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In the business world, technology is often associated with progress, innovation, competitiveness, and success. At the same time, some people have concerns about the upcoming changes and try to maintain old practices (Fineman, 2012). Globalization and technological advancements contribute to the increasing popularity of virtual teams. The benefits of virtual teams are manifold as they enhance companies’ competitiveness through their improved performance. Fineman (2012) claims that the so-called technologically mediated environment results in reduced overheads, a positive working atmosphere, and an improved range of candidates. Nurmi and Hinds (2016) found that a global virtual environment was associated with high engagement, satisfaction, and innovation. At the same time, it is associated with such challenges as the need for more complex leadership, the lack of trust, and face-to-face contact. This paper includes a brief analysis of these obstacles and effective solutions to overcome them.
The lack of trust is regarded as one of the most serious disadvantages of virtual teams. Serrat (2017) emphasizes that trust is the central component of the effective relationships between leaders and employees. The researcher also adds that the virtual environment undermines the development of trust due to technological factors. A significant degree of independence and confidentiality often makes people less open and trusting (Großer & Baumöl, 2017). People do not meet in person, and they often have different schedules, which means that they do not interact in real-time settings. Employees often feel the lack of a sense of connectedness, which results in distrust and alienation. This kind of working environment is associated with the low performance of teams or even the entire business.
Researchers and practitioners have acknowledged the relevance of the issues associated with the lack of trust and developed certain approaches to address them. One of the solutions to the issue mentioned above is the establishment of mutual expectations (Lilian, 2014). Leaders should make sure employees are aware of the major goals and some objectives to be achieved. It is critical to discuss the ways to achieve the goals. Inspiration and motivation are central to the success of virtual teams. Since employees are not in close contact with each other and their leader, the latter has to contact each of them regularly. The inspirational leader understands employee’s needs and encourages them to works hard and remain committed to organizational goals.
The Need for Complex Leadership
Managing virtual teams differs from working with traditional teams rather significantly. Face-to-face communication can take a form of video conference or meetings, but even such instruments are not frequently utilized. Leaders have to manage diverse teams where employees work different shifts. Time limits tend to cause substantial difficulties especially when it comes to teamwork or teambuilding effort. E-leadership is regarded as an alternative to traditional leadership. It has been acknowledged that effective e-leadership is essential for addressing this challenge. Lilian (2014) defines it as “a process of social influence where changes in attitudes, feelings, thoughts, behavior, and organization are brought about with the help of advanced information and communication technology” (p. 1256). Many leaders are still unprepared to address such challenges.
One of the most effective solutions to the lack of effective e-leadership is the provision of on-job training. Leaders should be equipped with the most efficient instruments to handle virtual teams. The focus should be on cultural diversity. It is essential to be aware of the cultural peculiarities of all members of the team. In order to develop favorable relationships within culturally diverse teams, leaders should maintain proper communication channels and initiate various socializing activities. Lilian (2014) also emphasizes that quick response to questions, requests, and some situations is of paramount importance for e-leadership. Leaders should address all issues and help employees as soon as the corresponding request appears.
As for face-to-face communication, it is regarded as one of the most important factors contributing to the favorable environment in the working place and proper relationships between leaders and employees. For example, Großer and Baumöl (2017) note that new generations are likely to be more accustomed to virtual environments, but the contemporary workforce can have considerable difficulties when working in virtual teams. People still need to communicate face to face in various settings. In some cases, data security and confidentiality can be compromised, which is often regarded as a downside of online communication. As has been mentioned above, online meetings and video conferences have proved to be effective, but their use is not sufficient for addressing the problem effectively (Lilian, 2014). These interactions can be effective when working on specific goals, but the ability to have unofficial conversations contribute to the appearance of trust, the sense of connectedness, and engagement. Therefore, other solutions have been developed to make virtual teams more effective.
One of the solutions is the use of various technological advances including virtual reality. Lilian (2014) stresses that the development of social activities can contribute to the creation of a friendly environment. The use of simulations can be helpful as it makes people more engaged and motivated. The sense of connectedness is nurtured through various social interactions that can be handled with the help of avatars. Another solution is the provision of training to employees. The training will be virtual as well, which can make people more prepared for the peculiarities of the virtual environment. At that, it can be still necessary to have face-to-face meetings, which can take different forms. It is possible to arrange meetings for people working in certain regions. The most effective employees and the most promising ones should have an opportunity to attend face-to-face meetings where they will interact with their leaders and peers. Finally, the use of a mixture of the solutions mentioned above can be recommended.
In conclusion, it is necessary to state that the development of technology has enabled people to address distance- and time-related limits. At the same time, technological advances in business are associated with certain challenges. Some of these challenges are the lack of trust, insufficient face-to-face (or non-existent) communication, and the need for a more complex leadership as related to the management of traditional teams. Practitioners have already come up with effective solutions. The creation of a trust is possible with inspirational leadership where leaders contact employees timely and pay attention to their needs and cultural peculiarities. The lack of leadership can be addressed through training and the development of e-leadership. E-leaders are in close contact with each employee and react quickly and effectively to every request or inquiry. Finally, face-to-face communication is regarded as an essential component of managing teams in the contemporary business world. Therefore, they cannot be eliminated completely and can take forms of annual meetings or meetings of people living in certain regions. The use of virtual reality is another effective instrument.
Fineman, S. (2012). Work: A very short introduction. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Großer, B., & Baumöl, U. (2017). Why virtual teams work – State of the art. Procedia Computer Science, 121, 297-305.
Lilian, S. (2014). Virtual teams: Opportunities and challenges for e-leaders. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 110, 1251-1261.
Nurmi, N., & Hinds, P. (2016). Job complexity and learning opportunities: A silver lining in the design of global virtual work. Journal of International Business Studies, 47(6), 631-654.
Serrat, O. (2017). Knowledge solutions: Tools, methods, and approaches to drive organizational performance. Mandaluyong, Philippines: Springer.