Virtual Teams Used Most by Global Organizations, Survey Says

By Theresa Minton-Eversole July 19, 2012

Nearly a half, or 46 percent, of organizations polled use virtual teams, according to survey results released July 13, 2012, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The survey of 379 randomly selected HR professionals from SHRM’s membership also shows that organizations with multinational operations are more than twice as likely (66 percent) to use virtual teams compared with those having U.S.-based operations (28 percent).

Virtual teams, as defined in the SHRM poll, are groups of individuals who work across time, space and organizational boundaries and who interact primarily through electronic communications. When asked why organizations use virtual teams, more than half (53 percent) of HR professionals whose organizations use virtual teams reported the need to include talent in different locations because their work is taking on a more global focus. Roughly half (49 percent) also cited the need to boost collaboration throughout the organization.

Comparisons by organizational sector show government agencies are the least likely (9 percent) to use virtual teams; publicly owned for-profit companies are the most likely (50 percent), closely followed by privately owned for-profit organizations (46 percent).

Among respondents who reported using virtual teams, 39 percent said their organization uses them to improve productivity. Another 39 percent also use virtual teams to minimize travel costs. Nearly the same percentage—37 percent—said virtual teams are used to collaborate more across global business because work projects are becoming more global.

“When virtual teams work, their productivity can be impressive,” said Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s survey research center. “But getting them to function can be a challenge. Improved technology may help facilitate the use of virtual teams.”

HR professionals polled identified the following as the most successful teamwork behaviors:

  • Brainstorming solutions for problems or issues (72 percent).
  • Setting goals for team initiatives and projects (68 percent).
  • Developing plans for team initiatives or projects (63 percent).

Organizations with U.S.-based operations are more likely than organizations with multinational operations to indicate brainstorming solutions for problems or issues and monitoring the performance of other team members as the most successful behaviors for on-site/traditional face-to-face teams in their organization.

Virtual Teams Remain … Challenging

Approximately half (51 percent) of HR professionals who say their companies use virtual teams said that building team relations is an obstacle that prevents them from being successful. Nearly half (49 percent) cited time differences as an obstacle. Nearly a third (32 percent) noted the distribution of work to be a challenge; 26 percent cited differences in cultural norms, while 25 percent said leading virtual teams is a challenge.

Organizations with multinational operations are more likely than those with U.S.-based operations to indicate maintaining team morale during initiatives or projects as one of the most challenging behaviors for virtual teams.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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