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Collaborative learning is one way to handle tasks, and it is one way to deal with projects. A project manager who wants to use collaborative learning as a framework for increasing the efficiency of the team would experience a significant improvement in the work process if they explore and apply the concept of virtual teams. In other words, there is no need for people to meet and interact face-to-face because they can work in a virtual environment. In online collaboration, information and feedback can be sent quickly through the use of Information Technology and appropriate applications.
Knowledge Transfer – Knowledge Sharing
The foundation of an effective virtual team or online collaboration is a robust and dependable knowledge management system. According to IT practitioners, knowledge management is an intelligent process “by which raw data is gathered and transformed into information elements” (Lehaney, 2004, p.3). It is also considered as a formal process “that engages an organisation’s people, processes, and technology in a solution that captures knowledge and delivers it to the right people at the right time” (Geisler & Wickramasinghe, 2009, p.4). Another major goal for this process “is to collectively acquire, share, and leverage knowledge to achieve business objectives (Geisler & Wickramasinghe, 2009, p.4).
It is therefore imperative to build the company’s knowledge management system first, but a cursory view of conventional tools leads to the realization that virtual teams is an impossible goal unless there are alternative computer software that can be used to replace knowledge management systems powered by commercial producers of software apps like Microsoft Office.
It is impractical to use the product suite from Microsoft Office if the main goal is to develop virtual teams. Microsoft Office is software that can be described as cumbersome and expensive to use. In addition, there is a need to pay for the licenses on an annual basis. There is also the problem of the need to upgrade the computers. Therefore, companies will have to spend a great deal of money on new equipment and the licenses for the software. The concept of virtual teams is difficult to sell to business owners and it is made more difficult by the perceived cost of using conventional systems like computer software from Microsoft. It is imperative to look for better alternatives.
Use of Google Apps
Project managers and corporate leaders who wants to develop virtual teams must look into the best available software that would enable workers and teams of professionals to work together online. When it comes to efficiency and practicality it is difficult to find a better alternative to Google Apps or Google applications. The popularity of Google apps can be understood from the point of view of knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer. First, Google Apps brings a cost-efficient way for people to communicate and collaborate. Second, Google Apps enable business people to simplify the communication and collaboration process because there is no need to use specific hardware and software in order for a group of business people to stay connected and share information on a regular basis.
Google apps are computer software that are free to download and can be utilised without the need to upgrade the current system of the company. In other words, Google apps can be used in different types of platforms whether the team member is using personal computers or Mac notebooks.
Migrating to a New System
Once the company decides to use virtual teams, the next step is to look for the appropriate IT infrastructure that could support knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing. It has been pointed out that Google apps provide a practical, portable and cost-effective way to deal with the requirements of online collaboration. Data must be transferred quickly and must be viewed and analysed real-time by team members. The third step is to develop policies necessary to prepare the migration into the new system.
The final step towards virtual teams is to come into agreement with regards to data collection and management policies. These are basically standards, guidelines, procedures, and policies that are created by the top leaders of the company and it is the governing policy as well as a technical policy (Thierauf, 2001). It also includes a security policy to protect data from theft, destruction, and sabotage.
There are numerous drawbacks and the problems of online teams or online study groups can be understood much easier from the vantage point of students trying to accomplish something but not able to interact face-to-face and all the work needed must be accomplished online. It has to be pointed out that online collaboration saves time and money because students do not need to leave their dormitories or their homes to meet the other members of the team.
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The problem with online collaboration and online studies is that team members are not able to see and perceive the non-verbal cues of the participants. It is possible to remedy this problem with the use of video cameras but there are certain elements of the interaction that cannot be captured by the limited range and capacity of video cameras.
It is a problem for leaders who may need to use interpersonal communication, specifically non-verbal cues to determine what the team members are thinking and how they feel with regards to a particular problem or solution proposed by other team members. A leader may have a hard time trying to understand the sentiment of the whole team if he cannot see them face-to-face.
Online collaboration and the creation of virtual teams are only possible if there is a reliable knowledge management system that facilitates knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer. Pertinent information must be processed, transferred, and shared among team members. The process can be enhanced through the use of cost-efficient tools like Google Apps. It has to be made clear that the collaborative tools of Google Apps significantly improve the dissemination of knowledge, knowledge transfer and knowledge management. However, this constitutes only the first part of the development of the knowledge management system. It is also important to have a deep and thorough understanding of the inner-workings of the organization. It is critical to know that organisational culture and other social factors within the organisation affect the creation and sharing of tacit and explicit knowledge. Thus, the system must be developed from the ground up because what works in one organisation cannot be copied and expect to work in another organisation. It is important to consider cost-efficiency, however, it is also important to consider the need for interpersonal communication such as non-verbal communication between team members.
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