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Facilitating trust in virtual teams: the role of awareness.

INTRODUCTION

Recent development of information and communication technology has enabled organizations to pull resources from all over the world via virtual teams. In virtual teams, people collaborate with each other without physically gathering in the same place as in traditional co-located teams and their communication and coordination are primarily conducted via electronic channels (Hertel, Geisterb, & Konradt, 2005; Lipnack & Stamps, 2000). Freed from geographic limitations, virtual teams offer the flexibility and agility that are much needed for businesses to cope with the fierce competition in a global market (Applegate, 1999; Bell & Kozlowski, 2002; Davidow & Malone, 1992; Montoya, Massey, Hung, & Crisp, 2009; Wigand, Picot, & Reichwald, 1997). While virtual teams provide promising benefits, the special characteristics of virtual teams also bring challenges in many areas, such as leadership, conflict management, team identity, and cohesion (see (Hertel et al., 2005) for a review). One of the major challenges virtual teams face is the development of trust.

Trust has been deemed as essential to collaborative work (Alge, Wiethoff, & Klein, 2003; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Morris, Marshall, & Rainer, 2002). However, physical dispersion, coupled with fluid membership, cultural differences, and lack of prior history in many virtual teams (Lipnack & Stamps, 2000) can lead to severe difficulties in establishing effective trusting relationships (Bishop, 1999; Dube & Robey, 2009; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998). One of the key elements in trust development is repeated interaction between trusting parties (McAllister, 1995). However, the lack of physical proximity presents severe challenges for virtual team members to communicate and coordinate with their distant counterparts. Therefore, it is imperative to help virtual teams meet these communication challenges in order to facilitate the development of trust.

One specific communication problem that virtual team participants face is awareness deficit - the lack of knowledge about the current state of distant teammates' work related to the group project. Without timely updates on work status it difficult to coordinate with remote partners and fully take advantage of the dispersed resources and expertise. Awareness is essential for collaborative work. Ethnographical research on workplace found that collaborators constantly keep each other updated on task-related activities (Harper, Hughes, & Shapiro, 1989; Heath & Luff, 1991). By staying aware of the current state of the project and the activities of coworkers, people are able to adjust and orient their own and their partners' work toward a common goal. In a traditional colocated work setting, it is relatively easy for people to stay updated due to physical proximity. However, with people collaborating from different places, such as in virtual teams, maintaining awareness presents a severe challenge. Spontaneous connections, informal encounters, and peripheral observations, taken for granted in traditional co-located teams, are difficult, if at all possible, when collaborating partners are in different places in a virtual team. In addition, the locations of virtual team members may span across several time zones. Scheduling meetings can be extremely difficult (Cramton, 1997). As a result, unlike traditional co-located teams, virtual teams may find it difficult to stay apprised of each other's progress or problems. It may further prevent them from responding to those internal issues in a timely fashion. This problem of lack of awareness presents a big challenge of coordination in virtual teams.

This study aims to study factors important to awareness and trust in virtual teams. In particular, task interdependence is regarded as a group design parameter that dictates group interaction (Hackman & Morris, 1975; Thompson, 1967; Van de Ven, Delbecq, & Koenig, 1976). The necessity to work closely with remote teammates due to task requirements may provide a motivation for virtual team participants to establish trusting relationships. The impact of task interdependence on awareness is studied. In addition, maintaining and developing trusting relationships relies on teamwork process. Specifically, the impact of awareness on trust between virtual team members is studied. Moreover, the role of media use in awareness support is also investigated, since all communication and information exchanges in virtual teams occur through electronic media. The use of GroupAware, a web-based groupware, and its effects on awareness is examined. These results should help to further our understanding of distributed collaboration and contribute to the management of virtual teams.

LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESES

Awareness

Awareness is a prominent concept in the field of groupware and computer-supported cooperative work. At the early stage of CSCW development, researchers undertook ethnographic studies to further understand work practice in the real world (Harper et al., 1989; Heath & Luff, 1991). One of the profound contributions of these ethnographic studies was their recognition of how people "seamlessly" align their work with each other via different awareness mechanisms, such as observable actions and shared artifacts.

These findings highlighted two important dimensions in discussing awareness. First, awareness is a cognitive state, which refers to having information about a certain set of people, events, and objects. For example, Dourish and Bly (1992) referred to awareness as knowing "who is around, what activities are occurring, [and] who is talking with whom." Similarly, Gutwin, Greenberg and Roseman (1996) defined workspace awareness as the "up-to-the minute knowledge a person holds about another's interaction with the workspace." From this cognitive perspective, one central question in designing awareness support in CSCW tools is "what to be aware of." Researchers have been trying to identify the right types of information to foster desired social exchange or task-related action (Dourish & Bly, 1992; Gutwin & Greenberg, 1997; Tollmar, Sandor, & Schomer, 1996).

The second dimension, awareness as an action, concerns how people gather and disseminate awareness information. When engaging in collaborative work, people actively monitor activities of their colleagues and the changes in shared artifacts. For example, air controllers constantly keep track of the paper strips posted by co-workers containing flight information. At the same time, people also deliberately make their part of the work observable (raising their voices, for instance) to help their co-workers stay updated (Heath, Svensson, Hindmarsh, Luff, & Vom Lehn, 2002). Both gathering and presenting information about work activities are necessary for collaborative partners to maintain awareness. If no one is watching, observable activities will not facilitate awareness. By the same token, if no activity or object is publicly displayed, no awareness information can be attained. This highlights the cooperative nature of awareness conduct. Also, it indicates a medium dependence of awareness conduct. It is necessary to have a medium in between, such as a shared workplace, or a publicly viewable paper strip, so people can obtain and present awareness information.

In this study, awareness is considered a cognitive state. Awareness is defined as possessing "knowledge about the current status and actions of the various components in a collaborative system," including people, tasks, shared objects, communication media, collaborative software tools, and the work environments. In the context of distributed work, both collecting and delivering awareness information are challenging to collaborative partners. Due to geographical dispersion, virtual team members no longer physically share a workspace. Direct observation is not possible. Sharing artifacts is also impractical unless they are in electronic forms. For virtual teams, all work exchanges are carried out using electronic media. The impact of media and groupware use should be examined.

Task Interdependence

Interdependence has long been regarded as the essential aspect of a team (Mintzberg, 1979; Salas, Dickinson, Converse, & Tannenbaum, 1992). It is the "fate of interdependence," as Lewin argued, that distinguishes a work group from an aggregation of individuals (Lewin, 1951). Organization research literature suggests many different sources of interdependence in work groups, including the differentiation of roles, the distribution of skills and resources, the manner in which goals are defined and achieved, and the manner in which performance is reviewed and rewarded (for a review, see (Wageman, 1995)). One of the most important group variables is task interdependence. Particularly, task interdependence is regarded as a dominant factor that dictates how collaborators interact with each other (Thompson, 1967; Van de Ven et al., 1976).

At the group level, task interdependence is viewed as the extent to which group members are dependent upon one another to perform their individual tasks due to the structural relationship between team members and the nature of the task (Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993; Cummings, 1978; Shaw, 1976; Shea & Guzzo, 1987). Task interdependence has been identified to be a key to several group outcome variables, such as group effectiveness, job satisfaction, motivation, and group norm. Most importantly, for the current study, task interdependence is one of the group-design parameters that has predictive power on group communication and information exchange (Hackman & Morris, 1975; Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000; Van de Ven et al., 1976; Van der Vegt, Emans, & Van de Vliert, 1999).

Task Interdependence, Awareness, and Media Behavior

Thompson's (1967) classification of task interdependence provides an account on how it dictates group interaction patterns. He distinguishes three different levels of task interdependence, including pooled, sequential, and reciprocal interdependence, among work units. Each type of task interdependence sets a different communication requirement among work units. When task structure moves, from pooled and sequential to reciprocal, the level of interdependence increases. With increased interdependence, collaborating parties rely more on each other in order to do their own jobs. As a result, the mutual dependence among collaborators requires tighter coordination and, in turn, posts higher demand for awareness information. The more collaborative partners depend on each other, the more they need to stay updated in order to coordinate their works. Task interdependence is, therefore, a motivator that prompts team members to provide and acquire awareness information. Accordingly, the following hypothesis is proposed:

Hypothesis 1: Higher level of perceived task interdependence will lead to higher level of perceived awareness.

In addition, the mutual dependency embedded in the task structure can be seen as a source of uncertainty and, accordingly, a source of information demand (Galbraith, 1973; Van de Ven et al., 1976). The greater the degree of task interdependence, the greater the problem-solving demands and the greater information processing requirements becomes (March & Simon, 1958). Both lead to more frequent and flexible interaction between collaborators. In support of this,

Staples & Jarvenpaa (2000) found that, in an organizational setting, the use of electronic media increased when people perceived a higher level of task interdependence with one another. In fact, "team," with all members gathering in a single location traditionally for easy connection, is regarded as a special work arrangement to carry out highly interdependent tasks (Van de Ven et al., 1976).

Following the literature, higher levels of task interdependence will lead to more frequent information exchange among team members. In the case of virtual teams with groupware support, more information exchange should be translated to higher communication frequency and more usage of the groupware. Specifically, GroupAware, a web-based groupware, was provided to participating teams in this study.

Hypothesis 2a: Higher level of perceived task interdependence will lead to higher communication frequency.

Hypothesis 2b: Higher level of perceived task interdependence will lead to more GroupAware usage.

Media Behavior and Awareness

Since all interaction among members is carried through electronic media in virtual teams, awareness information seeking and presenting have to be conducted via the networking technology. The more frequently participants use these media; the more opportunities there are for them to gather awareness information. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed.

Hypothesis 3a: Higher communication frequency overall will lead to higher level of perceived awareness.

Hypothesis 3b: More GroupAware usage will lead to higher level of perceived awareness.

Trust

Trust is an important factor that influences group processes and group performance. Literature shows that researchers found trust as a predictor or moderator of group performance, organizational citizenship behaviors, effort level, job satisfaction, as well as interpersonal relationship within a group (Alge et al., 2003; Mayer et al., 1995; Morris et al., 2002). Particularly, trust is regarded as an essential ingredient for cooperation (Hwang & Burgers, 1997; Putnam, 2000; Zucker, 1986). When engaging in a trusting relationship, parties are more willing to overlook the risk of being taken advantage of and act for collective gains. From this perspective, trust is particularly important to collaboration. As Hwang and Burgers (1997) argued, trust will facilitate cooperation by reducing the overall opportunistic behaviors and, therefore, the risk of being exploited, as well as by keeping a trustworthy partner in the relationship. Empirical research confirms that mutual trust among participants is one of the prerequisites for collaboration to occur in a team (Druskat & Wolff, 2001) and has positive impact on the effectiveness of virtual teams (Hakonen & Lipponen, 2009). As a result, how to facilitate the development of trust is an important issue for management.

Literature also suggests that the development of interpersonal trust has a cognitive foundation (Lewis & Weigert, 1985; McAllister, 1995). Researchers from different fields agree that trust develops through repeated social interactions. These interactions enable people to update their information about others' trustworthiness (Gabarro, 1978; Lewicki & Bunker, 1996; Mayer et al., 1995; McAllister, 1995; Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna, 1985). As Lewis and Wiegert (1985) argued, our decision to trust others is based on "what we take to be 'good reasons,' constituting evidence of trustworthiness" (p. 970). This evidence or knowledge about others enables us to develop the schemas upon which we draw our prediction of others' behavior (Sarker, Valacich, & Sarker, 2003), and it is our knowledge about others' competence (Butler, 1991), reliability (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982), and dependability (Rempel et al., 1985) that forms the basis of trust. Zucker (1986) also argued that, in a trusting relationship, parties expect their partners to act in a reliable and dependable fashion.

In a team context, Sarker, Valecich, and Sarker (2003) suggested that "trust develops because team members are able to gain knowledge about the other collaborators through increased familiarity, and thus, able to confidently predict their behaviors (Coutu, 1998). This prediction of behaviors is possible primarily through the exchange of task-related information in a consistent and reliable manner" (p. 38). One study also found that informal monitoring assists trust building among international partners (Aulakh, Kotabe, & Sahay, 1996). In short, to develop and maintain trust, people need to be able to examine if their partners meet the expectation of reliability and dependability. This is especially important in the context of virtual teams, where initial trust can be very fragile (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998).

Task Interdependence and Trust

Mutual dependence embedded in teamwork presumes a degree of risk. As the level of task interdependence becomes higher, team members rely more on each other to complete the job. As a result, it becomes increasingly dangerous to engage in opportunistic behavior or negative tactics because all parties have much to lose (Kumar, Scheer, & Steenkamp, 1995). In this context, trust becomes an important coping mechanism to mitigate the risk resulting from mutual dependence (Wicks, Berman, & Jones, 1999). Accordingly, the level of interdependence is motivated to build trust with their collaborators. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:

Hypothesis 4: Higher level of perceived task interdependence will lead to higher level of trust.

Awareness and Trust

Awareness and awareness conduct may facilitate trust in two aspects. First, it allows partners to confirm expectations and predictions of teammates' behavior. As discussed above, team members need to acquire knowledge about their collaborators' actions for trust building and maintenance. Awareness mechanisms provide the necessary support that allows team members to confirm and refine their expectations of their distant partners. Second, awareness promotes trusting behavior. From a social psychology perspective, mutual awareness may dissuade opportunistic conducts and, therefore, reduce social loafing. Moreover, by making individual contributions visible, awareness encourages the dependable and reliable conduct of group members, which leads to positive contributions to the group project. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:

Hypothesis 5: Higher level of perceived awareness will lead to higher level of trust.

METHOD

Team Composition and Technology Support

Seven virtual engineering student design teams participated in the study. Students were recruited from the United States, Russia, and Mexico. These teams were assembled at the beginning of the semester and told to collaboratively complete a 13-week design project. To simulate a real industrial task team, each team worked on a real-world engineering design problem provided by an industry partner. The projects included a design of automotive air conditioning system refinement, stair-climbing wheelchair, small animal intensive care unit, end effector storage unit, mechatronics laboratory demonstration system, CAD modeling of automotive structures, and automotive thermo electric units.

In addition, all teams were also provided with a range of communication tools, including ISDN and IP-based video conferencing, telephone, fax, email, and GroupAware, which was a web-based groupware tool.

Overview of GroupAware

GroupAware was designed to meet the needs of a common information repository and awareness support for distributed collaborative work (Author). It features a shared file space, calendar, message board, and several awareness related functions. To increase the accessibility and interoperatability, GroupAware is completely web-based. All functions and features of GroupAware can be accessed through standard web browsers.

One of the main goals of GroupAware is to provide awareness support for virtual project teams. To this end, all activities occur in the shared file space and other functional areas are recorded and posted onto a database. These records of activities are then presented in various ways for users to conveniently acquire awareness information. The awareness functions include activity summary, file activity history, viewing records, login status, and login history. For the purpose of this study, the rest of this section focuses on introducing the awareness supports provided by GroupAware.

The default screen after login is a summary of all recent activities, including file uploads, comments and messages posted, and calendar entries. Users' access to all entries are also recorded and displayed. Objects are provided as links, so that team members can go immediately to them once they are aware that something has happened. To avoid information overload, GroupAware also allows users to set filters for the activity summary screen. They can request GroupAware to show information related to certain files or users only.

In addition, all file related activities are tracked and presented to users when they access a specific file. These activities include file upload, download, as well as posting and reading comments on the specific file. Similarly, for each calendar and message board entry, GroupAware provides a list of users who have read it.

Moreover, all activity awareness information collected by GroupAware is also available via email. Users can specify how frequently they want to receive the awareness notification email. They can also apply filters to focus on activities related to specific teammates or files.

Finally, at the beginning of every page in GroupAware, there is a notification of who else on the team also happens to be logged in within the past 5 minutes. It, to some extent, indicates the availability of teammates. Users may choose to initiate a chat session or use other synchronous tools for contact. The login record of each team member is also compiled to construct a user information page. It allows team members to review each other's login history over a specified time period. It also offers graphical presentation of weekly usage pattern. This is displayed in the querying users' local time to help them predict when they might find their teammates online

Data Collection

Two sets of data were used in this study to test the hypotheses. First, participants submitted a weekly communication log. They were asked to report all communication events with their distant partners every week. The usage of GroupAware was not included in weekly communication reports from participants. Instead, it was based on its system record of all page requests made to the system. Second, a questionnaire was administrated at the end of the project to measure participants' perception of task interdependence, awareness, and trust.

Measurement

Task Interdependence

Task interdependence is conceived as the extent to which group members are dependent upon one another to perform their individual tasks due to the structural relationship between team members and the nature of the task (Campion et al., 1993; Cummings, 1978; Shaw, 1976; Shea & Guzzo, 1987). Following previous studies (Campion et al., 1993; Van der Vegt et al., 1999; Wageman, 1995), task interdependence was measured as team members' perception about the structure of tasks. Three 5-point items were adapted from the above-cited literature to form the scale of task interdependence.

Trust

Following (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1998), an 8-item scale on trust was adopted from (Schoorman, Mayer, & Davis, 1996) to assess ability, benevolence, and integrity. Participants were asked about their perceptions of different attributes of their distant partners.

Awareness

Awareness is defined as possessing knowledge about the current status and actions of the various components in a collaborative system. Nine 5-point items were developed by prior studies to measure the different types of awareness. After applying principle component analysis, four of them converge to form the activity awareness scale to be used in the following data analysis. These items include: "I usually had a good idea of what my distant teammates were working on"; "I felt that my distant team members had a good idea of what we were working on here"; "During the project, I often felt that I did not know what my distant teammates were working on" (reverse coded); and "I felt like I knew my distant teammates pretty well." Participants are asked to rate the degree to which they agree with each statement.

Communication Frequency and GroupAware Usage

Communication frequency was the average number of weekly communication incidents with distant partners. It was based on the participants' weekly communication log. All communication events with distant teammates were counted, including video meetings, audio conferences, text-based chat sessions, emails, and faxes. The average number of communication events per week was calculated as the communication frequency and used for the following analyses. GroupAware usage was based on its system log of users' page requests. Each user's average page requests per week were calculated to form the measurement of GroupAware usage.

RESULTS

Results of bivariate correlation analysis can be found in Table 1. As hypothesized, perceived task interdependence (r = .473, p = .001) was a significant predictor of perceived awareness. Higher level of task interdependence led to higher level of awareness. H1 was supported. Results also showed that the effect of perceived task interdependence on communication frequency was positive and significant (r = .283, p = .046). H2a was supported. Participants who perceived higher degree of task interdependence reported more communication events. The usage of GroupAware was positively associated with perceived task interdependence; however, their relationship was not statistically significant (r = .139, p = .363). H2b was not supported.

The effect of communication frequency on perceived awareness is confirmed (r = .299, p = .035). Participants who communicated more frequently were more likely to be aware of team activities. However, the relationship between GroupAware usage and perceived awareness was not significant (r = -.164, p = .281). H3a was supported, but H3b was not.

Finally, both perceived task interdependence (r = .454, p = .001) and perceived awareness (r = .665, p < .001) were significantly contributed to perceived trust in distant teammates. H4 and H5 were supported. Since perceived task interdependence positively affected perceived awareness, the relationship among perceived trust and these two variables needs to be further clarified. Additional multiple regression analysis was conducted to test if the effect of task interdependence on trust was mediated by awareness (Baron & Kenny, 1986; Judd & Kenny, 1981; MacKinnon & Dwyer, 1993).

Model 1 and 2 in Table 2 assessed the effects of perceived task interdependence and perceived awareness as the sole predictor of trust, respectively. Model 3 assessed the additive effects of perceived task interdependence and awareness on trust. The two-term main effect model was statistically significant (F = 19.894, p <.001). However, while the effect of perceived awareness was still significant (P = .579, p < .001), the effect of perceived task interdependence was not (P = .186, p = .136). Model 3 shows that the relationship between perceived interdependence and perceived trust was no longer significant while perceived awareness was controlled. In other words, the effect of task interdependence on trust was fully mediated by level of awareness.

DISCUSSION

The results of this study have shed light on the role of awareness in group processes. Specifically, they provided insight into the effects of task structure and communication frequency on the level of awareness and the mediation effects of awareness between task structure and trust.

Awareness and Trust

Both perceived task interdependence and awareness were proposed to have positive effects on trust. Results of this study supported the hypotheses. Higher levels of perceived task interdependence and perceived awareness led to higher levels of trust on distant teammates. However, further regression analyses showed that perceived task interdependence did not add a statistically significant contribution to trust. It was safe to conclude that there was no direct effect of perceived task interdependence on trust. Rather, perceived task interdependence may influence trust through motivating virtual team members to engage in awareness conducts. This result implicated that awareness is a valuable mediating construct that may provide a link between group structural variables and group process outcomes.

The relationship between trust and awareness is worthy of further discussion. As noted previously, awareness may facilitate trust development by dissuading social loafing, promoting reliable and dependable conducts, and allowing confirmation on expectations. The implicit assumptions for the above effects to take place are that awareness is mutual and transparent. When awareness is mutual, all members have equal resources and authority to monitor others. Each team member can know as much about the other members as the other team members can know about him or her. When awareness is transparent, all team members know what information their partners can have access to. Both assumptions are important for trust building. When awareness is unilateral, it exposes the less privileged parties to the risk of being exploited by the opportunistic behaviors of the privileged members. When awareness is not transparent, team members do not have a good idea if any or which part of their work output will be visible it may encourage social loafing or decrease social facilitation effect. In this study, a mutual and transparent awareness environment was ensured by (1) the lateral structure of the design teams, which established equal privileges and, (2) the training on media and GroupAware, which familiarized participants with awareness or track-keeping related features in various tools.

Task Interdependence, Communication Frequency, GroupAware Use, and Awareness

Due to the contribution made by awareness toward trust, results regarding the antecedents of awareness are worthy of our attention. Task structure, communication frequency, and groupware use were proposed to affect the perceived level of awareness. Results showed that perceived task interdependence and communication frequency had positive effects on awareness.

Perceived task interdependence was positively associated with awareness. The more distant partners' input was needed for the project, the greater the impact would be if distant partners did not deliver on schedule. Therefore, virtual team participants were more driven to stay updated on their distant partners' progress when they perceived higher degree of task interdependence. Higher degree of task interdependence also led to more communication incidents, which, too, contributed to the level of awareness.

On the other hand, the effect of task interdependence on GroupAware usage was not significant. In addition, no conclusive relationship between GroupAware usage and the perceived level of awareness was found. Moreover, the negative association, even though not significant, between GroupAware usage and awareness level was not expected. There are two possible explanations of this result. Following the research hypotheses, which implied that awareness is a function of groupware usage, the result may be explained by tool proficiency. GroupAware usage included all page requests made by users. Participants who knew where to find the information in GroupAware would make fewer requests than those who did not. Therefore, high GroupAware usage might indicate less effective searches and lower awareness. However, the effect of tool proficiency should be mitigated in the long run. Frustrated users could drop out of using GroupAware or learn to use it efficiently. Both should lead to lower page requests over time.

An alternative way to explain the results would be to reverse the implied causal relationship in the research model. Instead of having perceived awareness as a function of groupware usage, we could posit groupware usage as a function of perceived awareness. When members were not able to stay updated on distant teammates' progress, they were more likely to initiate awareness conducts via available media and tools. This alternative explanation made sense especially for GroupAware usage, since GroupAware, as an awareness channel, required the least amount of effort from users to acquire information. When awareness needs arose, logging on GroupAware was the easiest action to take. It was also unobtrusive to distant partners and, therefore, a reasonable first step to address awareness needs. However, due to its limitation in interactivity, GroupAware may not have been the most effective awareness channel and, therefore, users' awareness needs were not necessary satisfied. In other words, the usage of GroupAware was more likely an indicator for awareness demand rather than awareness supply.

The ambiguity of the relationship between GroupAware usage and perceived awareness invites further discussion of awareness demand and satisfaction. The alternative explanation posits that groupware usage was influenced by the extent to which awareness demand was satisfied. When awareness supply does not meet the demand, more awareness conducts will be initiated. In the research hypotheses, awareness demand was implied in task interdependence. It was reasoned that, due to increasing coordination needs for highly interdependent task, virtual team members needed more frequent updates on each other's progress. The demand for awareness was considered to be embedded in the task structure. However, other groups' structural factors could also influence awareness demand. For future research, it should help to clarify the relationship between group structural variables and media behavior by clearly identifying the relationship of awareness demand and media behavior.

Limitations

This research had several limitations. First, the use of student subjects, instead of real engineers, restricts the generalizability of the results. Additionally, the two-site formation with multiple-member subgroups was a specific team structure. Scheduling real-time meetings could be more difficult if more than two sites were involved. Also, the multiple-member subgroup arrangement allowed one to acquire project updates without interacting with distant teammates or using groupware. This arrangement made it difficult to determine the relationship between media use and awareness. The variation of team structure should be considered in future studies.

CONCLUSION

With virtual teams being increasingly adopted by organizations to gain competitive advantages, it is imperative to further our understanding of effective team process and work relationship in this distributed work arrangement. The focus of this study was to investigate the difficulties virtual teams face in combating lack of awareness and in establishing trusting relationships. The results of this research indicated that both task structure and awareness level were positively associated with trust in virtual teams. Perceived task interdependence served as a motivator for both acquiring awareness information and developing trust with distant partners.

Since task interdependence is one of the parameters that managers have relatively more control over, organizations should pay attention to member composition and task design in forming virtual teams.

In addition, our results demonstrated the importance of awareness in developing and maintaining trust. Awareness played a pivotal role in task structure and trust between teammates. Virtual team managers should emphasize facilitating provision and acquisition of awareness information.

The relationship between media usage and awareness was more dynamic than the hypothesis indicated. Although communication frequency positively contributed to awareness level, usage of GroupAware was negatively associated with awareness. The causal direction suggested in the research model, awareness as a function of media usage, could only explain part of the findings. The results suggested that lack of awareness might drive virtual team members to use available media to stay updated. Therefore, low-effort awareness channels will more likely be associated with unsatisfied awareness demands. On the other hand, although direct contact with distant teammates often provided more awareness information, it required more coordination or cognitive efforts. Accordingly, in order to facilitate awareness, it is suggested increasing the awareness information supply of low-effort channels and to reduce the barriers of using higheffort channels.

In conclusion, despite its limitation, this study provided several insights on the relationships between awareness, task structure, media use, and trust in virtual teams. Results of this project showed that awareness provided a link between task structure and trust. It demonstrated that awareness could be an important variable of group processes. To further clarify the role of awareness in the context of distributed groups, more investigations on its relationship with other group structural variables and group outcome variables are needed.

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Chyng-Yang Jang is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Texas at Arlington. His research interests center on the design, implementation, use, and effects of communication technology in collaborative work and interpersonal contexts.
Table 1. Bivariate Correlation Matrix

                              TI         CF        TU        AW

Perceived Task
  Interdependence (TI)
Communication               .283 *
  Frequency (CF)
GroupAware Usage (TU)        .139      .313 *
Perceived Awareness (AW)   .473 ***    .299 *    -.164
Perceived Trust (TR)       .454 ***     .141      .020    .665 ***

N = 50
* significant at .05 level, ** significant at .01 level,
*** significant at .001 level

Table 2. Regression Analysis: Predicting Trust by
Perceived Awareness and Perceived Task Interdependence

Dependent Variable                      Trust
Model                         1               2               3

Independent             Standardized    Standardized    Standardized
Variables                Coefficient     Coefficient     Coefficient

Perceived task
interdependence (TI)       454 ***                          .186
Awareness (AW)                             665 ***        .579 ***
[R.sup.2]                   .206            .442            .469
F                         11.91 ***      36.458 ***      19.894 ***

N = 50
* significant at .05 level, ** significant at .01 level,
*** significant at .001 level
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Date:Jan 1, 2013
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