Understanding the Dimensions of Virtual Teams: A Study of Professional Students in India

Understanding the Dimensions of Virtual Teams: A Study of Professional Students in India

Shubhi Gupta (Department of Management Studies, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, India) and Govind Swaroop Pathak (Department of Management Studies, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, India)
DOI: 10.4018/IJWLTT.2017040104
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Despite several efforts to bring about a clear phenomenon of virtual teams, there is still some confusion as to how virtual teams should be defined. It is probably because the characteristics of virtual teams and relationships among them have not been consistent. To address this gap, the present study explores the nature of virtual teams by analysing the perceptions of 23 professional students' pursuing full time two year Masters Programme in Business Administration, adopting the content analysis method. On the basis of multi-stage coding scheme and mutual consensus, five dimensions emerged. Results of the study, revealed that descriptors were more focused on structural, physical and technological dimensions as compared to task and social dimensions. Finally, the emerging categories were classified and arranged by using “Network View,” feature embedded in Atlas.ti7 to analyse their conceptual relationship. The study may provide inputs towards building a consistent and larger understanding of how virtual teams can be defined. Based on the findings of the study, further research implications are discussed.
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The increasing use of technology at the workplace has changed the business landscape (Heerwagen et al., 2015). During this shift, virtual teams have emerged as dominant structures and have become the building blocks of the global business organisations (Jarvenpaa & Shaw, 1998; Lipnack & Stamps, 1999; Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Powell et al., 2004; Casey & Richardson, 2006). The development of virtual teams brought new opportunities not only for employers and employees but also for the society as a whole (Johns & Gratton, 2013; Mocanu, 2014). They offer flexibility, knowledge sharing, responsiveness, lower costs, global talent pool, increased quality, and high productivity with more satisfied employees and customers. They also lead to increased creativity and innovation in the companies operating in today’s turbulent and dynamic business environment (Mowshowitz, 1997; Bergiel et al., 2008). Therefore, virtual teams are considered as functional units of modern organisations that support businesses to grow globally (Schmidt et al., 2001; Tannenbaum et al., 2012). Organisations may benefit more by utilising such teams within and across corporate boundaries. It is estimated that approximately 66% multinational organisations around the globe (Society of Human Resource Management, 2012) are utilising virtual teams, and 80% of surveyed companies believe that the number will continue to rise (Perry, 2008). Today, more than a quarter of a billion people are working as a virtual team member (Bergiel et al., 2008). Therefore, virtual teams have become a workplace of the present and future with an efficiency to build competitive business organisations (Townsend et al., 1998; Lurey & Raisinghani, 2001). However, use of communication technology to link members has its own advantages and disadvantages (Bergiel et al., 2008).

Researchers across various disciplines are trying to examine the implications of these technological changes on human functioning (Stokols & Montero, 2002). According to Gifford (2014), environmental psychologists are still struggling with the boundaries and definitions of physical and social environments (Heft, 1998; Kaplan & Kaplan, 2009). Also understanding them better, by including new ways of conceptualising the intertwined nature of the real and virtual worlds where we live in, is crucial (Stokols et al., 2009). Hence, it is important that various issues related to the interface between human beings and technology need to be studied in detail.

Utilisation of virtual teams in organisational functioning was more popular in developed countries but gradually it has gained a foothold in developing countries as well (Johns & Gratton, 2013). More specifically, India being a developing country is among the leading providers of Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES). India’s competitive advantage lies in services (Arora et al., 2001; Kapur & Ramamurti, 2001; Arora & Athreye, 2002; Kapur, 2002; Kapur & McHale, 2005). Top five technology centres in India namely Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi are managing services for most of the multinational companies across the globe. According to a report published by NASSCOM, it is estimated that 400 of the Fortune 500 companies either have their offices in India or outsource services from firms situated in India and it controls approximately 44 percent of world’s outsourcing business (NASSCOM-McKinsey, 2005). According to Holtbrügge et al., (2011) virtual delegations to India are an emerging trend. Despite that, utilisation of virtual teams is fairly a new concept in India compared to their developed counterparts. Therefore, it would be interesting to study the various aspects of virtual teams in the Indian context.

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