Virtual teams can save global companies money and improve on productivity, says the co-ordinator of a survey on the subject, David Pauleen.
Pauleen is a lecturer in communications at Wellington Polytechnic and PhD student at Victoria University’s Department of Communications. He carried out a survey on current and planned use of virtual teams, which he defines as geographically distributed individuals working together using computer and telecommunications technology.
He chose the membership of TUANZ as the base for the survey.
He says 95% of the respondents use email, 92% use the Internet, 60% use audio conferencing, 33% video conferencing and 8% computer-mediated conferencing (such as Net meetings, perhaps using Lotus Notes). A further 18% said they were likely to use computer-mediated conferencing in the next three years, and a further 24%, videoconferencing.
Pauleen says 34% of the respondents said that 25% or more of their company’s current output was being produced by virtual teams, and he expects that to grow.
Among the benefits the respondents stated were: improved communications and information flow, higher productivity, cost reductions, time and travel savings, closer client contact and research.
Companies are using virtual teams for project management (70%), decision making (58%) and strategic planning (48%).
Pauleen says virtual teams are important for a global company.
“People don’t have to fly all over the world to meet. They can share databases, they can share visual representations. In Net meetings they have a white board, they can import images and discuss them and work on document writing together.”
He says there are some barriers, including organisational attitude and technological and resource barriers.
“About 47% noted a resistance to change or a fear of the unknown, about 40% cited technological or resource limitations, and related to that, only 17% cited the existence of an organisational policy regarding virtual teams.”
Pauleen believes that to compete globally, companies will have to start planning on using virtual teams if they’re not already.
Of those who responded, 39% have four or more overseas offices and 69% have 11 or more overseas contacts (clients, customers, suppliers, partners). More than 50% are working in virtual teams with their overseas offices and contacts.
Pauleen says there is a huge cultural diversity in the virtual teams, even within New Zealand, but 40% of respondents didn’t see cultural differences having any impact on productivity.