Blog

The Reality of Virtual Teams

by Caliper
on 2016-01-14

Oculus Rift. What is it? A villain from the new Star Wars movie? A new genre of music created by Kanye West? The name of Justin Bieber’s pet monkey?

Nah. Oculus Rift is the new virtual reality headset developed by Oculus VR. It was announced last year and is now available for pre-order, so don’t be alarmed if you start to see people rocking this headgear in public this spring.

There has been a lot of talk about whether the Oculus Rift represents the future of gaming. According to the Entertainment Software Association, consumers spent 22.41 billion dollars on video games in 2014. It’s a huge, booming industry, and the topic of virtual gaming is becoming more popular each year.

Something else that’s gaining popularity each year? Virtual teams.

First, let’s define what exactly a virtual team is. In a virtual team, members share a common purpose but are separated by distance, time, and perhaps organizational boundaries. Typically, virtual team members are only linked by communication technologies and rarely have the opportunity to work with others in person.

Just as virtual reality is a different experience from our day-to-day reality, working in a virtual team is a different experience than being part of a face-to-face team.

Virtual teams often present more challenges and opportunities for misunderstandings, since team members cannot rely as heavily on non-verbal cues and body language. It can be harder for team members to develop a rapport and sense of trust, and managing conflict and making decisions can be much more difficult in virtual settings.

In order to be successful, a virtual team needs a strong, balanced foundation of purpose, process, and people. Let’s break it down:

Purpose: Team members need to know why they have been brought together and how their success will be measured.

Process:  Team members need to know how they are supposed to complete the task (e.g., how they are going to make decisions, communicate, etc.).

People: Team members need to understand how to best work together to reach their shared goal. Identifying the strengths and limitations of your team members up front will be critical.

You probably wouldn’t pick up the Oculus Rift without researching it and reading the manual first to learn how to use it. It’s crucial that you complete a similar process of preparation in order to successfully manage a virtual team.