The current paper explores three scholarly articles that report on the research results concerning the efficiency of work process in virtual global project and face-to-face teams. The articles offer different approaches to evaluate challenges and risks that face a certain organization when using virtual teams and benefits it can get, in comparison with traditional face-to-face teams; the approaches are meant to assess the effectiveness of leadership when managing projects in these conditions. This paper studies the issue concerning the impact on communication and information exchange among team members and requirements for team leaders, which are much higher in virtual working environment. It examines the influence on project productivity, quality of interaction and collaboration when using virtual tools for communication, such as video conferences and emails, in comparison with face-to-face meetings. The hypothesis that face-to-face teams are more efficient and ensure better results of project completion can be confirmed based on the analysis of these research results.
Keywords: virtual teams, face-to-face teams, communication, technology, information system project management
Virtual and Global Information System Project Team versus Face-to-Face
In terms of globalization, virtual teams are increasingly being used by organizations, while managing information system projects. However, studies of virtual teams in practice reveal that they are facing a number of challenges concerning difficulties in communication and lack of direct support among team members. The question whether virtual project teams can ensure high-performance results remain disputable. This paper investigates the hypothesis that face-to-face information system teams benefit from the camaraderie and relationships development and, therefore, produce better results than global virtual information system teams. To understand advantages and disadvantages of both types of collaboration and to evaluate their effectiveness, three scholarly articles, which conduct a research on the issue mentioned above, as well as their findings were analyzed in order to confirm or contradict the truthfullness of the hypothesis.
Reed and Knight performed a research using questionnaire, survey, interviews, and focus groups, involving IT practitioners. They managed to identify fifty-five potential project risk factors and evaluate them. As a result, seven risk factors were revealed, showing significant differences based on the project environment (either virtual or face-to-face). They are: insufficient knowledge transfer, lack of project team cohesion, cultural or language differences, inadequate technical resources, team inexperience with the company and its processes, loss of key resource(s) that impact the project, and hidden agendas impact the process (Reed & Knight, 2010, p. 22). Analyzing the survey, it was found that the risk level of these factors is considered to be much higher in virtual project environment than in traditional face-to-face, which means that potentially these risk factors can negatively influence the successfull completion of the project in virtual teams.
Andres (2002), in his article, examines the following aspects of communication, while working in teams and their impact on the performance results: social presence, media richness, time, interaction, and performance. Video conferencing technology was considered and analyzed as an alternative for face-to-face communication. The research results show that team productivity and interaction quality are much higher when working in face-to-face teams. According to Andres (2002), “face-to-face groups experience greater perceived interaction quality because of the opportunity to utilize increased verbal, nonverbal, and back-channeling cues” (p. 46). It ensures that the team members will receive an immediate feedback, an opportunity of task clarification, support, active participation motivation, and smooth information exchange. Moreover, during face-to-face communication, all conflicts and problems are being immediately discussed and resolved, helping to avoid misunderstandings on the later stages of project implementation and contribute to successful collaboration.
A very interesting research was conducted and described in the article “Leadership Effectiveness in Global Virtual Teams”, written by Kayworth and Leidner. The authors argue that there are four main types of challenges that virtual teams face: communication (the need for alternative communication mechanisms usage), culture (biases or misunderstandings because of different cultural background), logistics (different time zones), and technology (proficiency in different type of technologies is needed). The work of thirteen virtual teams was analyzed and assessed in terms of communication, understanding, role clarity, and leadership attitude. The research findings show that “virtual team leaders should exhibit a much more varied and complex set of behaviors or repertoires” (Kayworth & Leidner, 2002, p. 12), compared to the traditional face-to-face team leaders. Virtual team members and leaders have to cope with a larger number of problems that appear during the work process and may influence the effectiveness of work. According to Kayworth and Leidner (2002), among the primary problems were: lack of control mechanisms, technology barriers, poor patterns of leader communication that may lead to a lack of motivation (pp. 24-25). The findings show that a set of problems may be similar in both face-to-face and virtual environments, but a set of solutions available in the virtual environment is much smaller than in face-to-face interactions. Thus, qualities, characteristics, and behaviors of the effective leader in face-to-face environment may not be enough for leading a project in the virtual environment.
With the rapid development of technologies, the creation of virtual and global information system project teams becomes a commonplace for large organizations. However, evident at first sight benefits for organizations that use global virtual project teams, such as cost saving (no need for physical office, office equipment and supplies, like paper, transportation and visas for employees, because all communications and information exchange are held via computers) still cannot outweigh the risks and challenges connected with their usage.
Findings Evaluation and Analysis
According to the research projects results, organizations, which create virtual working environment for their project teams need to cope with the additional range of challenges that include difficulties in work process organization and in problem solving becuase of different time zones and poor information exchange flow, as compared with face-to-face meetings. Possible misunderstandings and delays with answers may have an impact on meeting deadlines and successful completion of the project. According to Pauleen (2004), “there is a set of characteristics that make virtual teamwork more complex” (p. 8). Moreover, additional requirements appear to the skills and knowledge of team members, and, especially, team leaders, who face increased challenges. Effective team leaders in traditional face-to-face environment can fail in a virtual one, as they need to have strong written communication skills that can motivate and control the team members to ensure team cohesion (Reed & Knight, 2010, p. 27). Team leaders also need to find innovative approaches to work process organization that differs greatly from the traditional one and requires the usage of web-based collaboration tools. Innovative approaches should be applied to the problem solving process as well, because of the absence of face-to-face communication, other methods to control, reward, and punish should be found.
The presence of limitations in each of the above mentioned studies and their findings is undisputable. First of all, the successful project completion depends on the project itself, the specific types of tasks should be analyzed. Second, the limited usage of technological means, among the wide range available today, may also influence the research results. Third, the representatives of limited cultural diversity are involved (Reed & Knight, 2010, p. 30). Some cultures are more similar, while others differ greatly, as well as the geographical location and time zones. The greater is the difference, the more difficult it is to organize the working process.
Despite these limitations, the findings of three research studies support the initial hypothesis of the paper. The hypothesis states that face-to-face information system teams benefit from the camaraderie and relationships development and, therefore, produce better results than global virtual information system teams. According to Warkentin (1997), “it is more difficult for virtual teams to complete relationship-developing activities, compared to face-to-face teams” (p. 979). Lipnack and Stamps (1997) argue that “teams with higher levels of trust coalesce more easily, organize their work more quickly, and manage themselves better (p. 225). Thus, only face-to-face communication provides team members and leaders with the opportunity to build relationships with a high level of trust that helps to clarify tasks and roles, to discuss and agree on the possible problems and misunderstandings immediately. Furthermore, face-to-face environments offer a wider range of methods concerning control, motivation, problem solving, communication, and information exchange for team members. It helps to meet deadlines and to ensure high performance projects results.
With the rapid growth of technologies development, a lot of large organizations started implementing virtual project environments. Because of this, the question was raised whether the evident benefits of cost and time saving can overweight the risks and challenges an organization faces when using virtual teams. The results of conducted researches prove that virtual project teams have to cope with a larger set of problems and challenges, having a much narrower set of solutions available, in comparison with face-to-face teams. Moreover, virtual team leaders have to invent and use innovative (different from traditional used in face-to-face teams) tools and mechanisms to organize and control a working process and team members. All the above mentioned factors may have a negative influence on the final results of project completion, thereby, jeopardizing the reputation of an organization. Considering all advantages and disadvantages of both virtual and face-to-face working environments, the initial hypothesis that face-to-face information system teams benefit from the camaraderie and relationships development and, therefore, produce better results than global virtual information system teams find its confirmation in the research results described in three scholarly articles.