Often when discussing virtual teams and work sharing with clients and partners the conversation seems to start by hinging around technology, there is such a high focus on such things as the choice of video conference platform, what tools can be used for instant messaging, whether broadly available, and largely public, social media platforms are allowed such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter etc. These conversations tend to run parallel to determining the technical skills of the team members, so, for instance, what level of engineering or business expertise they need.
Only once the technological tools have been picked and the skills requirements identified in an organisation chart do managers then think about the type of person required, what personality types may be appropriate and what their history is with both virtual teams and they organisation. Conversations around the tools and technology and the technical skills of the personnel tend to overwhelm the personality and interpersonal skills considerations most of the time.
Technology for virtual teams
Tools and technology for virtual teams is a highly researched and much discussed topic, the contribution of the research has been one of the contributors to the growth of effective virtual teams as it has led to development of some excellent tools specific for virtual teams and of course the adaptation of a whole range of tools developed for broader use to the virtual team domain.
Broad categories of technology for virtual teams to use include;
- Video conference and telepresence equipment
- One to one video meeting software, typically hosted on a personal computer or portable device
- Desktop sharing software, sometimes stand alone and sometimes incorporated as part of a video platform
- Instant messaging tools, some of which include video capability
- Asynchronous messaging tools such as email
Research has shown that it is best to select a limited palate of tools for any particular virtual team so as to avoid team members having to check multiple platforms continually or risk losing messages on unchecked platforms. Despite the general recommendation that the richer the communication platform the better, there are some uses which are more appropriately suited to a less rich, though still synchronous platform, for example it is generally recognised as easier to review a document, whether that is a drawing, text or layout over a desktop sharing platform with voice enabled by either a conventional telephone or as part of the platform than it is to review the same document using a video conference platform. Equally, complex and technically detailed message content is often best conveyed by email than verbally, this approach allows the writer to consider their words before sending and the recipient to analyse the message on receipt before following up with a verbal discussion.
Using public platforms for communication imposes a number of additional risks on businesses, the data hosted on the platform may become the property of the provider and regardless of ownership, access is under the control of the provider, if their platform is down for short periods you will loose access to potentially time critical data, as such, hosting applications on a platform under the control of your business is generally regarded as preferable, though public platforms can still work well for communications and messaging.
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