Friday, September 23, 2011

Remote Working & Virtual Teaming: Understanding the Difference

One of the challenges of working in the management field is that definitions can be very fluid, and that any interpretation is open to interpretation. There are times when we just have to say, “This is our working definition of . . . does this fit with your understanding?”

One area of confusion is between ‘remote working’ and ‘virtual teaming’, and so let me try and add some clarity.  The key distinction is in the level of interdependence between those engaged in doing the work. 

Remote working is when people are performing tasks at a distance from corporate HQ or other employment center where employees are physically co-located. They work and communicate via technology for all or most of their time, but not necessarily with each other. Let’s say we have 10 programmers working from home who all report to the same manager. Reporting to the same manager doesn’t mean the programmers are dependent on each other for performing their tasks, or that they share the same goals, objectives or even projects. Interaction between these remote workers may be minimal (weak ties), or only on an as-needed, ad hoc basis. Some managers may want to create something of a community for their remote workers (e.g., for sharing best practices or reducing isolation), but this isn’t a necessity for getting work done.

Virtual teaming is when people are working together via technology to achieve a shared goal, and they are highly dependent on one another for achieving this goal. Specific roles and responsibilities will be divided among team members, and high levels of cooperation, coordination, and communication will be needed between them (strong ties).

Some people will throw a spanner into the works by talking of remote teams.  That's when a conversation needs to take place because do they mean a group of remote workers or a virtual team? There are, of course, shades of grey – sometimes remote workers may be asked to work as a virtual team for a specific project. Likewise, virtual team members may find that certain of their tasks can be performed autonomously.

No comments: