Virtual teams going global

By Steve Alexander, InfoWorld |  Career

But despite the cultural and time differences, the virtual team works well because
the people on it know each other via continuous interaction, Gardiner says. "Obviously,
with the various problems we encounter as a team, we deal with each other frequently,"
he says. "We know who all the people are and what skills they have. Just because you
don't see someone face-to-face doesn't mean you don't know that person."

Another IT person trying to bridge the cultural gap on a virtual team is Ori
Eizenberg, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ItemField, a New
York-based b-to-b (business-to-business) software developer with a 15-person IT shop in
Israel. The firm's U.S. and Israeli members are on a virtual team that faces both a
seven-hour time difference and cultural issues. The company tries to overcome obstacles
via e-mail, a shared Web server, conference calls, and soon will incorporate
videoconferencing to their communications tools.

Such efforts can bridge cultural differences. For example, Israeli team members who
develop software don't work on Friday, thereby putting them out of synch with U.S. team
members. To compensate for the cultural difference in work schedules, new hires in
Israel are told they must be on-call on Fridays to support the U.S. sales force and
customers, Eizenberg says


Team downtime

If something is missing on a virtual team, it's informal conversation time,
BakBone's Rodriguez says. "You don't have the time for open-ended conversation. You
can't informally brainstorm with someone."

Eizenberg agrees. "I think virtual teams are less productive in the sense that
you're missing out on those corridor talks between the sales and technical people that
sometimes bring about very good results. We're trying to overcome this by sending our
technical people in Israel to visit the U.S. office, but it's not as perfect as having
everybody sit in the same building." Eizenberg says

Jessica Lipnack has another take on dispersed teams' productivity. She believes
that virtual teams can be more effective than traditional ones. Lipnack is co-author of
the book Virtual Teams: People working across boundaries with technology, and co-
founder of Virtualteams.com, a software firm in West Newton, Mass.

"The virtual team is smarter than the traditional team because most of its
communication is digitally encoded and there is a repository of shared information--
postings to Web sites, e-mails, documents. Because the team is working almost
exclusively in a digital environment, information is not getting lost," Lipnack
says.

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