Research has demonstrated that organizational justice, the study of fairness in organizations, has an impact on both individual and team outcomes. However, until now, no studies have investigated how justice might unfold within the virtual team environment. The purpose of this article is to analyze organizational justice in virtual team settings and to discuss future implications based on this analysis. In order to meet this goal, this article is organized into three main sections. First, existing research on organizational justice will be reviewed. Next, organizational justice will be combined with the virtual team literature in order to assess how justice processes may be likely to unfold in virtual team settings. Finally, based on this analysis, implications and future trends for managers and researchers working with virtual teams will be presented.
As organizations increasingly globalize their operations and utilize virtual teams, researchers have begun to assess how to apply knowledge from existing research areas to the virtual team setting (e.g., Bell & Kozlowski, 2002). One area in need of more attention is the application of organizational justice to virtual team settings. Organizational justice is the study of fairness in the workplace (Colquitt & Greenberg, 2003). There are four different types of justice: distributive, procedural, interpersonal, and informational (Colquitt, 2001). Distributive justice (Adams, 1965) is based on equity and focuses on the fairness of outcomes. Procedural justice (Thibaut & Walker, 1975) refers to the fairness of the processes or procedures, used to reach certain outcomes. Interpersonal justice (Bies & Moag, 1986; Greenberg, 1993) focuses on whether people are treated with dignity and respect by others in their organization. Informational justice (Bies & Moag, 1986) focuses on the quality of the explanation given to people to describe why procedures were implemented a certain way or why outcomes were distributed in a certain manner (please see Key Terms section for a list of major terms used throughout this article). The justice literature is based, to a large extent, on the foundation of equity. Equity theory (Adams, 1965) states that people have a desire for equitable treatment and that the ratio of inputs and outcomes should be equal across comparable people. In other words, if the inputs of two individuals are equal, their outcomes should also be equal. If there is a state of disequilibrium between these ratios, either due to over-reward or under-reward, people will feel uncomfortable and become motivated to equalize the situation. For example, employees who feel they were treated unfairly may work slower and be less productive in order to decrease the perceived inequity.