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Virtual Teams vs. Virtual Classroom

Virtual Teams vs. Virtual Classroom

The pandemic of COVID-19 in the year 2020 gives an unanticipated pause to businesses by requiring all residents stay at home to slow, and hopefully eliminate, the spread of the virus. “Well-prepared” crisis management strategies appear to have not considered the possibility that members of the economy would be required to scramble franticly to implement remote operations. In contrast, others would not be able to work at all. Moreover, these planners seem to have overlooked the prospect of long-term continuous business interruptions. An ability to continue necessary tasks with now suddenly geographically dispersed team members requires communication, professionalism, and patience. Taking cues from higher education, where online work is the norm, indicates practical ways for leaders to continue to meet organizational objectives and, perhaps, embrace new cost-effective technological processes. Post-secondary education was at the epicenter of the activity with classes moving modalities from in-class to online seemingly overnight. Those post-secondary institutions with robust online learning platforms and faculty, with instructional expertise, shifted with minimal disruption.

Online classwork has been around for decades often lauded, and simultaneously criticized, for its efficiency. Lederman (2020) posits a list of questions about moving to post-secondary education online to faculty and those involved in the post-secondary higher education vertical. The group answered with hard positions and emotions both favorable and unfavorable towards online courses. Adair (2020), as mentioned in Lederman (2020), stating that we are in a time of crisis and to allow instructional designers and online faculty to step up to the moment and enable the students to continue their degree during a pandemic. Adair (2020) continues to request that the higher education community wait on the debate on the subject of online modality and the role of faculty in the process.

Jackson (2018) discussed the opportunities and weaknesses of online or virtual meetings. Although online meetings are cost-effective and convenient, the decreased human connection—often plagued with connection instability and security threats—result in a “dry” and challenging resource. Faulconer and Gruss (2018) reviewed the pros and cons of online, remote, and distance science laboratory experiences and found that non-traditional approaches may achieve learning outcomes, there are weaknesses such as operating and maintenance costs, growth potential, and safety.

Students learning within virtual spaces, like any other work effort, requires an ability to take direction and work collaboratively. Virtual learning utilizes discussion threads, written assignments, and even final projects requiring on-camera presentations to demonstrate proficiencies. Faculty continuously engage the student with daily updates, facilitating discussions, video lectures, notes, and feedback via grade assignments. In a classroom environment, the online course has tabbed sections that will provide navigation and identifies key areas of the curriculum such as announcements, course materials, readings, assignments, and grade book. These virtual classroom attributes are in addition to communication via text, telephone, and email. In most instances, students interact almost daily with faculty members and their peers to heightening the learning experience in both synchronous and asynchronous sessions. Colvin et al. (2014) researched Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and determined that not only did students achieved learning outcomes, online courses were as equally effective as traditional courses. The metaphorical equivalent of virtual learning: using an exercise machine at home every day rather than going to a health club once a week. The issue to discuss is the use of online tools as part of our contemporary learning and working environment. If you are an educational institution, government entity or corporation, training materials should be developed for online consumption. The challenge here is to engage the platform with measurable outcomes. Faculty have the responsibility to prepare students for jobs that do not exist at present. Greene (2020), as mentioned in Lederman (2020), stated that the revolutionary impact would change the perceptions of both learning communities and teaching as a collective activity. Training the students to work in teams and remote environments prepares the students for positions in the next generation. If COVID-19 is to teach business leaders anything, it is to prepare to have your teams work remotely and to overcome any disruptions.

Engagement is the foundation of any virtual environment. The geographic disbursement of individuals requires carefully planning and polite consideration of varied time schedules. Companies can exist in a virtual environment. McArdle (2019) created a company with remote employees and is transparent about both the tools and techniques to engage employees. The selection of online tools for project management and scheduling are necessary to provide global access to employees. Other aspects are hiring the right people who have experience working remotely. McArdle (2019) continues by guiding the reader about the appropriate legal documentation for each classification of employees, scheduling regular meetings that encourage open communication, and have employees embrace the company culture.

In business environments, starting a virtual team can happen organically, inevitably with a shared directory or unique secured webpage. In a small company, forms, blank contracts, RFP responses, market intelligence, and financial reports were all on a cloud-based platform. The use of existing software such as Jell, Trello, Zoom, or Google Suite offers options for shared resources frequently used by the team members. The ability to access pertinent information regardless of time or location is an essential component. Industry or organizational-specific customer data and reports must transition to cloud-based access for universal use.

The responsibilities of the team leader and team members can resemble the participating students have with their post-secondary education online classroom. In this example, faculty seek total engagement by the students and monitor strict deadlines and student progress. The facilitation by the team leader holds the group accountable for their roles and responsibilities by followup, coordination, and deadlines. Contemporary technology provides ample business resources to share virtually via asynchronous and synchronous platforms allowing collaborative exchanges. Much like meeting in the same room, members can share documents, provide timelines, discuss challenges, and seek joint solutions. With a virtual team, strategically planning the environment where the team will reside requires the virtual presence of the utilities of an office tower. Team leaders need to implement the same utility as their office into a virtual environment. The team leader should establish weekly agendas for meetings, receive project status updates from team members, and engage with team members with questions and/or project problems.

Regardless if you are on a virtual team or part of a class, security is important. In 2020, Zoom had numerous instances of security breaches or what has been commonly called “Zoom Bombing”. Paul (2020) stated, “The company also claimed its calls were encrypted, and then backtracked when it was proven wrong by a report in the Intercept. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado has requested responses from Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, on privacy concerns and the FTC is being called to investigate the company.” Following some commonsense approaches to hosting meetings, allow only those with invitations into the session from the virtual lobby. Another challenge is allocating the appropriate level of site security to each of the team members. With the position description of each team member, the security clearance needs initially needs to be established. As the business team evolves, the process for approval and allocating additional security preferences also needs to be considered.

When COVID-19 occurred, the post-secondary courses were conducted on ground moved to online within two weeks. Educational institutions with robust online platforms were positioned well for this crisis. Panicking in a crisis situation is never a fruitful or acceptable endeavor. Some faculty and students embraced the modality change, while others struggled. K-12 schools also raced to make a change in modality to online courses. Pandemic environments are unforgiving as they do discriminate and impact all communities, businesses, educational institutions and governments, and the entire world has felt the impact. With everyone required to work from their homes, the work environment has changed. What made the change easier for new remote employees was a connection to the team. Hosting Zoom, Skype or any virtual meeting product, weekly meetings provide that connectivity, allow for questions, provide direction, and assess project schedules.

The challenge for the education and business community post-COVID-19 is to examine the situations which occurred and add to the body of literature. When history looks upon this pandemic, there will be examples of heroes, unwavering faith, fear, stoic management, communication, professionalism, and patience. In reflection of these attributes, we must decide what our roles will be in this case study. How will people provide guidance in a time of uncertainty and solve problems with great empathy and concern, while balancing the needs of the company? The challenge is to be consistent with both – the accuracy of communication and raising the standard in the industry.

References:

Colvin, K., Champaign, J. Liu, A., Zhou, Q., Fredericks, C., and Pritchard, D. (September 2014). Learning in an Introductory Physics MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses): All Cohorts Learn Equally, Including an On-Campus Class. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1902/3009

Faulconer, E. & Gruss, A. (April 2018). A Review to Weigh the Pros and Cons of Online, Remote, and Distance Science Laboratory Experiences. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(2). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/3386/4624

Jackson, C. (2018). Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Meetings. My Own Conference. https://myownconference.com/blog/en/index.php/advantages-disadvantages-Online-meetings/

Lederman, D. (2020) Most teaching is going remote. Will that help or hurt online learning? Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/03/18/most-teaching-going-remote-will-help-or-hurt-online-learning

McArdle, K. (2019). Best Practices for Managing Virtual Teams. SureSwift Capital. https://www.sureswiftcapital.com/blog/managing-virtual-teams-best-practices/

Paul, K. (2020). Worried about Zoom's privacy problems?A guide to your video-conferencing options. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/08/zoom-privacy-video-chat-alternatives

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