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The role of leaders in facilitating social capital in virtual teams

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Title: The role of leaders in facilitating social capital in virtual teams
Author: Betts, Breanne
Department: UofG-H - Business
Abstract: Even before the initial spread of COVID-19 in Canada in early 2020, nearly one in 10 Canadians worked from home in some capacity (Conference Board of Canada, 2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the way organizations work (Gallacher & Hossain, 2020), making it critically urgent to understand how to build high-performing virtual teams, and to learn the basics of virtual team leadership. Suddenly, virtual teams are the norm in many sectors and organizations, a significant change for the labour market. With approximately five-million Canadians now working from home in response to the pandemic, the national total of work-from-home employees has risen to 6.8 million, or almost 40 per cent of Canada’s workforce (St. Denis, 2020). Meaning, 6.8 million employees are likely working across time and space, with interdependent virtual teams that communicate and collaborate through internet-based communications (Maduka, Edwards, Greenwood, Osborne, & Babatunde, 2018). With change comes opportunity (McCallum & O’Connell, 2009), in this case, to clarify and evolve in our use of virtual teams, creating potentially long-lasting benefits for organizations (i.e. Clancy, 2020; Gottfredson, 2020; Ruiller, Heijden, Chedotel, & Dumas, 2019). Of course, virtual teams are unique from physically co-located ones. With the lost ability to communicate in person, virtual teams face intense communication challenges that on-site teams do not (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986, as cited by Martins, Gilson, & Maynard, 2004), but strong leadership can coordinate teams into collectives (Ziek & Smulowitz, 2014). Towards the achievement of strong leadership, organizations should ensure leaders have the precise skills needed to navigate the unique virtual environment (Byrd, 2019). Even for experienced leaders, the virtual work environment carries new complexities that would indicate the need for virtual team leadership training. It is up to the leaders of teams to help facilitate the relational environment, rich in social capital, that is needed to build the trust, satisfaction and collectivism that virtual teams need to succeed (i.e. Ceri-Booms, 2020; Peterman, 2019; Spurk & Straub, 2020). This social capital, based in relationships, mutual obligations and reciprocated trust and respect can be achieved via strategic and targeted leadership development (Day, 2000). This paper explores the concepts of remote work and virtual teams, and examines the role of the leader in developing high-performing virtual teams. Suggesting a need for openness to new ways of leading, the value of shared leadership, linked to social capital and transformational leadership in virtual settings, is explored (Liu, Hu, Li, Wang, & Lin, 2014; Muethel, Gehrlein, & Hoegl, 2012; Robert & You, 2018). This paper contributes to the literature on virtual team leadership by suggesting that organizations need to undertake intense leadership development activities to increase team social capital (Day, 2000) and the use of shared leadership behaviours (Shuffler, Wiese, Salas, & Burke, 2010). It also examines considerations for leadership development in the virtual context. Especially now, amidst the global pandemic creating lockdown-type conditions in many parts of the world, the emphasis needs to shift from building effective leaders, to building effective teams of leaders. If employees and leaders learn together as a team, they will be better equipped to succeed (Panteli & Sockalingam, 2005, as cited by King, Fielke, Bayne, Klerkx, & Nettle, 2019). With the right training and development, leaders and teams can better face challenges, including those associated with the rapid onset of a “global health emergency” (Schumaker, 2020, para. 1), like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Date: 2021-04
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