Explaining a Virtual Worker's Job Performance: Integrating Proximity and Network Perspectives

Project: Research

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Technology-enabled and physically dispersed virtual teams (VTs) have emerged as a critical organizational form for structuring work on a global scale (Gibson et al., 2011). Despite the great potential benefits of virtual teams, many virtual workers report negative experiences, such as communication depersonalization, conflict, feelings of isolation, and lack of shared knowledge, all of which may negatively influence the virtual worker’s job performance (Guinea et al., 2013). Given that virtual teams are becoming ubiquitous and commonplace in business, it will be of value to academia and industry to address these challenges and thus increase virtual workers’ job performance.Broadly, two research perspectives have examined why some individuals are better able than others to work in virtual collaboration. The proximity perspective scrutinizes how objective distance (e.g., spatial, temporal, and cultural distances) influence virtual workers’ psychological states (e.g., feeling detached and alienated from colleagues) and knowledge challenges (e.g., knowledge access, processing, and application). The network perspective explores how electronic connectivity unites physically dispersed people through online networks in which the structure is deemed to play a role in offsetting the impacts of objective distance. These two independent scholarly streams have led to fragmented and equivocal research findings on virtual work (Raghuram et al., 2010; Schiller and Mandviwalla, 2007). The consequent fractured state of the research and theory on virtual work has limited our understanding of individual behavior and group dynamics in virtual teams.To fill this gap, this project will integrate the proximity and network perspectives and develop a comprehensive theoretical model that explains the job performance of virtual workers in virtual teams. More specifically, this project seeks to address two major challenges faced by virtual workers in performing their tasks: (1) how virtual workers effectively overcome spatial, temporal, and cultural distances to accomplish their job tasks and (2) how they manage their online network ties to maximize the benefits provided by virtual collaboration.A series of surveys will be conducted for testing the proposed theoretical model. In addition, a multiple-case study will be performed to further validate our empirical results and to theorize the mechanisms of the different dimensions of objective distance and online network ties in virtual teams. To achieve the aforementioned, I have secured collaboration with five global companies operating virtual teams across countries around the world. I have contacted several executives of the target companies and they have confirmed that they will provide their virtual team rosters for network analysis, as well as each employee’s location information. In addition, to overcome bias in self-reported performance measures, I will utilize supervisors’ ratings of employee job performance. The results of this research will have implications for both academia and industry. For academia, it will create new knowledge and contribute toward a richer understanding of the joint roles of physical proximity and online connectivity underlying the success of a virtual team, and for industry, it will provide insights and prescriptive guidelines to companies wishing to design virtual teams and deploy information communication technologies to alter group dynamics in virtual work.


Project number9048029
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/09/1413/03/17

    Research areas

  • virtual team,psychological distance,online networks,Knowledge utilization,