The Rise and Staying Power of Virtual Teams
There are a variety of factors that led to the rise of virtual teams, but increasingly sophisticated technology made it possible, and globalization made it necessary. Once virtual teams began, organizations noticed an unanticipated bonus: virtual teams were, on average, more productive. According to Chad Thompson, senior consultant with Aon Hewitt, the productivity of effective virtual teams tends to increase from 10 to 43 percent, depending on the industry and the organization. Thompson's research also shows that in several cases, the net increase in productivity was equal to or more than the organizations' savings on real estate costs.
Surveys repeatedly show that employers will continue to host and even expand the number of virtual workers and teams:
- AON Consulting's 2009 Benefits and Talent Survey found that 97 percent of respondents said their organizations either planned to increase virtual work and telework options or keep them at the same level (Leonard, 2011).
- A SHRM survey found that 22 percent of organizations expect the number of their employees who work virtually to increase in the next 12 months. Seventy-six percent expect that it will remain the same and only 3 percent expect it to decrease (Lockwood, 2010).
- Forty-three percent of HR professionals responding to another SHRM poll predict that a larger proportion of their workforce will be telecommuting within the next five years (Lockwood, 2010).
In addition to increased productivity, studies confirm that virtual teams offer employers and employees flexibility, reduce time-to-market, often offer better work outcomes than conventional work teams, attract better employees and increase knowledge sharing. Global virtual teams allow organizations to garner talent from all parts of the world, save money on travel, and allow access to low-wage resources (Lockwood, 2010).
Virtual teams are not only attractive to employers, they're green too. According to the Telework Research Network, the existing 2.9 million U.S. telecommuters save 390 million gallons of gas and prevent the release of 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually (Lister & Harnish, 2011).