Virtual teams going global

By Steve Alexander, InfoWorld |  Career

WHEN ROGER RODRIGUEZ goes to work at BakBone Software, in San Diego, he may be
dealing with customer support problems that were passed on to him by colleagues in
Lanham, Md., or in the city of Poole in the United Kingdom. As his work day ends,
Rodriguez, a client service senior engineer, may hand off other support problems to
teammates in Tokyo.

Rodriguez has never met most of these co-workers face-to-face, and he probably
never will. But they are his daily working companions on a virtual team whose members
are spread across three continents to provide "follow the sun" customer support for
storage management software firm BakBone.

Rodriguez is one of many IT workers and managers who are part of the new corporate
reality -- a centralized company with a decentralized employee base. These virtual
teams manage to function despite being separated by distance, multiple time zones, and
sometimes differing national cultures. Part of what makes it work is communications
technology. But increasingly the teams function well because management and workers are
adapting to the idea that they needn't work in the same office for the team to function
smoothly.

"Virtual teams have been around long enough now that people are beginning to
recognize them as a fundamental shift in the way people work," says Andy Campbell, a
virtual teams consultant for Applied Knowledge Group, in Reston, Va. "What virtual
teams begin to get at is a better fit in the way humans organize for work, and in the
way information technology dispenses information."

Dispersed need and recruitment

You can ascribe two main reasons to why virtual IT teams are being created today:
necessity and recruitment. As global companies create geographically dispersed
technical support centers, they need IT staff to function around the clock. Hiring over
a wider geographic area and accommodating the desires of workers can help companies
deal with the technical labor shortage.

"Virtual teams are driven by the lack of skilled people for the jobs that are
needed," Campbell says. "You have the ability to reach out quickly and pull a subject
matter expert into the team, all without having to put people on airplanes or
relocating them."

Tim Miller, director of client services at BakBone Software agrees. "One of the
reasons we went to virtual teams in our support centers is that it's difficult to
attract the caliber of people you want who are willing to work at 2:00 and 3:00 in the
morning on Saturday and Sunday. Virtual teaming is the alternative to having a massive
staff in one location," Miller says.

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