As a doctoral researcher in organizational behavior and information management fields, I had been looking for the answers that can shed light on the individual responses to the virtuality in organizations. As the existing research fixated its focus on team virtuality, in particular, I had the belief that when an employee works in a virtual team, then he/she had to cope with the challenges, which are quite specific for virtual teams. Collaboration with geographically dispersed team members, a huge amount of email – teleconference traffic, lack of nonverbal expressions throughout communications.
But some questions are still remained uncovered: Are virtual team workers the only group that has to deal with geographically dispersed contacts? Are they the only ones that interact via information and communication technology (ICT) tools? Is virtual team the only form of organizational setting where the nonverbal cues are missing?
I can confidently say this based on my over 7-year practical experience with virtual settings, some in the world’s largest corporations that ‘it’s not!’. Today, no matter what you do and how you do, you are most probably in touch with many people who are far from you. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter how far they are. The use ICT tools in daily tasks is more prevalent than ever before. So why does one need face-to-face interaction in any kind of business setting?
It has been always claimed that leading a virtual team and working in one requires a variety of skill sets that can increase collaboration and success in a virtual team environment. But is this assumption valid? In order to provide a correct answer to that question, we should ask some more questions: What if you work in a traditional team, but your work is highly dependent on other contacts that you don’t see face to face? Does it mean that these skill sets are irrelevant to your work? Imagine you work in a global call center where all team members sit next to each other, but all problems to be solved involve parties who are not contacted face-to-face and need to be handled by emails and phones. Or what if you work in a telesales position? You have to sell your products and services over the phone, while your competitor company has a sales team right in the field. How much team composition will have an impact on your output? So, the key is, we have to consider virtuality as a task characteristic rather than a team one. The characteristic that concerns how we deal with others while performing our tasks, regardless of team virtuality.
In my recent article published in Administrative Sciences, I discussed that researchers and organizational practitioners have to look closely at tasks to determine the impacts of virtuality rather than focusing on team virtuality, because virtual collaboration within a team is only one aspect of the entire job design in organizations. Therefore, even an individual works in a traditional team, he/she can experience a high level of task virtuality if the work depends on non-face-to-face contacts that are interacted, collaborated, and coordinated via ICT tools. Contrary, although a team is virtual, there is no reason that individuals in the team to have low levels of task virtuality, if there is no strong interdependence within team interactions (so the team is structured virtually for function reporting reasons), and all tasks no require interaction, collaboration, and coordination of non-face-to-face contacts, then the impacts of virtuality would be rather limited.
In addition to the practical benefits of my article, I further challenged the belief that the only way of being exposed to high individual virtuality is high team virtuality. The purpose of the article was to extend our understanding of individual virtuality, and it is argued that the relationship between team virtuality and individual virtuality is directional. It is discussed that it is possible to be exposed to high individual virtuality, even though the team structure remains rather conventional. Therefore, a new concept, task virtuality is introduced in order to capture the virtuality aspects of tasks in particular.
And finally, this means more work for the virtual team and management consultants. Not only because the absolute need for virtual work training is potentially higher and even may be required for traditional team workers with higher task virtuality, but it is also crucial for organizational designers to understand the actual impacts of virtuality at the individual level without solely focusing on team virtuality in order to take a broader perspective for individual virtuality.
Orhan, M.A. (2014). Extending the Individual Level of Virtuality: Implications of Task Virtuality in Virtual and Traditional Settings. Administrative Sciences. Vol. 4(4). 400-412.