Team collaboration in virtual worlds.

AuthorFraiha, Shady

    Virtual worlds (VW) are digital creations that enable users to interact through 3D graphical environments and can integrate with existing internet based services such as e-mail, video, and IM and may also be called alternate realities or metaverses (Lee, 2009). Several types of activities take place in VW, and these include business activities, education and training, politics and government work and others (Lee, 2009) and research in VW is still in its infancy (Li, Lee and Lai, 2009). Virtual worlds that are not games can also be called 'social virtual worlds' (Jung and Kang, 2009). These worlds have structures that are created by users and have fewer constraints than games. Virtual worlds are software environments that allow users to communicate and interact with each other in real time in a shared space (Davis, Khazanchi, Murphy, Zigurs and Owens, 2009). These environments can have physical laws and physical dimensions that the character/user uses to interact with others. So, one can say that VW can be a potential formal and informal meeting place for virtual teams, creating a feeling of togetherness similar to that in the real world (Meyer and Swatman, 2009).

    The term 'virtual worlds' has been used to describe online communities that utilize e-mail, wikis, IM, and other information communication technology (ICT) tools for interaction (Palmisano, 2009). However, the term in this writing refers to 3D game-like environments where players, or users, can interact in a normal fashion just like in real life.

    To avoid the ambiguity presented in the literature on teams, I will use 'virtual teams' to refer to on-line teams using e-mail, IM, GSS or others. I will use the notation 'VW' to refer to virtual worlds as presented above.

    The relevance of this topic to IS research stems from its importance in the business world. Virtual worlds seem to be ahead of research on them, and by that I mean that practitioners are ahead of scholars with regard to using this technology. Not only virtual worlds are being used for team collaboration, they are also being used for negotiations and business practices, and real world retailers are setting up their stores in virtual worlds to sell to customers there (Papagiannidis and Bourlakis, 2009).

    And with respect to the relatedness of this topic to the identity of IS (King and Lyytinen, 2004; Neufeld, Fang and Huff, 2007) we see that the topics of online collaboration and ICT use for team communication and telecommuting, all of which relate to collaboration in virtual environments and can be considered predecessors to it, have been well researched in IS (exp. Bjorn and Ngwenyama, 2009; Duxbury, Higgins and Mills, 1992; Paul, 2006) and have become part of the identity of the field.

    This paper concerns itself with the viability of VW for teamwork. A summary of research in separate concepts of virtual teams is presented in the body of this paper to prepare for comparison with the new environment that is VW. This paper does not aim to summarize or comment on research in virtual teams, but aims at researching VW for teamwork purposes. For that reason, this work builds on previous research in virtual teams to show how VW are different and how previous research may or may not apply.


    Team collaboration is probably one of the most important topics in management and organizational behaviour. Larger projects are usually broken down into tasks that individual team members can work on. If team members collaborate, then they are able to perform the tasks better, especially that most tasks are interdependent.

    Research on virtual teams, or online teams, started in the late 1980's as people realized that they can use ICT for team collaboration. Virtual teams are defined as groups of geographically or time dispersed workers brought together by information communication technologies to accomplish organizational tasks (Bjorn and Ngwenyama, 2009; DeSanctis and Poole, 1997; Powell, Piccoli and Ives, 2004). A large number of organizations embraced the concept (Lipnack and Stamps, 1997) and continue to do so because virtual teams hold significant promise for organizations and provide flexibility and responsiveness (Powell, Piccoli and Ives, 2004). The new concept of collaboration in virtual worlds does not automatically imply geographically or time dispersed individuals as virtual worlds are also being used by co-located time sharing employees as a place for formally or informally meeting other employees, or for training for certain tasks such as performing a surgery (Dev, 2009; Satava, 1995).

    To make it easier to follow the arguments presented, concepts are separated into socio-emotional team processes and task processes (Powell, Piccoli and Ives, 2004). Previous research is presented about each concept separately, followed by VW research and propositions about that concept.

    2.1 Socio-emotional Processes

    Socio-emotional processes, such as supportive comments or critique, occurring in virtual worlds affect group outcomes such as cohesion and group consensus (Chidambaram, 1996). These variables affect the extent to which group members are willing to work with each other to implement the decision (Watson, Desanctis and Poole, 1988). I expect these socio-emotional processes to affect teams in virtual worlds, though not exactly in the same way due to the heightened social presence of the other individuals in virtual worlds compared to other GSS, which is likely to trigger social norms and perhaps social desirability effects (Shelton, 2003).

    Proposition 1: Social norms and social desirability effects will play a larger role in VW than in other ICT.

    Social ties and rapport were found to have positive effects on collaboration and performance by Kotlarsky and colleagues (Kotlarsky and Oshri, 2005; Oshri, van Fenema and Kotlarsky, 2008). Social capital in turn was found to lead to knowledge integration by Robert et al. (Robert, Dennis and Ahuja, 2008). In addition to that, research shows that relational intimacy and social ties can be enhanced between people by revealing personal information to each other (Gibbs, Ellison and Heino, 2006). Moreover, Kotlarsky and colleagues (Kotlarsky and Oshri, 2005; Oshri, van Fenema and Kotlarsky, 2008) researched the effects of transactive memory and knowledge sharing on collaborative behavior. They found out that these variables affect team collaboration positively. These relations are expected to hold in virtual worlds.

    Proposition 2: Relations of team members in VW can be enhanced if team members volunteer personal information and or professional information (knowledge sharing) to other team members.

    Proposition 3: Social ties, social capital, and rapport will positively affect collaboration in virtual worlds as in other ICT.

    For the virtual world to be seen as a resource for teamwork and as a venue for cooperation, the VW has to be first accepted by team members seeking a common aim. The topic of VW acceptance has been researched by Goh and Yoon (2009) who identified constructs that are potentially influential in individual acceptance of VW. According to their research, Hedonic Expectancy is a valuable construct in VW acceptance. But Goh and Yoon...

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