The Mobile Internet: Changing the Way We Work – Part 2

Posted on 15th November 2016


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. I would like to continue exploring practical changes that information and communications technology (ICT) is bringing into businesses and other organizations around the world. The spread of the mobile Internet continues to reduce costs and make knowledge more accessible, leading to greater innovation and economic dynamism. To understand this phenomenon we turn now to a development clearly enabled by recent advances in mobile communications and technology.

Practical Consequences of ICT, Part 2: Virtual Teams

Virtual Teams
Virtual or distributed teams have mushroomed with technical improvements in ICT in recent years. Virtual teams allow companies and other organizations to leverage the skills of geographically dispersed collaborators while economizing on travel, relocation, and real estate expenditures. Many enterprises are using virtual team strategies to build their global presence, leverage outsourcing, and access expertise from individuals who find it difficult to travel or relocate. The reach of the mobile Internet and the ubiquity of cloud computing have created countless opportunities for collaboration, creativity, and long-distance networks through the clever utilization of virtual teams.

Virtual teams are intended to function like normal teams would in an on-site work environment, but they rely heavy on the convenience and flexibility provided by information and communications advances: many times the members of a virtual team have never met one another in person, but are acquainted through electronic communications channels. Because of the physical distances between team members, they rely on e-mail, phone calls and tele-conferences, webinars, virtual meetings, and the like. Regardless of the specific modes of communication used, the assumption is that colleagues from different geographies and specializations will share insights and information and spread knowledge across the organization. These synergies are expected to lead to greater creativity, collaboration, productivity, and ultimately, to greater competitiveness for the firm.

But there is often a sting in the tail: reliance on virtual communication technologies for team interaction can create obstacle to building empathy and trust within the team. Different work habits and expectations across physical distance are frequently underestimated. In my work with multinationals and government organizations around the world I often hear complaints that virtual teams are underperforming expectations, and that the ‘reality’ of virtual teams often does not live up to the profit-boosting synergies advertised at their creation. This is one of the challenges I address in my book, where I advocate for better balance between empathy and technology in the workplace.

In my next post I will explore several more workplace benefits of ICT and the mobile Internet.

Good luck, and until next time…