Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch


What is a team? One of the more accepted definitions is...

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Kazenbach and Smith in Wisdom of Teams

Generally, teams have from two to twenty-five people. More than that, and they tend to break into sub-teams. Teams need complementary skills or the right mix of skills to do the job assigned. These skills fall into three categories: technical or functional expertise, problem-solving and decision-making skills and interpersonal skills. A team's purpose and performance goals go together. Both must be clear or confusion will likely result. It is important that the team own and commit to the purpose, shaping it if necessary. In addition, teams need to develop a common approach or method on how they will work together to accomplish their purpose. Finally, groups become teams when they hold themselves accountable for the outcome.

So when does a team become virtual or remote?

There are several different definitions of virtual or remote teams, but what these definitions have in common is that, in addition to being a team, members are physically separated (by time and/or space) and that they primarily interact electronically. It is this time and space separation that leads to the creation of remote and virtual teams.

  • Team members may not be physically co-located.
  • It may not be practical to travel to meet face-to-face.
  • Team members may work different shifts

Specifically, teams may be distributed because of the new realities facing organisations such as

  • Organisation-wide projects or initiatives
  • Alliances with different organisations, some of which may be in other countries
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Emerging markets in different geographic locations
  • The desire of many people and government organisations for telecommuting
  • The continuing need for business travel and information and communications technologies available to support this travel
  • A need to reduce costs
  • A need to reduce time-to-market or cycle time in general (the increasing velocity in business).

However there are a number of things that make the task of managing a virtual or remote team different to managing a local team, where the team members mostly share the same space and time.

This topic will highlight those differences and give you some practical tools and tips that will make your venture into managing remote and virtual teams much easier. You should also look at the topic on Team Building in this resource, because that is still valid for remote or virtual teams.