The first references to virtual teamwork began to appear in the literature in the mid-1990s. Kristof, Brown, Sims, and Smith (1995), Jin and Levitt (1996), and Wellman, Salaff, Dimitrova, Garton, Gulia, and Haythornthwaite (1996) are examples of some of the earliest work where the phenomenon is mentioned.
Virtual teamwork may be defined as “groups of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space, time, and organizational boundaries using technology to communicate and collaborate” (Kirkman, Rosen, Gibson, Tesluk, McPherson, 2002). Such virtual teams are increasingly used by companies and other organizations in a continuous effort to reduce travel, relocation, real estate, and other business costs. This process is particularly evident in the case of businesses that make use of virtual organizations to build their global presence, to outsource their operations, or who need specialist expertise or skills from people who are reluctant to travel or relocate from their home locations.
The organizational, technological, personal, and cultural complexes which constitute the frontiers and structures for working at a distance directly affect the productivity and efficiency of virtual teamwork when compared with that of more traditional work groups (Simsarian, 2006). Given some of the inherent limitations of the new channels of communication, the success and effectiveness of virtual teams is much more sensitive to the type of project the group works on, who is selected, and how the team is managed. Virtual organization is not appropriate for all classes of project. A particularly challenging case is offered by projects which rely heavily on sequential or integrated work, as is often the case in manufacturing industry. In particular, when the work of one person depends to a great extent on what someone else is doing at the same moment in time (as, for example, in a sports team), there is both a substantial ongoing exchange of information in real time, and/or when the work task needs to follow a strict sequence of workers within a limited time frame.