Literature Review Chapter: Virtual Team Communications Literature Review of Technologies

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Virtual Team Communications

Literature Review of Technologies for Virtual Team Communications

The pervasive adoption and use of virtual teams in enterprises is redefining the pace, direction of innovation in communication, collaboration, shared project workflows, project management, and knowledge transfer. The intent of this literature review is to evaluate each of the technologies that when combined form the foundation communication platforms that enable virtual teams to be productive and attain their shared goals. The technologies included in this evaluation include collaboration portals that are Web-based and accessible from anywhere globally there is an Internet connection, e-mail, telephone, teleconference, video conferencing, and voice mail. Each of these tools has a specific use to the attainment of the highest levels of performance within globally-based virtual teams. Social networks are also turning into one of the most powerful catalysts of innovation in the area of virtual teams as they are driving the development of state-of-the-art operating systems for smartphones and tablets including the Apple iPad (Bernoff, Li, 2008). This trend in smartphones and tablets is so pervasive than it is anticipated these devices will surpass PCs in shipments during 2011 (Hardy, 2010).

Social networks are the catalyst of disruptive innovation in smartphones as they have overtaken operating systems as the primary focus within many companies as to how they can collaborate more effectively and create knowledge sharing processes that can quickly scale globally (Bernoff, Li, 2008). The egalitarian nature of social networks is also fueling the development of rapid advances in portal software, with Microsoft SharePoint emerging as the dominant leader in this area of technology adoption globally (Turban, Liang, Wu, 2011). What also emerges from this literature review is that none of these technologies are deployed in isolated from the other, and all are often deployed as part of a broader strategy or series of goals for remote teams to achieve. As many of the studies indicate that the most successful virtual teams are comprised of experts in their fields that have learned over time to be self-sufficient, the focus of these technologies take together is to accelerate knowledge transfer and the sharing of expertise online, virtually on a 24/7 timeframe (Akoumianakis, 2009). A secondary finding of this literature review is that these technologies must be evaluated, deployed, managed and optimized with change management strategies in mind first. This finding emanated from the studies of the most successful adoption cycles and patterns of these technologies over the long-term. Transformational leaders, not surprisingly, have the most successful track record deploying these technologies over the long-term (Balthazard, Waldman, Warren, 2009). To evaluate and explore the many factors that contribute to this finding would take another chapter, yet to succinctly define this dynamic, transformational leaders are seen as orders of magnitude more authenticity, transparent and willing to sacrifice for the success of their teams compared to transactional or authoritarian-based managers (Balthazard, Waldman, Warren, 2009). They are also experts at using these technologies to create a safety net for virtual team members to rely on when they need reassurance, recognition, motivation and continued validation they are moving in the right direction with their projects (Casey, 2010). As with any study it is not necessary purely the technology that separates the highest and lowest performing virtual teams. Rather it is the decision on the part of team leaders to selectively use these technologies to create a virtual team that is capable of being self-sufficient and focused on assisting each other to their shared and often complex goals (Jang, 2009).

Best Practices in Technology Use by Virtual Teams

There are many technological developments occurring today across the collection of technologies virtual teams rely on. Portals based on enterprise-class software platforms from IBM, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and others are now commonplace as the virtual content management system millions of teams use globally for sharing documents and creating their own unique approaches to organizing team information (Lamont, 2010). These portals also have the ability to create unique role-based data structures, can be designed to meet the exact requirements of each member of a virtual team, and increasingly are designed to also be delivered in smartphones and tablets (Lamont, 2010). These portals are also able to create contextual search that encompasses both unstructured and structured content, which was not achievable at price points for virtual teams just five years ago. This capability in portal technologies significantly accelerates knowledge transfer and data management across global boundaries, as team members can quickly create and maintain their own pages and areas of a portals, in effect creating the ability to serve team members on a 24/7 basis. The integration of structured and unstructured content in these portals is unified through contextual search technologies that can create linguistic models literally on the fly to put unstructured, comment-based content into context quickly so it can be used quickly by teams (Holtshouse, 2009). Another aspect of the contextual search aspect of these portals is the ability to quickly capture the conversations with customers, other team members, and outside suppliers to create an ongoing discussion of project notes and action times completed. The portals in the best-run virtual teams become the system of record for all activities, often becoming the basis for how project managers evaluate the progress towards goals and objectives (Lamont, 2010). All providers of portal software are also starting to emulate the design criterion of social networks as well, creating the look and feel of Facebook, Twitter and other interfaces, much the same way salesforce.com accomplished this with their Chatter application (Lamont, 2010). Over time there will also be integration for videoconferencing, e-mail exchanges via the social network-based interfaces, ability to upload phone lists from smartphones and tablets and the ability to create a unified record of each contact associated with each project. The integration of all these technologies together is happening quickly due to the Web 2.0 design objectives as originally defined by Tim O'Reilly, founder and publisher of the O'Reilly Technical Book Series and a thought leader in application design. Figure 1, Web 2.0 Design Criterion as shown as a Meme Map, provides a graphical representation of the design goals that Tim O'Reilly created and which has since become a market standard globally for the development of collaborative applications that are Web -- based. Many of the founders of social networks credit the design goals of the Web 2.0 framework as the catalyst of their social networks, including Twitter and others (Bernoff, Li, 2008). It is clearly a preferred framework for creating application to support virtual teams as the focus is on seamless information and knowledge sharing over time. What resonates with the developers of portals for virtual teams is the design goal of having the Web as a platform, which is ideal for those virtual teams with team members scattered across several different geographies that may have different language requirements for a traditional operating systems. There is also the user positioning of allowing the people using the software to control their own data. This is a major advantage for those who are working on a virtual team, as there is a measure of confidentiality they will need to ensure their own data is also not comprised across a broad working group. Allowing users to control their own data is also a critical leadership tenant as it allows virtual team members to also attain autonomy, mastery and purpose on their jobs, a critical set of attributes for them to gain mastery of their tasks and jobs (Balthazard, Waldman, Warren, 2009).

Figure 1: Web 2.0 Design Criterion as shown as a Meme Map

Source: (O'Reilly, 2005)

Web 2.0 as a design platform has also led to an increasingly rapid adoption of business process management, business process re-engineering, and the more precise definition of information workflows to tasks that virtual teams need to accomplish (Guzman, Ramos, Seco, Esteban, 2010). This approach to designing the workflows and approaches that portals use to manage information is relatively recent as the programming developments on these platforms have only recently been capable of defining complex workflows. These developments however have led to the development of highly customized applications on portals that give virtual teams the ability to create their own unique process definition, including how and where in a given process definition they integrate to legacy databases, applications or their own databases. These developments in portal technologies have led to an entirely new level of agility and flexibility in portal design to support virtual teams. These developments taken together are also creating an increasingly higher level of cross-department and cross-functional collaboration and knowledge transfer across corporations globally (Lin, Chiu, Joe, Tsai, 2010). The net effect of all of these advances is leading to the development of much greater levels of contextual collaboration and information sharing across virtual teams and divisions of companies (Ruths, 2003). This is why it is so critical for virtual teams to be managed by transformational leaders who see the value in creating these links and connections with other departments, divisions and virtual teams globally (Balthazard, Waldman,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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