Re: Virtual Teams LO2647
Fri, 1 Sep 1995 16:12:25 +1200

Replying to LO2638 -- by Janet Maculuso:

Most of our work is in 'virtual project teams'. At present we have a five
person team working on a 3 year project, while we live and work in three
different locations. Furthermore, at any one time, there is a more than
50% chance that one of us will be travelling overseas (for example one
team member leaves tomorrow for South Africa - England - USA and Canada.,
the day he returns I leave for the USA - (Cambridge, Massachusetts, as it
happens, Janet!)).

We have well developed systems for continuity which work for us - the real
point is to devise processes which are context adapted. To stimulate
thought only, here are some of our key procedures:

(1) Have top of the range EMail front end capabilities, especially with
point and click UUCoded file transfer capacity. Exchanging files without
having to suffer arcane and lengthy file transfer procedures is absolutely
essential. If it is hard to do, people don't do it.

(2) Everybody knows how to use EMail as a 'thinking aloud' device. This
involves automatically firing of EMails when a thought emerges - in the
way members of a contiguous team drop in at each other's desks. The
corollary of this is that we automatically check our EMail at very regular

(3) We maintain 'travelling' EMail accounts with outfits like Delphi and
Compuserve so that wherever we are in the world we can operate in the
network just like we do at home.

(4) Once a week we transfer all our electronic working documents to each
other - and we maintain a common directory structure on our computers.

(5) Once a week we have a telephone conference. Before this a 'chain
agenda' circulates by EMail. If it isn't put on the agenda it doesn't get

(6) We meet whenever possible - and such meetings include built in time
for building our personal relationships. It may seem odd to spend time
doing nothing much when we sometimes don't see each other for two months,
but it pays off in spades overall. Last time we went and played in the
park - fish spotting in the stream and wandering amongst the daffodils -
for about a third of the day.

(7) Further to the above, informal communications and humour are important
parts of the binding process in electronic mediums. As far as possible
operate in the electronic communications environment with the same sorts
of formal and informal, serious and facetious communications that occur
when everyone is in the same office.

(8) If any individual feels they are slipping out of the loop, then they
must feel free to say so. Open communication and no defensiveness are even
more important in virtual teams.

Really all this can be summed up as :

figure out what it is that a well functioning conventional team does, and
replicate those things as best you can in an electronic medium. for that
to happen optimally the communications technology has to be high quality.

We are really proud of what we are doing and our virtual team functions
happily and well.

Phillip Capper
Centre for Research on Work, Education and Business
PO Box 2855
New Zealand

Ph: 64+ 4 4998140 Fx: 64+ 4 4733087