Working Together, Apart - Part 2

As a refresher from last week, we covered the “Wonderland'' of Virtual Teams and its definition of a virtual team -- a group of people who collaborate closely even though they may or may not be separated by space, time, and organizational barriers. As I covered last week, this can create some problems. Working virtually requires a great amount of self discipline, individual accountability, and flexibility.

As a recap of my anecdotal experiences as an intern at AGL, a completely remote organization, and a graduate student through an online program, I have participated in my fair share of online meetings. Last week, I discussed getting to know your team and how challenging it can be to schedule a meeting.

The seemingly insurmountable challenges:

1. Challenge: One of our team members had to leave the meeting early. We were all very understanding — probably because she was so honest. But what if she didn’t give any reason? I probably would have been frustrated.

Solution: This is another one of those things that has a clear answer. The most important thing is to remember that you don’t know what’s going on in their life or what you may be interrupting. In an office, it's easy to read body language that somebody is busy, to notice someone is eating their lunch, or to accept someone has left for the day and aren’t available for the rest of the day.

2. Challenge: All of the above are serious issues to address, but the biggest and most pressing issue is communication via telecommunication. According to Group Style Differences Between Virtual and Face to Face Teams, communication complaints fall into three different categories:

Lack of project visibility — members were unclear on what tasks they were required to do, and they were vague on how their tasks fit into the project as a whole

Getting in touch with people — team members would send out questions and would never get back a response

Constraints in technology — members had difficulty in determining the meaning of text-based messages such as emails, especially if the person was attempting to be sarcastic

Moreover, as with cyber-bullying, working behind a computer allows a certain sense of anonymity, which “increases uninhibited, hostile behavior and extreme decision making” which can result in “deindividualized behavior and a more impersonal and task-oriented attentional focus” (Group Style Differences Between Virtual and F2F Teams). It is difficult to virtually build a trusting relationship — which can restrict personable interactions.

Solution: The “Wonderland” of Virtual Teams proposes that virtual teams engage in training on virtual communication (that’s where the AGL Institute comes in!!), as “team members must use considerably more precision in their communication, since they will be unable to modify their speech with gestures and body language.” All team members should also be informed about project progression.


The "Wonderland" of Virtual Teams

Pamela Johnson Virginia Heimann and Karen O’Neill

Group Style Differences Between Virtual and F2F Teams

Leonard Branson, University of Illinois at Springfield Thomas S. Clausen, University of Illinois at Springfield Chung-Hsein Sung, University of Illinois at Springfie