Quite frequently, both in my research and in a number of discussions with leaders and members of virtual teams I hear the term work share used. The term work share is often used as an interchangeable term for virtual teams and always in the same context. I would suggest that while they are certainly very related terms they are not quite interchangeable, work is indeed shared between teams and team members in virtual teams but the virtual teams themselves are not “work share” so in reality the organisational structure is one of virtual teams and the way in which the function is through work share. So what are the differences between virtual teams and work share?
Workshare versus virtual teams
By focusing on the task and its method of performance through the use of the term work share, as opposed to focusing on the personnel involved in undertaking the shared work may even have the unanticipated effect of dehumanising the endeavour and could, in its self contribute to some of the issues I encounter when dealing with some virtual team undertakings.
I believe that as humans we have a tendency to want, or even to need to categorise things, for everything and everyone to have a label and a box. Some of the technical personnel involved in many of the organisations I have dealt with are more comfortable dealing with the technical issues rather then the human, the hard facts rather than the soft skills, as such the use of the term work share as opposed to the use of the term virtual team can take the human element away from the work being undertaken, no mention of teams at all in the name, just the work at hand.
By focusing on the technical work it then becomes easier to ignore or at least minimise the potential interpersonal issues that arrise during the execution of the work, many issues arise in co-located teams of course, but typically these are expected, almost immediately visible and relatively easy to manage. Issues occurring between team members separated by time and/or distance are often harder for leaders and managers to detect as they are at least 50% out of the vision and direct day to day knowledge of the leadership, and to co-opt and paraphrase the well known management term, “if you can see it, you can manage it…” Often these issues occurring at distance, be they technical, personal or structural will only manifest themselves when things start to go wrong and fingers begging to be pointed, a dysfunctional team will essentially start to turn on its self when things go wrong while a functional and aligned team will be mutually supportive and work together to make sure problems don’t happen in the first place, and when they do, fix them between themselves.
By referring to your team members as a virtual team you are, in effect, acknowledging that they are employed to collaborate on their assigned work in a virtual environment, they share their work and they should also share responsibility for the successful delivery of that work.
So, by all means continue to use both terms, or indeed additional terms if they are in your corporate vocabulary, but be cognisant of the potential for confusion in the use of each term.
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