This chapter uses activity theory as a lens to understand the implications of both virtual collaboration and cross-cultural contact for communication in global virtual teams. Rather than adopting a set of heuristics or guidelines that may readily become dated as cultures and technologies shift in the flat world, we argue that both those who study and those who engage in global virtual teams should critically analyze the entire activity system. We then provide meta-cognitive approaches to both distributed work and cross-cultural contact that team managers and team members can use to establish flexible communication practices appropriate to the activity system at hand, and that researchers can use to account for the range of factors that impact team performance.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Co-Located (or collocated) Work: Teamwork in which the participants occupy the same physical space, such as cubicles or offices on the same floor of a building. The physical limit for proximity for collocation can be as low as 30 meters.
Activity System: the entire context in which ongoing human interaction occurs, including not only the subjects involved, the problem space they are addressing, and the desired outcome, but also the artifacts (e.g., forms of communication, tools, technologies) that mediate the interactions, the rules (including both laws and customs) that shape behavior, the communities in which individuals operate, and the ways in which work is distributed among members.
Cultures of Use: The ways in which various cultures or communities use communication technology, including what a given technology should be used for, what kind of tone it requires, guidelines for response, and related factors.
Communication Zone: A social/relational “space” between individuals in which communication is possible or potentially available.
Meta-Cognition: Understanding not only of facts, such as a specific set of characteristics associated with a given national culture, but of the context surrounding those facts, the conditions under which they are applicable, and the larger conceptual framework that gives meaning and nuance to the facts.
Distributed Work: Work that has been divided up among multiple team members who typically operate in physically separated locations.
Relational Space: An alternative version of the communication zone; a social network among collaborators in which effective communication can occur.