What is a Virtual Collaboration?

K. Wascher

Virtual collaboration is a process by which individuals and work groups can communicate and work together on a single project from any location in the world through the use of technology. Since 2005, there has been a significant increase in the power and popularity of the virtual collaboration tools available. These tools allow businesses and organizations to unite their creative and managerial efforts in real time without the need to travel to a specific meeting location. The agility of these tools has allowed businesses and organizations to develop products and complete projects in a more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner .

Many tablets allow for virtual collaboration.
Many tablets allow for virtual collaboration.

There are numerous virtual collaboration tools available to organizations, small groups, and individuals who wish to participate in projects virtually. The most basic type of virtual collaboration tool is the teleconferencing system, which allows large groups of individuals to hold a meeting and discuss a project from any location. The price points for software and Web-based virtual collaboration tools range from low-cost options such as Google's collaboration applications for businesses to higher-end solutions such as Microsoft's Enterprise software.

Increasingly, the person working on a virtual collaboration is a freelancer or consultant.
Increasingly, the person working on a virtual collaboration is a freelancer or consultant.

Virtual collaboration tools appeal to a wide variety of businesses due to the benefits of cost savings and efficiency associated with these systems. They allow large companies to tap into a global workforce or commission a non-local business expert without increasing overhead associated with expanding physical office space to make room for additional employees or independent contractors. The emergence of collaborative tools also means that companies have the ability to offer additional telecommuting opportunities to employees, which may improve work-life balance and overall employee satisfaction. Virtual collaboration tools also allow smaller organizations to become more competitive. Small businesses and start-ups can use these tools to leverage a large workforce without the need to supply contractors with equipment or office space.

While the benefits of virtual collaboration appear to be substantial, some sectors of the economy may be prone to negative side effects of these cost-saving and environmentally conscious business tools. When businesses are able to host meetings via teleconference or virtually through the Internet, airlines and meeting venues will experience a decrease in revenue. The ability for businesses to tap into a global marketplace of contractors may also mean that average salaries in some locations will decline as businesses' foreign employees may be willing and able to provide similar or even superior results for a lower price than domestic workers.

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