps distance collaboration. Given the contrast between these conclusions, there is an opportunity for further research to investigate the effects of tightly coupled work, particularly in domains other than global software development.

7.1.5 What effect does geographic dispersion have on task and affective conflict?

Contradictions exist in the current literature as to the effect of geographic distance on affective and task-based conflict. Specifically, [ 179 ] found no significant difference in affective and task-based conflict between co-located and distributed teams. This, however, is in direct conflict with their later work [ 108 ]. These contradictions are particularly interesting given that the participants in both studies did research and product development, and are therefore directly comparable. It is therefore uncertain as to which conclusion is accurate.

7.1.6 Does background heterogeneity have a positive or a negative effect on collaboration?

This question is also currently unresolved, given the contradictions in literature. In 2002, Kiesler and Cummings found that projects incorporating many disciplines were less successful than projects that relied on fewer disciplines [ 133 ]. However, later they found that field heterogeneity has a positive effect on distributed project success [ 50 ].

7.1.7 Do virtual teams encounter more work-culture related problems than co-located teams?

This is yet another example of the community’s lack of consensus on issues surrounding collaboration. For example, while McDonough et al. [ 170 ] found that differences in work culture and practices resulted in management problems in virtual teams, Walsh and Maloney [ 261 ] stated that remote collaborations did not experience more work culture problems than co-located teams.

7.2 Questions of technology

7.2.1 how can we better support communication in temporally distant work.

Due to the differences in work schedule caused by differences in time zones, particularly when sites do not have overlapping workdays, distance workers rely on asynchronous technology (e.g., email, fax) to communicate with their collaborators. However, this method has several drawbacks. Asynchronous tools tend to increase the amount of time that a collaborator has to wait for a response [ 2 ] and can leave the recipient feeling overwhelmed by the number of asynchronous messages left during the previous night [ 19 ]. Moreover, the process of writing ideas in emails increases the risk of misunderstandings between collaborators [ 57 ] over talking in person or via the telephone.

7.2.2 How can we better support informal communication?

There is an additional challenge associated with communication technology in that there is insufficient support for determining a collaborator’s availability for spur-of-the-moment, informal communication [ 101 ]. This drawback, in particular, hampers informal communication that would otherwise happen during chance encounters in a co-located environment.

7.2.3 How can we design technology to assist in the development of trust?

Research shows that body language, subtle voice inflections, facial expressions, etc., which are notably more difficult to convey via communication technology, are essential to the development of trust [ 20 , 193 ]. Furthermore, communication technology is frequently used in an irregular, unpredictable, and inequitable manner, which hampers trust [ 123 ]. As a result, it is clear that current technology needs to be updated to better assist the development of trust in distance collaborations.

7.2.4 How do we support explicit management in teams that reject formal administration?

Explicit management is necessary for successful distributed, collaborative work [ 193 ]. However, some particular types of collaboration, such as research collaborations consisting mainly of scientists, avoid the application of explicit management in their projects [ 193 ].

7.2.5 How can we support synchronous communication across language barriers?

Language barriers are of significant concern in collaborations where collaborators have different socio-cultural backgrounds (i.e., speak different languages) [ 116 ] or different work backgrounds (i.e., use different jargon) [ 8 ]. In these cases, asynchronous communication allows collaborators to reflect before responding to each other, giving them a chance to look up unfamiliar terminology or become familiar with new ideas. However, asynchronous communication has several drawbacks, as mentioned earlier, and is not feasible in every situation.

7.2.6 How do we develop technology that supports structures for negotiating terminologies and methodologies while still facilitating flexibility?

Along with the issue of surmounting technical language barriers in synchronous communication comes the need to create and use a common technical language to ensure understanding in meaning and methodology. The development of a project-specific technical language is not an easy task [ 17 , 55 , 172 , 252 ], but is important enough to collaboration to warrant assistance from technology. It is also important to ensure that this technology is flexible enough to withstand changes that may be made to the project.

7.2.7 How can we leverage existing tools developed for supporting Scrum to mitigate problems caused by cultural differences?

It has been suggested that distance collaborations employ guidelines from agile development methodology, such as daily status meetings, to mitigate the effect of incorrect assumptions caused by socio-cultural or work culture differences. The existence of a vast number of tools developed specifically to assist Scrum (e.g., [ 209 , 229 , 251 ]) presents an opportunity to investigate how these technologies can be adapted to mitigate collaboration issues arising from cultural differences.

7.2.8 How can we design communication technology to support building a sense of shared goals and expectations?

Variances between times with regards to goals, norms, incentives, and expectations can pose very serious problems for a collaboration [ 191 ]. Overcoming these differences by building a sense of universal goals and standards is a slow, but vital, process for distributed groups [ 53 ]. Furthermore, these types of misalignments are hard to recognize in distance collaborations and require substantial negotiation to overcome [ 191 ], which is nontrivial given the limitations of today’s technology

7.3 Recommendations for future research

Siebdrat et al found that perceived distance was more strongly affected by a team’s national heterogeneity than by their spatio-temporal distance, and subsequently asserted that perceived distance is more indicative of collaboration challenges than spatio-temporal distance [ 231 ]. However, other work has demonstrated that distance can affect collaborators that are all in the same country at a single site [ 4 ], with low national heterogeneity and low spatio-temporal distance. Despite this, it is unclear whether perceived distance was high or low in this case due to the context of the study. Given the apparent influence of distance on collaboration, whether it is perceived, temporal, or spatial, it is therefore important to gain a better understanding of the relationship between these types of distance and their effects on collaboration.

8 Implications for design

This section uses the findings of this LR to address the final question, Research Question 2: How can we design technology for supporting virtual teams? To do so, the following four design implications for the development of groupware that supports collaboration in virtual teams are outlined.

8.1 Assist creation of common ground and work standards

Virtual teams consisting of workers with different expertise and organizational backgrounds require conversations about project-specific technical language, methodologies, and best practices. Technology should expedite and document these conversations and decisions to both create and facilitate the everyday use of technical language. Furthermore, since systems often incorrectly assume a shared knowledge of information [ 1 ] as recommended by [ 192 ], systems should document in a manner that allows users to search for abstract representations of information. Moreover, since methodologies, best practices, and technical language tend to evolve over time, this technology needs to also support the resulting negotiation and discussion processes, as opposed to only facilitating the initial decision-making process.

8.2 Facilitate communication

Both rich discourse (i.e., containing social information and nonverbal cues as well as words, typically provided by face-to-face communication), and spontaneous, informal communication have been identified as key to preventing conflict and improving trust in virtual teams. Thus, it is imperative that technology is designed to provide the benefits of face-to-face conversations (e.g., video conferencing), such as ease in immediately detecting confusion. This is important not only for synchronous communication but also asynchronous conversations since those are the most likely to have misunderstandings that could be mitigated with additional non-verbal information. Mechanisms for supporting informal communication (e.g., chance encounters) is similarly necessary. In addition, given the difficulties experienced by virtual teams where workers are required to speak in a language that is not native to them, it is important to consider means for supporting synchronous communication across language barriers.

8.3 Provide mechanisms for work transparency

One of the key challenges faced by virtual teams is feeling a sense of connectedness to the rest of the team. This is both due to the motivational effects of not feeling isolated and the increased effort required to feel heard and acknowledged by the rest of the team located at another site. Thus, technology should be designed to provide transparency that allows workers to feel aware of their teammates, Furthermore, this technology should highlight and encourage the contributions of an individual and boost visibility within the team.

However, technology that promotes transparency, particularly technology that creates the sense of a shared workspace through open video connections, should be wary of infringing on the privacy of the team since the more information a person sends, the greater the impact on one’s privacy [ 119 ]. Furthermore, the more information a person receives, the greater the chance of disturbing work [ 119 ]. Thus, it is important to reach a good balance between providing awareness and preserving privacy and limiting distractions.

8.4 Design lightweight, familiar technology

Technical infrastructure varies across organizations—teams may not have the resources to support data-heavy communication tools, limiting their access to sophisticated collaboration technology (e.g., multiplane video conferencing). Furthermore, infrastructure may even vary within a virtual team, limiting tool use for the entire group since it is important that communication capabilities be evenly distributed [ 193 ]. Thus, care should be taken to engineer technology that is as lightweight as possible, maximizing the number of potential users. Virtual teams also face challenges related to the technical competence of their team members. It is therefore recommended that designers create technology with enough similarities to the technology currently employed by the team to facilitate adoption. New technology also needs to be compatible with existing tools, to promote adoption [ 194 ].

9 Conclusion

This literature review provided an overview of the collaboration challenges experienced by virtual teams as well as current mitigation strategies. This review utilized a well-planned search strategy to identify a total of 255 relevant studies, which chiefly concentrated on computer supported cooperative work (CSCW). Using the selected studies, we described challenges as belonging to five categories: geographical distance, temporal distance, perceived distance, the configuration of dispersed teams, and diversity of workers. Findings also revealed opportunities for research and open questions. Finally, opportunities and implications for designing groupware that better support collaborative tasks in virtual teams was discussed through the description of four design implications: assist the creation of common ground and work standards; facilitate communication; provide mechanisms for work transparency; and design lightweight, familiar technology.

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Morrison-Smith, S., Ruiz, J. Challenges and barriers in virtual teams: a literature review. SN Appl. Sci. 2 , 1096 (2020).

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Managing the Virtual Organization

Virtual working and teams.

Virtualization is a concept that is widely used today by most organizations trying to cope up with the challenges of globalization and increased competition. Virtual organizations heavily rely on technology as an important factor for effective communication. Virtual organizations also operate through virtual teams that are usually dispersed across the operational environments composed of many people from across different locations; all working towards the fulfillment of the same organizational objective.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is the effective handling of information that virtual teams need for the fulfillment of their purpose. It is especially useful for virtual organizations because it’s through the sharing of information that virtual teams can be able to function effectively. Knowledge management in virtual organizations involves the use of ICT as a core tool.

Virtual organizations are those that transcend their operations across borders. This concept is widely used today by most organizations trying to cope up with the challenges of globalization and increased competition. It is now a business reality that companies have to undertake to be in line with the business landscape. Virtual organizations heavily rely on technology as an important factor for effective communication.

The kind of technology needed doesn’t have to be complex; just a simple computer and probably access to internet would yield the desired results. However, other technological devices like a phone and fax would come in handy for virtual organizations. Virtual organizations also operate through virtual teams that are usually dispersed across the operational environments. Managing these teams is probably one of the biggest challenges that virtual organizations face.

Virtual team members are actually those people who use communication devices to work effectively for the virtual organization. Virtual teams come as a result of companies going global and outsourcing various services out of their organization. As a result, the virtual team is composed of many people from across different locations; could even be different countries. This wide diversity of team members across different geographical regions brings with it new challenges for virtual organizations including culture and language diversity.

The biggest problem associated with virtual teams is trust. Organizations should improve on the sharing of information across virtual teams to remove any elements of mistrust. Cultural and language diversity should be approached with tolerance from managers. This will go a long way in ensuring every team member feels comfortable and accommodated. Regular communication should be observed by virtual managers and motivation of members should be upheld to ensure targets are attained, and on time.

Knowledge management is useful for virtual organizations because since it’s through the sharing of information that virtual teams can be able to function effectively. Knowledge is literally the subject of exchange among teams, in a literal sense. Knowledge management is then the effective handling of information virtual teams need for the fulfillment of their purpose. In a non virtual environment, knowledge management was typically used for managerial decision making but for virtual organizations, it’s of more use to the virtual teams.

When companies expand their operations, the need for knowledge management becomes more significant. The data the company deals with then becomes quite huge including information regarding operation, finances, human resource, manufacturing among others; depending on the nature of operations of the company. Such huge volumes of data are very difficult to handle in a humanly way. Considering the wide geographical coverage this information needs to be shared it then bring the need for systems to handle such kind of data.

Knowledge management in virtual organizations involves the use of ICT as a core tool. Computers are used to store data and also send the same via Emails and other electronic devices such as fax. Data might also be transferred through an area network where all team members can access the information with ease. This might however require management to set up an ICT department to overlook data management. This would be an additional organizational restructuring to do. The ICT manager would be generally responsible for the activities under the ICT department answerable to the overall manager. This action would then change the management structure by adding a new portfolio to the overall management. The ICT manager would be of equal acting capacity as any other manager such as Sales manager, finance manager or production manager depending on how the organization is structured.

Managing the Virtual Organisation

Role of ict in virtual organizations, virtual teams, knowledge management in virtual organizations, managing in virtual environments as compared to non virtual.

In today’s business environment, many organizations find the need to work across borders, cultures and different time zones. This need is bridged by Information Communication Technology (ICT) which facilitates the organizations’ needs to act global. Usually, organizations transcend across many geographical boundaries and cultural barriers through the incorporation of ICT. Exchange of information is vital among virtual organizations especially those working in partnership.

ICT plays a role in the transfer of information among companies and individuals. It works in a number of ways common among them being the use of electronic mail (e-mail), faxing, and setting up of websites (to relay information to a user) among other methods. Burn and Burnett (2002, pp.27) identified communication in virtual organizations as a life blood in which they operate. They also cited a number of advantages that ICT pose which could have otherwise been unimaginable in the past years.

Large volumes of information can be transferred at the same time unlike in the past where data could only be sent as hard copy (parcels, letters and printed materials).These can now be sent electronically as files. Data can also be sent much faster and at high speeds, thereby making synchrony of activities among organizations much easier. High speeds facilitate coordination of activities among partner companies much easier and generates knowledge which in turn brings about innovation of products and services.

Today, the web is not only a place to source information but also a place to source markets and interact with possible clientele. For virtual organizations, the web is an online community brought about by advancements in ICT and is unavoidably important because it provides the necessary infrastructure for operations in these organizations. Virtual companies are now moving into creating websites because websites provide market, are a medium where views can be shared in form of comments, contact information obtained, and where customer services can be obtained.

Companies have moved in the recent past from Local area Networks to being networked in the virtual environment as it provides a much greater exposure as compared to the local networks which are more convenient for transfer of information within organizations’ departments. Partner companies within virtual environments find this expansion actually very beneficial. It also poses a competitive advantage over companies that haven’t expanded in this sense because they now enjoy a wider market especially in terms of awareness by consumers of their products and services through the internet.

Internet presence also brings about managerial alterations as it now creates an IT department which is under an ICT manager who oversees the functions of the department. Software developers also have to be incorporated and answerable to the ICT manager who is in turn answerable to the overall manager.

Witzel and Warner (2004, pp.128) identified that virtualization in organizations also impacts on staffing in a number of ways. Due to its technicality, staffs that don’t have the expertise are demoralized from doing their job effectively and organizations are usually forced to choose either one of the options of retraining the staff or hiring a new batch. Recently graduates have found themselves one way or the other easily accommodated in this sector as traditional forms of employment shrink. Generally, ICT isn’t such a hard sector to understand; basically organizations having computers and internet connectivity with sufficient expertise from personnel can enjoy a range of benefits this sector poses. ICT only seeks to make work easier, faster and possible for organizations to become virtually visible.

A virtual team is a group of people who work with a common purpose and are dependent on each other in fulfillment of tasks to fulfill their objective. Virtual teams usually works across space, time, and organizational boundaries facilitated by strong communication among them. With virtual teams working together, there is increased market share enjoyed and shared risks among teams. According Istvan (2006, pp.78), virtual teams are commonly used in business setting to help cut some operational costs.

There are various types of groups or teams that can exist. Friendship groups, command groups and interest groups are most common in a virtual organization. It gives examples of a virtual command group being like a national sales team distributed in the United States or the UK, a virtual task group being a small software development group of individuals telecommunicating to their office, a virtual interest group could be a group of investors and a friendship group represented by a virtual community.

What makes virtual teams quite unique, the website goes on to state, is the manner in which they rely on modern methods to communicate for instance e-mails, faxes , phone calls and telecommunication as opposed to face to face communication. Due to its limited communications channels, the success of these teams heavily rely on the way they are managed and the purposes they are intended to fulfill.

Not every project works well for all teams but the best type of projects that do well in a virtual team set up is the type of project where different tasks rely on one another; more like what goes on in the manufacturing sector. Some of the managerial challenges in virtual teams are the requirement for team members to work independently and be properly motivated. Minimal supervision is common in these types of teams and every team member is supposed to deliver on their own without much guidance or observation from a superior.

Managers of virtual teams also have the responsibility of formulating clear goals that are practical in nature for the teams to undertake, the codes of conduct the team members are supposed to adhere to when communicating and performance standards. This is critical in benchmarking the performance of the teams. One of the challenges facing team work today and affects teams from both small and big companies is trust in one another. Trust is very crucial and necessary in the performance of team members because a successful team can only succeed if there is enough trust between members.

Hoefling (2003, pp.131) points out that management of virtual teams is equally important for a team to succeed and the biggest responsibility rests on the team manager. She singles out managers who take their time in evaluating the work of their team members as the most effective managers as compared to the managers who carry on their business as if it were routine for them. She goes on to state that managing virtual teams require proper planning, thoughtfulness and organization when carrying out team activities. Teams should be guided by the principle of transferring useful information to a fellow team member who may need the information. This also creates an environment of trust among team members and improves the harmony among the parties involved.

Virtual groups are a reality in today’s business environment where the market has become quite competitive. Organizations are going out of their way to utilize the best labor in the global market, companies are exploring markets that haven’t been explored before and the persistent emphasis on accountability, increased performance, greater business agility among other prevailing factors necessitate organizations to go virtual.

It is common knowledge that when organizations expand especially in a virtual environment, the information acquired becomes overwhelming and this brings about the need for effective knowledge management (Malhotra, 2000). The traditional way of handling information according to this researcher was aimed at building consensus in the organization, convergence and compliance. This model was rubbished by today’s unpredictable business environment. Effective knowledge management saves a lot of time in trying to retrieve information and also brings efficiency in the organization, as information is availed to the person who needs it.

The handling of knowledge over the past decade has evolved around three pillars of information technology: automation, rationalization of procedures and re-engineering. Deployment of information technology was built upon the predictable tendency of products coupled with the overview of the organization and the industry (Malhotra, 2000).

According to Huettner (2007, pp.4), one way of handling this body of knowledge is developing search sites where information sought could only be searched and retrieved almost instantly. Since virtual organizations are dispersed across geographical borders, they tend to rely heavily on ICT to transfer information among them. This kind of information transfer using ICT makes the parties involved lose face to face touch in communication.

Knowledge management can also be done using software developed to manage certain types of information. Each type of company can tailor a program to work best in the type of business it undertakes. This may involve the sourcing of services from soft ware developers. For example, a supplies company may develop a program that deals in cataloging goods, automatically letting the manager know when stocks are low and such like activities that it undertakes or needs to.

A supermarket may also develop its own kind of software to deal in purchases, payments, dealing with credit cards and foreign cash payments for proper management of its data. This might create a huge pool of information which is in turn stored electronically in computers’ hard drives or other secondary storage devices for instance the use of compact discs.

It is however important that knowledge in an organization should be freely shared among individuals who might need it. This is a management technique that fosters trust among individuals within an organization. Managers especially of big companies outsource to consulting firms to shed some light in ways of handling knowledge. Knowledge management should be seen as very key by managers because through it information on past experiences is freely shared by employees thereby reducing redundancy among employees.

Valuable organizational insights are also shared freely among employees and this aids in their growth within the organization by learning key fundamental principles they could incorporate in their work to improve performance. This done, it could reduce the training time management uses on their employees. As a result, it would lead to higher retention of employees, thereby improving the company’s profile in the market.

According to Ulrich (2002, pp.78), managing in either virtual or non virtual environments requires more or less the same principles. However, in virtual organizations there is a need to look at management a little bit differently because the organization is global. With this, comes a number of challenges such as culture across the different geographical borders the company operates. In this type of environment, a manager is bound to be more accommodative than if he were to work in a non virtual environment. A manager working in a largely Muslim dominated country needs to be sensitive to their beliefs and practices. The same goes for a manger working in a largely Buddhist society like India, he/she needs to be equally sensitive to their religious beliefs and practices.

With an organization becomes virtually visible, there comes a greater responsibility that managers need to handle. There comes the need for greater accountability and efficiency since managers have to deal with a huge number of employees among other factors that warrant great managerial attention. With this kind of huge responsibility, a manager is supposed to create an environment of trust among players in the organization. This will most probably act as the bedrock for any level of success to be realized.

This can be done through a number of methods already discussed. In case of any conflicts, the manager should deal with it quickly and not let the matter lag over long periods. A manager should also encourage or accommodate diversity of opinion because in a large company, there is bound to be lots of divergent opinion among employees. The manager shouldn’t be seen to be siding with a faction or be seen to ignore a certain opinion.

The manager should be able to build good relationships at all the levels in the organization for good and harmonious working environment. In a virtual environment, relationships between managers and employees need to be especially strong because the remote working environment can create a lot of problems that wouldn’t be easy to at once (Colky, 2002).

Managers in virtual environments are also encouraged to foster team relationships for proper coordination in the organization. A sense of openness should be encouraged and staff should be able to connect across all levels and locations. Managers could do this by organizing annual parties where all the employees come together across different geographical areas and bond in an atmosphere free from work related issues. Rigor and discipline should be observed, though this might be tricky at some level. Employee appraisal is very crucial to the improvement of employee morale and this in turn improves their performance in general.

It’s also advisable for managers to spend some good time in hiring the right individuals for the job because individuals need to work well with each other even though they might be physically far apart. It’s only advisable that managers pick individuals who are able to work with each other much effectively, putting into consideration the different character traits that might be in play. The manager should also set protocols to be followed, inclusively with all the employees such that they are part of the decision making process. This sets the stage for collaboration and efficient work flow. Efficient managers are required to pay attention to different time zones unlike environments where activities can be set under one time deadline.

When formulating deadlines for managers in virtual organizations, proper acknowledgement should be made of the different time zones of different geographical areas. It’s a tall order for managers operating in virtual organizations to schedule meetings with employees in far off regions. This bears a lot of weight in ensuring the effectiveness of employee performance and managers should pay close attention and organize themselves to fulfill this.

It is worth noting that managers operating in virtual environments have a higher managerial responsibility compared to their counterparts who operate in non-virtual environments. This is occasioned by a high number of employees that such managers are expected to handle and the physical-geographic logistics they are expected to overcome for smooth operations. Organizations need to go virtual to not only keep up with the ever changing business environment but also be versant with the elements that need to be considered when doing this. The role of ICT here becomes quite crucial for the success of such strategies.

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Strategies for Managing the Virtual Organizations


A virtual organization can be defined as an organization with a collection of a number of organizations. These several organizations are bound by an agreement to become members of the virtual organization. These set of organizations are generally legally distinct entities and when under the umbrella of the virtual organization, they act as though they are one. The purpose of the virtual organization is to share skills and knowledge so that it can achieve a common goal.

Virtual Teams

Virtual organizations use virtual teams which are usually structured in a set. Lipnack and Stamps (2007, p.15), say that virtual organizations are “a collection of people who are motivated by a common goal or purpose and interact with each other by performing interdependent tasks”. This team often works across a diverse space and time scale. They are contained by the organization’s boundaries and connected by the aforementioned advanced and interactive information technology.

Main characteristics of virtual organizations

One of the key characteristics of virtual teams is partnership. The member companies or organizations of the virtual organizations have to co-ordinate their actions such that the customer or client will see them as one. This means that collaboration of the business partnerships of highest order is needed so that they can have unity and “present themselves as one” to the public and all the shareholders of the business (Lipnack and Stamps, 2007).

As business partners in a virtual organization, they are supposed to share risks, expenses and profits equally in the world market. Another major trait of such organizations is that they have a general aim that is driven by particular opportunities in the market. The often seek to attain a competence that is world class with the best communication networks. For them to achieve this, they have firmly established interdependent relations between one another while at the same time allowing for porous boundaries for easy communications and exchange of ideas and information.

Their structures have been built in a way that they are tailored to meet particular market opportunities. The members of a virtual organization form an alliance, and then they move in unity to exploit a certain business opportunity after which they can come up with new alliances and business partnerships.

The other major characteristic of such organizations is that all its members contribute a globally ranked proficiency. For example the manufacture or marketing of a product should be carried out competently to meet the first class global standards. This “uniform” competence makes this collection of organizations to be able to craft synergies among global-class processes and utilities. This makes the business partnerships in such organizations have a high power of meeting very many expectations from all their clients.

As all business partnerships carve out these new connections, one of the most significant elements is superior information technology. This is the means to such organizations can use to ensure that they are successful in business. Information systems that are computerized and advanced enable al the virtual employees of virtual organizations who are located in different geographical locations to connect with each other and enable the carrying out of business globally.

Some of the modern tools that can help in setting up the virtual office are the use of videoconferencing (Greiner and Metes 1995, p.71). The organization can also use software that is collaborative that enables all of them to link up. In cases, where the virtual employees can not be able to meet, they can use an intranet system for instance a highly interactive company website to communicate with each other. These enhances that information flows within all the team members are connected.

All the member organizations in the virtual organization have to create a form of interdependent relationships. For this relationship to work, all the members have to trust each other fully and depend on each other so that they can be able to work together. The creations of strong interdependencies make the operation boundaries of member partners to diminish.

Opportunities and challenges facing the management of virtual teams

The effectiveness of a virtual team greatly depends on the communication tools and technologies that the virtual organization will employ. Other factors that greatly determine the success of these teams is the selection of the employees who will make the virtual teams and the specific task that the team will work on. Their performance also relies on the way they are managed.

The opportunity that this organization gets from managing virtual teams is that they are able to traverse a huge geographical area at a short time. Due to the use of advanced information technologies, the virtual members in a vast geographical area can be able to communicate with each other at the same time. This makes it easy for them to co-ordinate their activities and therefore be able to present themselves to the client as one. Managers can use information technology, to manage a virtual team at any given time. These teams are often assembled by the virtual leaders to perform a specific task. Once they are through, the management can decide to dissolve the team. The use of virtual teams cuts the costs of operation of members of the virtual organizations. These expenses are like travel, lodging costs and other miscellaneous expenditure that are used in business management. Through virtual teams, these organizations are able to share skills from people who do not feel like travelling to different areas or relocate from their home towns.

Virtual teams enable virtual organizations enable to build an imposing presence in the world. This will help the virtual organization in marketing their products. The fact that these teams are located in a diverse geographical area, they are able to come up with unique designs because the diverse environments have varying levels of varying creativity.

The biggest challenge in the creation of virtual teams is the people and communications issues. Efficient management and operation of virtual organization requires that the flow of information between the entire members of the organizations is smooth. This implies that all the people in a virtual team have to be knowledgeable in the information technology field so that information can flow freely. The information technology approach used should be decentralized in the entire virtual organization and all its associates have to concur with the approach.

Managers face the task of selecting people who are competent in IT because this is the main way that all the people will be communicating. The IT difficulties that should be overcome are availability. Internet should be full available in all locations in the world do that the virtual organization can be able to use applications like web conferencing or videoconferencing. This is a problem because some people may be located in remote areas thus posing a great challenge in internet connectivity and availability. The expenses of assembling all the virtual teams in the world where all teams are located is also a problem. At times, the virtual organization is forced to incur expenses where the people have to move from a place where the internet is unavailable to a place where they can access internet.

The information technology strategy used should have a system that is able to be mobile. The user interface has to be in such ways that all the people in the virtual organization are able to use it easily and it can be able to meet all the requirements of the use. The architecture of the technologies used should be very flexible and scalable. This eliminates the problem of fixed and un-migratable networks that can not be relocated incase of any natural disaster (Hilty, Seifert and Treibert 2005, p. 21).

The problem of security should also be addressed to the detail. The members should not access information that jeopardizes the operation of the virtual organization. The systems used should be set in a way that the members of different levels are able to access different and distinct levels of information. The network should be desired in a way that it can be able to aid the hosting of new applications. It should also be able to incorporate the networks of different associates’ thus making inter-operation to be easy. This is will make is easy for people across the globe to connect.

In terms of performance, not every associate of a virtual team can perform to his or her best. The virtual organization’s management has to work with virtual teams in that they motivate them and make them to work autonomously. At times, the projects are cumbersome and information has to flow fast. If anyone in the chain does not communicate well then all the other processes are impaired somehow. This means that all the team members should be able to work effectively without immediate controls. The communication expertise of people in the virtual teams can enhance the success or failure in the management of virtual organizations. The virtual team should be able to communicate with each other and make up for the lack of nonverbal clues of face to face dialogue. This means that any slight cases of misinformation or lack of discipline means that all the other people and processes in a virtual organization are severely affected.

The other problem is the differing time zones. The company needs to motivate its workers so that they can be motivated to sacrificing and working at odd hours. Some means to motivate these workers are giving them good payment rates and compensating them for working during odd hours. The corporation should have a system that motivates the collaboration of its members (Malone and Davidow 1992).

The problem of people should also be critically addresses. A close analysis of virtual teams reveals that these people are being connected by a “mere” information technology. The organization should set its goals to a level that are the conflicts of interest that arise between all the associates are lessened to minimum rates and at times they re not given any chances of occurring. The way all the members of the virtual organization relate to each other should be managed and “regulated” or moderated. The members should be trusted to carry out a specific task at any given time. For example, employees should not be allowed to overuse social networking sites like facebook at the expense of work and lack of external controls. This implies that every center where virtual teams will be located will be required to have an “overseer” or manager to ensure that all the rules are followed by all the parties involved. The management processes should be well defined such that all the associates are able to adhere to their objectives while serving the full interest of the virtual organization.

The major challenges that people are set to pose for the virtual organizations include: members having unrealistic expectation. To eliminate such a challenge, the organization should have well defined aims and solutions that must be met. Since virtual organizations are represented world wide, it is allowed for the associates to have different cultures. The objectives of the virtual organization should be set in a manner that all the people should be able to work together. The diversity of processes of virtual organizations necessitates that all associates should comprehend fully their responsibilities and goals so that their respective tasks do not come into conflict with each other even when the communication systems is down.

In the 21 st century, virtual organizations need to be very flexible and fast so that they can be able to meet customer needs at a “spark”. Management of the virtual teams need to be done in the most effective manner that does not compromise on any of the agreements and trust between the partner members. The virtual leaders should understand the problems facing virtual organizations (Kirkman 2004, p. 59). They should know that such organizations are not developed overnight and that they are fostered over time and the members have to be highly trained so that they can be able to meet their objectives.

Reference List

  • Greiner, R & Metes, G, 1995, Going Virtual: Moving Your Organization into the 21st Century, Prentice Hall, Inc, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
  • Hilty, L,M, Seifert, E,K & Treibert, R 2005, Information Systems for Sustainable Development, Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, Pasadena.
  • Kirkman, B, L, Rosen, B, Tesluk, P,E & Gibson. C, B 2004, ‘The Impact of Team Empowerment on Virtual Team Performance: The Moderating Role of Face-to- Face Interaction’, Academy of Management Journal , vol.47, no. 2, pp. 175–192.
  • Lipnack, J & Stamps, J, 2007 Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time and Organizations with Technology, John Wiley and Sons, New York.
  • Malone, M, S & Davidow, W, H 1992, The Virtual Corporation: Structuring and Revitalizing the Corporation for the 21st Century, Harper Collins Publishers, New York.

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Virtual Organizations - Essay Example

Virtual Organizations

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The “Trade in the Digital Era” interactive training course is available from the WTO e-Learning platform , one of the key capacity-building programmes provided to WTO members and observers by the WTO's Institute for Training and Technical  Cooperation.

“The move to digital trade gives developing economies opportunities to leap forward and some have done so with mobile payment and banking solutions,” said DG Okonjo-Iweala. “To do so, however, access to modern information and communication technologies is not enough. They require a deep understanding of the digital trade landscape, its opportunities, challenges, and the role of policies and trade rules.” Her full video message can be found here.

Designed for trade government officials, policymakers and the public at large, this new series provides essential tools and concepts for improving participants' knowledge of digital trade. It will comprise a total of five courses, to be rolled out consecutively over the coming months. The first course gives a general overview of how the digital revolution is transforming trade, as well as the benefits and challenges of the digital economy.

Topics covered by the four other courses will include policy issues and WTO rules and discussions, the role of new technologies in international trade, especially artificial intelligence and blockchain, and provisions in members' regional trade agreements that relate to trade and the digital economy.

Also speaking at the launch ceremony was WTO Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang who stated: “During the 13th Ministerial Conference, many of you expressed concerns about the digital divide and the need to build developing economies' capacities so that they may seize the benefits of digital trade. The WTO Secretariat is well aware of these challenges, which is why we have been stepping up our technical assistance activities related to digital trade to help bridge the digital trade gap between WTO members.”

Rwanda's WTO Ambassador, James Ngango, said: “I sincerely hope that this capacity-building opportunity will attract many participants from across regions and contribute to further unlocking the potential of digital trade.”

Singapore's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO, Hung Seng Tan, said: “Singapore recognises the critical importance of capacity-building and sharing of technical knowledge on digital trade for developing and least-developed country  members. Singapore is committed to continue working with partners, including the WTO, to deliver on the development dimension of digital trade.”

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First ‘Quadient Connects’ Virtual Conference Will Help Organizations Be More Innovative and Accelerate their Digital Transformation

Quadient (Euronext Paris: QDT), a leader in helping businesses create meaningful customer connections through digital and physical channels, is hosting the first-of-its-kind Quadient Connects virtual conference on May 15, 2024, bringing together business leaders and other decision makers from organizations of all sizes including those from its community of over 400,000 customers.

The global virtual conference, whose inaugural theme is “Be More,” will feature renowned author and tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki and internationally recognized AI and business automation expert Craig Le Clair of Forrester. During the conference, attendees will have access to more than 40 breakout sessions offering industry tips and tricks and networking opportunities to help them accelerate their digital transformation projects.

Bringing together technology experts versed in all three of its solution areas—cloud-based business communication software, smart parcel lockers and intelligent mail-related solutions—Quadient will offer attendees insights on strategies and tactics for aligning digital and physical channels of communication, including managing customer communications and financial automation processes, automating mail and shipping, and providing secure and intelligent parcel management.

Petra Wolf, chief marketing officer at Quadient, said: “Artificial Intelligence is driving digital transformation like never before, and companies that embrace digital innovation grow 75% faster than their competitors. Overcoming challenges such as data availability and quality, regulatory compliance, process mapping and optimization are unavoidable steps to a successful adoption of AI. With Quadient Connects, we’re offering a one-stop shop for catching up on the latest technology and learning from experts and peers about successful industry strategies and tactics to supercharge digital transformation. Not only will there be thought-provoking presentations that will reshape perspectives on the future of business communication and technology, but Quadient Connects also offers business owners and decision makers an opportunity to come together with a community of innovators ready to shape the future across a wide range of industries.”

Quadient Connects offers tailored agendas for attendees in North American, Asia Pacific and European time zones. Highlights of the event include the following:

  • Kawasaki, author of 15 books and the creator of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast, will present, “The Art of Remarkable Transition”.
  • Le Clair will offer a comprehensive presentation designed as a guide to the complexities and challenges of digital transformation.
  • Kaspar Roos, CEO of Aspire Customer Communications Services, will discuss how to accelerate the move from customer communications management (CCM) to customer experience management (CXM).
  • Additionally, a host of experts from Quadient will offer strategy and tips for digital invoicing, optimizing mailing and shipping operations, intelligent digital forms, automating accounts receivable and accounts payable, smart parcel lockers, and more.

Registration for the free event is open at

About Quadient Quadient is the driving force behind the world’s most meaningful customer experiences. By focusing on three key solution areas: Intelligent Communication Automation, Parcel Locker Solutions, and Mail-Related Solutions, Quadient helps simplify the connection between people and what matters. Quadient supports hundreds of thousands of customers worldwide in their quest to create relevant, personalized connections and achieve customer experience excellence. Quadient is listed in compartment B of Euronext Paris (QDT) and is part of the CAC® Mid & Small and EnterNext® Tech 40 indices. For more information about Quadient, visit

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NPR defends its journalism after senior editor says it has lost the public's trust

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David Folkenflik

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NPR is defending its journalism and integrity after a senior editor wrote an essay accusing it of losing the public's trust. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

NPR is defending its journalism and integrity after a senior editor wrote an essay accusing it of losing the public's trust.

NPR's top news executive defended its journalism and its commitment to reflecting a diverse array of views on Tuesday after a senior NPR editor wrote a broad critique of how the network has covered some of the most important stories of the age.

"An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don't have an audience that reflects America," writes Uri Berliner.

A strategic emphasis on diversity and inclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, promoted by NPR's former CEO, John Lansing, has fed "the absence of viewpoint diversity," Berliner writes.

NPR's chief news executive, Edith Chapin, wrote in a memo to staff Tuesday afternoon that she and the news leadership team strongly reject Berliner's assessment.

"We're proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories," she wrote. "We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world."

NPR names tech executive Katherine Maher to lead in turbulent era

NPR names tech executive Katherine Maher to lead in turbulent era

She added, "None of our work is above scrutiny or critique. We must have vigorous discussions in the newsroom about how we serve the public as a whole."

A spokesperson for NPR said Chapin, who also serves as the network's chief content officer, would have no further comment.

Praised by NPR's critics

Berliner is a senior editor on NPR's Business Desk. (Disclosure: I, too, am part of the Business Desk, and Berliner has edited many of my past stories. He did not see any version of this article or participate in its preparation before it was posted publicly.)

Berliner's essay , titled "I've Been at NPR for 25 years. Here's How We Lost America's Trust," was published by The Free Press, a website that has welcomed journalists who have concluded that mainstream news outlets have become reflexively liberal.

Berliner writes that as a Subaru-driving, Sarah Lawrence College graduate who "was raised by a lesbian peace activist mother ," he fits the mold of a loyal NPR fan.

Yet Berliner says NPR's news coverage has fallen short on some of the most controversial stories of recent years, from the question of whether former President Donald Trump colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, to the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19, to the significance and provenance of emails leaked from a laptop owned by Hunter Biden weeks before the 2020 election. In addition, he blasted NPR's coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On each of these stories, Berliner asserts, NPR has suffered from groupthink due to too little diversity of viewpoints in the newsroom.

The essay ricocheted Tuesday around conservative media , with some labeling Berliner a whistleblower . Others picked it up on social media, including Elon Musk, who has lambasted NPR for leaving his social media site, X. (Musk emailed another NPR reporter a link to Berliner's article with a gibe that the reporter was a "quisling" — a World War II reference to someone who collaborates with the enemy.)

When asked for further comment late Tuesday, Berliner declined, saying the essay spoke for itself.

The arguments he raises — and counters — have percolated across U.S. newsrooms in recent years. The #MeToo sexual harassment scandals of 2016 and 2017 forced newsrooms to listen to and heed more junior colleagues. The social justice movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd in 2020 inspired a reckoning in many places. Newsroom leaders often appeared to stand on shaky ground.

Leaders at many newsrooms, including top editors at The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times , lost their jobs. Legendary Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron wrote in his memoir that he feared his bonds with the staff were "frayed beyond repair," especially over the degree of self-expression his journalists expected to exert on social media, before he decided to step down in early 2021.

Since then, Baron and others — including leaders of some of these newsrooms — have suggested that the pendulum has swung too far.

Legendary editor Marty Baron describes his 'Collision of Power' with Trump and Bezos

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Legendary editor marty baron describes his 'collision of power' with trump and bezos.

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger warned last year against journalists embracing a stance of what he calls "one-side-ism": "where journalists are demonstrating that they're on the side of the righteous."

"I really think that that can create blind spots and echo chambers," he said.

Internal arguments at The Times over the strength of its reporting on accusations that Hamas engaged in sexual assaults as part of a strategy for its Oct. 7 attack on Israel erupted publicly . The paper conducted an investigation to determine the source of a leak over a planned episode of the paper's podcast The Daily on the subject, which months later has not been released. The newsroom guild accused the paper of "targeted interrogation" of journalists of Middle Eastern descent.

Heated pushback in NPR's newsroom

Given Berliner's account of private conversations, several NPR journalists question whether they can now trust him with unguarded assessments about stories in real time. Others express frustration that he had not sought out comment in advance of publication. Berliner acknowledged to me that for this story, he did not seek NPR's approval to publish the piece, nor did he give the network advance notice.

Some of Berliner's NPR colleagues are responding heatedly. Fernando Alfonso, a senior supervising editor for digital news, wrote that he wholeheartedly rejected Berliner's critique of the coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, for which NPR's journalists, like their peers, periodically put themselves at risk.

Alfonso also took issue with Berliner's concern over the focus on diversity at NPR.

"As a person of color who has often worked in newsrooms with little to no people who look like me, the efforts NPR has made to diversify its workforce and its sources are unique and appropriate given the news industry's long-standing lack of diversity," Alfonso says. "These efforts should be celebrated and not denigrated as Uri has done."

After this story was first published, Berliner contested Alfonso's characterization, saying his criticism of NPR is about the lack of diversity of viewpoints, not its diversity itself.

"I never criticized NPR's priority of achieving a more diverse workforce in terms of race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. I have not 'denigrated' NPR's newsroom diversity goals," Berliner said. "That's wrong."

Questions of diversity

Under former CEO John Lansing, NPR made increasing diversity, both of its staff and its audience, its "North Star" mission. Berliner says in the essay that NPR failed to consider broader diversity of viewpoint, noting, "In D.C., where NPR is headquartered and many of us live, I found 87 registered Democrats working in editorial positions and zero Republicans."

Berliner cited audience estimates that suggested a concurrent falloff in listening by Republicans. (The number of people listening to NPR broadcasts and terrestrial radio broadly has declined since the start of the pandemic.)

Former NPR vice president for news and ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin tweeted , "I know Uri. He's not wrong."

Others questioned Berliner's logic. "This probably gets causality somewhat backward," tweeted Semafor Washington editor Jordan Weissmann . "I'd guess that a lot of NPR listeners who voted for [Mitt] Romney have changed how they identify politically."

Similarly, Nieman Lab founder Joshua Benton suggested the rise of Trump alienated many NPR-appreciating Republicans from the GOP.

In recent years, NPR has greatly enhanced the percentage of people of color in its workforce and its executive ranks. Four out of 10 staffers are people of color; nearly half of NPR's leadership team identifies as Black, Asian or Latino.

"The philosophy is: Do you want to serve all of America and make sure it sounds like all of America, or not?" Lansing, who stepped down last month, says in response to Berliner's piece. "I'd welcome the argument against that."

"On radio, we were really lagging in our representation of an audience that makes us look like what America looks like today," Lansing says. The U.S. looks and sounds a lot different than it did in 1971, when NPR's first show was broadcast, Lansing says.

A network spokesperson says new NPR CEO Katherine Maher supports Chapin and her response to Berliner's critique.

The spokesperson says that Maher "believes that it's a healthy thing for a public service newsroom to engage in rigorous consideration of the needs of our audiences, including where we serve our mission well and where we can serve it better."

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp and Managing Editor Gerry Holmes. Under NPR's protocol for reporting on itself, no NPR corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

virtual organization essay

NPR Editor's Critical Op-Ed Ignites Debate Over Political Bias in Journalism: 'This Essay Has It Backwards'

A scathing op-ed from NPR veteran and current senior business editor Uri Berliner published in The Free Press on Tuesday has intensified debates over whether the publicly funded news organization has adopted a partisan lean in recent years. 

In the piece , Berliner details a culture shift at the organization, in which "An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don't have an audience that reflects America."

Berliner argued that NPR is plagued with an "absence of viewpoint diversity," which he considers to be a result of leadership's emphasis on promoting diversity and inclusion on the basis of race and sexual orientation. He also claims that he found "87 registered Democrats working in editorial positions and zero Republicans."

NPR editor-in-chief Edith Chapin defended the organization in response to the piece, saying she the leadership team "strongly disagree with Uri's assessment of the quality of our journalism."

While Chapin backed the "exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories," she added that "None of our work is above scrutiny or critique. We must have vigorous discussions in the newsroom about how we serve the public as a whole."

According to NPR media reporter David Folkenflik , several journalists inside the organization question how they can proceed with Berliner as a colleague, with concerns about whether he can be a trusted member of NPR in the aftermath of the op-ed. Additionally, Berliner did not seek NPR's approval to publish the piece, nor did he seek comment from the organization ahead of time; though he does say in his piece that he sought to raise his concerns with leadership on several occasions.

Meanwhile, outside of the organization, debates regarding the content of Berliner's piece have sprouted up across social media, with many coming to the defense of the storied NPR institution. 

Some argued that the shift that occurred in political coverage across the media industry was forced on institutions due to the changing nature of the Republican Party since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. 

Some came to Berliner's defense, including former NPR vice president for news Jeffrey Dvorkin who vouched for the changes to the organization. 

The post NPR Editor's Critical Op-Ed Ignites Debate Over Political Bias in Journalism: 'This Essay Has It Backwards' appeared first on TheWrap .

NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Virtual Organizations Characteristics And Management


According to Techtarget (2010), virtual organizations are those whose members operate from different regions towards a common goal without necessarily having a physical location. They network by use of information technology such as groupware and emails and this allows for a harmonious and organized working relationship similar to conventional organizations. Virtual teams who operate remotely support their daily operations.

Characteristics of virtual organizations

According to Ahuja et al. (1998), informal communication is a major characteristic of a virtual organization. This is because the members are not interacting on a one on one basis. They use electronic media like emails, telephones and other groupware to pass information. These organizations lack formal rules and this necessitates the use of informal communication that is extensive and which makes their communication more personal and interactive. They do not subscribe to structured meetings and reports, which are common with conventional organizations.

Sharing of resources and competences is another feature of virtual organizations. The members bring in their key competences and complement each other while they work together and assert their knowledge in the field to ensure that they stay afloat as the market comes with changing demands and they have to bring in their expertise to meet the market needs. The core business is preserved and this guarantees great results. Virtual organizations have connections with business giants in the field and this makes them very resourceful and reliable. One such example is the, which specializes in the sale of different products.

Taking the case of books, they do not necessarily have a shelf to their name but they sell huge volumes as they are linked to leading publishers. This sharing of competences and resources is ideal for businesses today and to this end flexibility is synonymous with virtual organizations. The business environment keeps changing and this situation calls for prompt actions. Virtual organizations offer this flexibility to ensure that the demand is met and this happens through interdependence between multiple specialists to counter the need for mass customization (Jagers et al. 1998).

Sharing of costs is another characteristic of virtual organizations according to Thomas (2010); the members often split costs among themselves since all are equal partners gearing at providing the best services or products to the global market. Permeable boundaries define virtual organizations as well and the primary goal of virtual organizations is to meet specific needs in the market.

They also capitalize on opportunities available in the market and Permeability occurs when the partners feel the need to break away after exploiting the opportunity and this moves them to other more lucrative opportunities. Virtual organizations are technologically enhanced as they work from different geographical regions and this limits face-to-face meetings and Information technology thus takes centre stage in an effort to link them.

Some of the technology that they adopt includes videoconferencing, intranet systems, and groupware (Thomas 2010), which ensures that information reaches all parties for effective business transactions. Another characteristic of virtual organizations is interdependence; Most of the time, virtual organisations act as brokers or middlemen as they link the industries or service providers with the client. This way, no one can survive without the other and interdependent relationships are thus formed to ensure that the link remains strong. This involves a lot of collaborations which at times makes it an open organization and thus Agreements are signed between the different parties and this blurs the organisation’s boundaries.

Increased market share is another key characteristic of virtual organizations. These organizations cross borders to deliver services and products and this broadens their market base both locally and internationally. These organizations prevent loss of competition as they become a one stop shop for almost everything and this increases the trade margins as they end up signing many contracts with different clients. Also they happen to have a better understanding of the market needs and step in to fill the deficit. This enhances integration between both suppliers and vendors. (E-articles 2005)

Virtual organizations’ opportunities and challenges

Virtual organizations have the opportunity to perform highly and due to interdependence, these organizations are bound to provide the best of services according to Yassin (2008). They are composed of experts in different fields and this becomes a melting pot of core competences as high performance translates into high revenue.

This makes them very profitable and the client in the long run gets the best and the fact that it breaks geographical boundaries is a plus which gives these organizations the required exposure in the business world. They also promote interglobal interactions of professionals from different fields and this reduces the organizations overhead costs. This diverts the profits to more productive use in upgrading their systems in an effort to provide even better services to their clients. A common memory in a virtual organization is well organized and managed.

The use of networked computers creates a solid base for information and knowledge sharing. Partners are able to access and share the same information and this saves on time and revenue (Yassin 2008). It also ensures that the organizations information is on the finger tips of everyone involved as they have access to it and this enhances a smooth flow of operations. Virtual organizations give their partners the opportunity to ‘own’ big companies as they get linked to global movers and this is great exposure necessary for business.

The challenges that virtual organizations face include failure and this is occasioned by the fact that these organizations involve a lot of risks. There can be instances where one partner fails to deliver and this defaces the whole company. At the same time, interdependence is not always a good thing as it brings about overeliance and this may slow down the business process.

Yassin (2008) states that virtual organizations may be expensive to manage in the long run as they are more bent towards information technology. This prompts the organization to go out of its way to ensure that all the parties are connected and this can be quite expensive in terms of installation and logistics. Communication breakdown is a major challenge and the information may be misconstrued or even end up in the wrong hands. Management in virtual organizations is a challenge since people are more of their own bosses thus operate independently.

How the opportunities and challenges have impacted on managing virtual teams

According to Gould (1999), virtual teams are the partners or colleagues working under the umbrella of the virtual organizations but are physically separated. Their interaction is limited to information technology making their initial contact electronic through emails, internet or telephone. However, these people are bound to meet face to face at a point during their line of duty.

The key trick in managing virtual teams is ensuring that there is effective sharing of information and communication (McMahan 2010). As indicated among the challenges, ineffective sharing of information and communication can lead to the organizations demise as the information in virtue organizations is open for access to every member. To effectively manage what is being accessed, people have to keep records which will ensure that future audiences get a picture of operations.

Recording of information also reduces the risk of misinformation and since most of the information shared is educative, it has to be included in the strategic plan. This ensures that the knowledge is well managed and that it serves its purpose. When it comes to communication, efficacy is of essence and the communication channels must be clear and result oriented. Since most of it is electronic, the emails must be enthusiastic to provoke motivation in the members. A shared database is essential to ensure that communication reaches all involved members. The management team must embark on providing feedback and seeking the same from the members as this helps in keeping all of them on the same page.

According to Lethbridge (2001), virtual organizations must have well developed structures when it comes to their management. The client is not supposed to sense any kind of disconnect when it comes to delivery of goods or services. They have to maintain a solid ‘virtual’ image and work as one if they are to buy a clients trust. This subject on image has greatly impacted on their management. Planning and organization is a challenge for virtual organization and they have been forced to up their game.

Since there are no well defined structures, the organization can get a bit shaky at times with its members not knowing what to do or when. The chain of command must be well defined to curb all the conflicts that may emerge. Some members may assume superiority over others and this can be detrimental to the organizations operations. For effective management, these members must come up with a system that unifies them under one body even if they are independent entities.

Virtual organisations can rather be seen as a dimension of many organizations today. Those that are not involved directly are resulting to outsourcing which definitely defines virtual organizations. The main link in these organizations is information technology and from this study, virtual organizations are the future. The fact that they are offering a better performance in the market as compared to conventional ones is a surety that they are here to stay. The client, the most important person in every business is satisfied as he gets the best from the experts. Virtual organizations consolidate core businesses and boast of a vast market share and this works positively towards their success.

Virtual organizations are also cost effective in terms of overhead costs and this opens up business opportunities for those without the right capital to set up their own businesses. Since information technology is new, virtual organisations can be termed as the new concept in the market at the moment. They have a higher potential for growth due to the deep rooted networking. Making use of the internet and email creates a data base necessary for product manufacturers, service providers and clients. This is a link that can never be broken as long as demand is present and their flexibility enhances business across the borders. However, they come with limitations which if well handled can be turned around to maintain the high performances.

Ahuja, et al. (1998) Network structure in virtual organizations. College of business, Florida State University.

E-articles. (2005-2010) Advantages of e partnerships and virtual organizations. Web.

Gould, D. (1999-2006) Fifth generation work – virtual organization . Virtual teams journal, vol 23-30.

Jagers et al. (1998) Characteristics of virtual organizations . Netherlands, Breda Lethbridge.

N. (2001) An I-Based taxonomy of virtual organizations and the implications for effective management. Edith Cowan University, Australia . Volume 4, No. 1.

McMahan, K. (2010) 17 pointers for managing virtual teams. Effective communication and information sharing in virtual teams.  Web.

Techtarget (2010) Definition of virtual organisations . Web.

Thomas, G. (2010) Virtual organizations. Reference for business. Encyclopaedia of business , Vol 2.

Yassin, A. (2008) Challenges and success achievement factor for virtual organization concept . Web.

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