Given the complex nature of knowledge (Alavi & Leidner, 2001; Grant, 1996) and the temporal and spatial dispersion of team members in virtual teams (Cramton, 2001), it is clear that transferring knowledge electronically across a geographically dispersed work force may pose a number of challenges (Davenport & Prusak, 2000). Research has highlighted obstacles associated with knowledge transfer in virtual communication. Levina and Vaast (2008) identified five major challenges: differences in national culture, differences in competencies, differences in economic resources, differences in interpersonal connections, and social differences. It has been suggested that asymmetry and incompleteness are two other shortcomings related to the process of knowledge exchange (Lin, Geng, & Whinston, 2005). Asymmetry refers to a structure wherein the sender has an information advantage over the receiver in the proposed sender–receiver framework. Incompleteness refers to a structure wherein neither party has complete information about the other participant and the knowledge transfer process. The two structures—information asymmetry and symmetric incomplete information—may negatively affect knowledge transfer. Lin et al. (2005) proposed a dyadic theoretical framework based on the symmetric complete information structure for optimizing knowledge transfer between a knowledge sender and a knowledge receiver.
Another factor that may affect the transferability of knowledge is the effectiveness of virtual collaboration technologies. Leonardi and Bailey (2008) outlined the problems associated with two commonly used technologies—communication technologies and storage technologies—in virtual teams. They pointed out that communication technologies do not sufficiently convey contextual cues and subsequently hamper interaction between geographically separated individuals. Storage technologies are said to decontextualize knowledge that is communicated asynchronously. The authors advocated for the use of transformational technologies in virtual teams capable of contextualizing knowledge. Another technical barrier is technical readiness, regarding both the management and the implementation of knowledge management systems (Paulin & Suneson, 2012).
In addition to technological support, the process of knowledge transfer requires several other elements to be effective. Studies suggest that successful knowledge transfer depends on a host of factors, including mutual learning, an adaptive process (Argote & Darr, 2001), ease of communication, positive source unit–recipient unit link (Szulanski, 1996), and an organizational culture that fosters knowledge creation and sharing (Bandyopadhyay & Pathak, 2007; Senge, 1990). These factors contribute to the effectiveness of the knowledge transfer process.
To allow physically and temporally distributed groups of workers to share knowledge efficiently, companies have been resorting to novel organizational strategies. One such strategy is virtual collaboration (Blaskovich, 2008). Virtual collaboration has emerged as one of the most viable alternatives to face-to-face interactions in recent years (Griffith, Sawyer, & Neale, 2003; Nicholson, Sarker, Sarker, & Valacich, 2007). It is believed to be a vital tool for knowledge dissemination and team performance enhancement (Griffith et al., 2003; Powell et al., 2004). However, virtual collaboration needs an efficient IT infrastructure support to enhance virtual team performance.