Virtual Collaboration in the 4th Industrial Revolution

Each industrial revolution has brought about a great deal of change and disruption, creating new opportunities for those who can adapt and evolve. The digital revolution as an example, has seen companies thrive, and others fall depending on how well they responded to the changes that were taking place. Organisations like Kodak and Blackberry are classic examples of companies that failed to adapt to advances in digital technology which disrupted everyday business.

The 4th Industrial Revolution will continue to connect communities and projects will increasingly be managed by virtual teams. As defined by Peters and Manz in their 2007 article ‘Identifying antecedents of virtual team collaboration’: “Virtual collaboration consists of geographically dispersed team members working together through technology-mediated communication. These team members do not physically interact, and so communicate exclusively through technological channels.”

Research into virtual teams shows that the two main reasons for organisations opting for this structure is to save on travelling costs and more importantly, these teams make organisations more flexible and more able to adapt to globalisation, competition and changing organisational structures.

According to virtual collaboration skills coach, Dr Päivi Lohikoski, “With widely accessible cloud technologies, coupled with the trans-disciplinary nature of the millennial workforce, virtual collaboration is bigger than it has ever been and can be expected to develop even further in the 4th Industrial revolution.”

Here are three key elements of successful and efficient virtual teams in the 4th Industrial Revolution:

Motivation and Engagement

One of the greatest challenges faced by virtual team leaders is keeping the team motivated and engaged across distributed locations. This makes it very important for organisations and leaders to adopt strategies which address issues like social isolation and demotivation that may arise in physically dispersed teams. Some of these strategies may include creating virtual offices for team members to work in, and using social media platforms within teams.

It is vital to encourage regular communication between team members, as virtual teams do not get all the relationship-building advantages that come with face-to-face teams, and frequent contact is key to building relationships and trust between team members.

Communication Efficiency

Given the nature of virtual teams, ensuring effective communication becomes an even greater challenge in the 4th Industrial Revolution. There are many barriers to communication in virtual teams, such as cultural differences, differences in dialect, and general ambiguity in written versus spoken language.

Virtual teams often have a lot of unproductive back and forth communication, which results in wasted time and resources. To avoid this, teams require a more formal and structured communication process to maximize efficiency and to streamline communication.

It is definitely worthwhile spending some time identifying the most appropriate medium of communication for the virtual team. The use of multiple communication media may be beneficial for virtual teams – as opposed to a disadvantage as most may believe.

For example, a team member may be on a conference call via a laptop whilst typing important points into a shared document on their tablet. These multiple mediums allow for communication that is more effective and can enable more work to be done concurrently.

Information Security

When discussing communication within virtual teams, a key aspect of this is information security. According to the Cisco Southern Africa 2017 Midyear Cybersecurity Report, cyber-crime is the fourth highest most reported crime in South Africa, and our economy loses in excess of R1bn per year to cyber-crime.

Today’s companies need to employ cyber security professionals, and need to up-skill their staff to adopt safe virtual collaboration practices in an effort to mitigate cybersecurity risks. Ignoring this could lead to very expensive breaches for companies. In South Arica, as the Cisco report has found, these cyber security professionals are a scarce resource.

Personal information is often a typical target of cyber-crime. Typically, IT professionals, and more specifically those working in virtual teams, are custodians of personal information and in accordance with legislation, it is their responsibility to ensure they conduct themselves in a responsible manner when dealing with another entity’s information. Adopting practices that will ensure teams remain on the right side of the law is key. In addition, many countries have similar legislation put in place and when virtual collaboration spans across multiple countries, it is consequently important to ensure compliance with laws across all pertinent nations.

Through the proliferation of virtual collaboration, many organisations have already seen how the nature of work has changed drastically. Virtual collaboration, along with almost all other areas of business, will be impacted in one way or another by exciting technologies and changes brought on by the 4th Industrial Revolution.


Written by Kuda Kandemiiri, Analyst at Saratoga. For more insights, connect with @SaratogaSA and @Kuda1911