The Evolution of Virtual Collaboration and Driving Team Performance

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The first virtual teams were formed to facilitate co-creation and innovation among global experts who couldn’t find the time to travel. Today, we’ve reached a point in which online collaboration is a necessity to companies with large, multinational and even regional teams. But what makes a virtual team deliver better results?

The idea of virtual collaboration – a team working together from different physical locations – seemed less likely to work back in the 2000s, as people were skeptical about the efficiency of a virtual team. For example, according to a study conducted in 2001, from a total of 70 groups who tried virtual collaboration, 82% fell short of their goals, while 33% considered themselves as unsuccessful.

A few years down the line, things hadn’t changed that much either. In 2005 Deloitte wanted to know how virtual work groups can handle outsourced IT projects, so they created a study which revealed that 66% of them failed to satisfy clients’ requirements.

The Harvard Business Review conducted their own study, which revealed that most people think that virtual communication isn’t that productive as face-to-face integration, while half of those questioned claimed that they were confused and overwhelmed by collaboration technology. Still, this was happening a few years ago.

Wind of change

It turns out that these conclusions weren’t actually on point. A newer study from 2009, in which 80 global software teams took part, indicated that well-managed teams who rely on virtual collaboration can actually outperform those offering office space. Even more, a report coming from Aon Consulting notes that this can also improve employee productivity, some organization registering gains of up to 43%. Therefore, the question is, what can make a virtual team deliver better results?

“Collaborative tools can help you achieve real breakthroughs in effectiveness.” Alan Lepofsky, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research

In 2012, this concept was already becoming popular, so ideas like increasing cross-cultural awareness, co-creating team rules and norms, building virtual trust by mixing communication mediums and making the first meeting face to face were just a few of the ideas used in order to make virtual collaboration successful. As a side note, these ideas are still used today, but they’re not enough for obtaining the best results.

In order to improve the way they were working, teams were communicating using blogs, wikis, online collaboration tools and even social media, as proposed by HBR, back in 2012. And surprisingly, this was the very beginning of the knowledge sharing concept as we know it today.

Chipmaker Xilinx for instance, reported a productivity increase of around 25% among its engineers, after they started encouraging the use of social media tools and employee collaborative activities. To be more specific, members of their teams started maintaining wikis or online forums, used for sharing the best practices and solutions for specific issues, a form of knowledge sharing and management.

As the years passed, mentality changed and more and more companies started accepting the idea that a well-managed virtual team can be very efficient as long as the company manages knowledge properly. Being able to caption and store everything in a library, so team members can access it any time, will automatically make them perform better.

Actually, there are way more benefits of knowledge sharing in an organization, like making the organization’s best problem-solving experiences reusable, enabling better and faster decision making, stimulating innovation and growth and so forth.

Virtual collaboration today

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According to a study published by Reuters, we’ve reached a point in which one in five employees around the world work remotely very often, while almost 10% of them work from home daily – a trend which is currently on the rise. To be more specific, 37% of the workers based in the United States are part of the virtual workforce, according to a recent Gallup study. And the numbers are expected to grow significantly, some surveys predicting that by 2020, more than half of the employees will be working remotely.

This is happening because companies now have access to complete sets of collaborative tools, including an overall strategic workflow, document and screen sharing, excellent solutions for conferences, besides already classic tools, like calendars, discussion platforms, blogs surveys and wikis.

Jacklyn Kostner, Ph.D and consultant in virtual meeting management and founder and CEO of Bridge the Distance, Inc. considers that properly deployed, “today’s technologies deliver exponential improvements in the ability to collaborate”. And this is particularly true when it comes to virtual collaboration, due to the wide availability of these “remarkable tools”.

“Companies today have remarkable tools at their disposal. We have arrived at an era where virtual collaboration is now significantly more effective than what can be achieved face-to-face.” Jaclyn Kostner Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Bridge the Distance

You can find more details about the tools a company can use for efficient virtual collaboration by accessing this report. It was put together by Forbes Insights, who interviewed executives and consultants, combined with the results of a global study conducted by Ovum and by LogMeIn, in which 3926 full-time employees, across 22 different countries took part.

Wrapping up

To sum up, the first virtual teams were simply formed to facilitate innovation among experts around the world who couldn’t find the time to travel. The concept turned out to be very efficient, so it slowly began to be used by teams all over the world.

We’ve reached a point in which online collaboration is a necessity when it comes to doing business and companies can actually boost employee productivity by using virtual collaboration tools.

Virtual collaboration can lead to better performing teams (across cultures, locations or even time frames) when it is enabled by using the right tools. And, in truth, these tools are easy to recognise: they are the ones employees actually use in their work process.

Happy Knowledge Sharing!

Looking for a great way to ask questions and build knowledge with your co-workers? Quandora enables simple, efficient knowledge sharing with your team, way more fun than a mailing list or a forum. Try Quandora

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