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How to Get Things Done in Social Virtual Reality -A Study of Team Cohesion in Social Virtual Reality-Enabled Teams

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Abstract

Social virtual reality (SVR) enables teams to operate in a virtual environment that simulates and enhances real-world interactions. However, there is an absence of empirical analysis of how SVR can affect the performance of virtual teams. This paper documents how SVR affects the formation of team cohesion (i.e., task cohesion and social cohesion), which is a critical success factor for team performance. To address this gap in the research, we conducted a qualitative study by interviewing 20 members from virtual teams assigned to perform a challenging collaborative task in SVR. As a contribution, our study identifies five primary affordances and 11 sub-affordances for team cohesion in SVR. We also found that team cohesion actualization was limited in the use of SVR environments of our study. However, we conclude that hindrances to team cohesion formation in SVR can be mitigated by focusing on the further development of material properties of SVR.
How to Get Things Done in Social Virtual Reality A Study of Team
Cohesion in Social Virtual RealityEnabled Teams
Osku Torro
Tampere University
osku.torro@tuni.fi
Henri Pirkkalainen
Tampere University
henri.pirkkalainen@tuni.fi
Jani Holopainen
University of Helsinki
jani.m.holopainen@helsinki.fi
Henri Jalo
Tampere University
henri.jalo@tuni.fi
Jani Holopainen
University of Helsinki
jani.m.holopainen@helsinki.fi
Antti Lähtevänoja
University of Jyväskylä
antti.lahtevanoja@helsinki.fi
Henri Jalo
Tampere University
henri.jalo@tuni.fi
Abstract
Social virtual reality (SVR) enables teams to
operate in a virtual environment that simulates and
enhances real-world interactions. However, there is
an absence of empirical analysis of how SVR can
affect the performance of virtual teams. This paper
documents how SVR affects the formation of team
cohesion (i.e., task cohesion and social cohesion),
which is a critical success factor for team
performance. To address this gap in the research, we
conducted a qualitative study by interviewing 20
members from virtual teams assigned to perform a
challenging collaborative task in SVR. As a
contribution, our study identifies five primary
affordances and 11 sub-affordances for team cohesion
in SVR. We also found that team cohesion
actualization was limited in the use of SVR
environments of our study. However, we conclude that
hindrances to team cohesion formation in SVR can be
mitigated by focusing on the further development of
material properties of SVR.
1. Introduction
Virtual reality (VR) is increasingly being used to
simulate business-critical activities in organizations
[14, 29]. The development of VR technology has
taken significant steps forward in the past couple of
years and is now rapidly meeting the expectations
researchers and practitioners placed on it over the
decades. As one indication of this improvement, many
of the world’s biggest software companies, such as
Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple, continue to make
vast investments in VR technology [3, 10, 34]. VR
market growth predictions also suggest that VR will
have significant role to play in organizations. For
instance, Grand View Research [9] expects VR
revenues to grow from $12 billion in 2020 to $72.8
billion by 2024.
Recent technical developments have enabled VR
to support multi-user scenarios. The number of Social
Virtual Reality (SVR) applications (i.e., a VR
environment that is used as a communication
platform) have increased rapidly in the last couple of
years [14, 29]. The use of SVR has the immediate
potential to transform how organizations handle their
remote-work practices, especially in terms of remote
collaboration in knowledge-intensive work [29]. Prior
studies have proposed that SVR can change remote
work by enabling new methods of social interaction
(e.g. [1, 12]) and thus, has a promise to enhance or
transform virtual team dynamics [24, 29].
Virtual teamwork is dependent on team cohesion,
defined as the shared bond/attraction that drives team
members to stay together and to want to work
together [22, p. 365]. A body of empirical research
highlights that team cohesion is critical for team
performance, especially in situations that involve
long-lasting collaboration on complex topics [22].
However, conventional remote-work tools struggle to
create and maintain team cohesion, a fact that
has become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic
[29]. It is likely that extensive remote working can
cause drops in organizational productivity that are
mainly due to decreases in innovation, creativity, and
informal sociability [8]. Accordingly, some
organizations are already looking into SVR to mitigate
these problems (e.g., [7, 33]). However, to the best of
our knowledge, no team level analysis of SVR use and
its outcomes has been empirically examined in prior
literature, which has mainly examined individuals’
perceptions of social interactions (e.g., [7, 11, 15, 18,
Proceedings of the 55th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences | 2022
Page 470
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10125/79387
978-0-9981331-5-7
(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
20, 31, 32]) and different forms of presence (e.g., [11,
24, 31]. Accordingly, the examination of team
cohesion formation as a critical performance indicator
for SVR enabled virtual teams has not been studied.
To address this research gap, we asked the
following research question: How does SVR contribute
to the formation of team cohesion in remote virtual
teams? This issue is critical because it is important to
know what factors contribute to the emergence of team
cohesion in SVR and thus to the performance of SVR-
enabled virtual teams. To answer the research
question, we carried out a qualitative study with a
semi-structured interview approach to examine the
study participants’ opinions in depth. This approach
enabled us to provide rich insights from previously
unmapped connections between IT features and user
perceptions [30].
As a theoretical contribution, we identify five
primary and 11 sub-affordances for team cohesion
formation in SVR. In our analysis, we also illustrate
hindrances to team cohesion formation and their
connection with the functional limitations of SVR’s
material properties. Identifying team cohesion
affordances in SVR also enables researchers to study
team dynamics and performance indicators in SVR.
As a practical contribution, providing understanding
on team cohesion formation in SVR helps system
architects and developers further develop critical
material properties of SVR that boost the performance
of SVR-enabled teams.
The rest of the article is structured as follows. In
Section 2, the theoretical background related to SVR,
team cohesion, and affordances is examined. Next, the
methodology of the study is described in Section 3.
Following this, we present the empirical findings of
our study. Lastly, the findings and contributions of the
study are discussed, followed by the limitations of the
study and some suggestions for future research.
2. Theoretical background
2.1. Social virtual reality
Social virtual reality refers to a VR environment
that is used as a communication platform that includes
different multi-user features, such as avatar-based
interaction, shared space, and tools for remote
collaboration [29]. The most studied attributes of SVR
include forms of presence (e.g., co-presence, “being
there with others”; [24, p. 438] and social interactions
(e.g., [12]). Immersion and spatial interaction have
been identified as contributing to the feeling of co-
presence [24], which is a critical difference between
SVR and other multi-user virtual environments [29].
Holopainen et al. [11] found design principles to
enhance sociability in VR environments. The study
suggests that the outcomes of social interactions in
SVR are, for example, improved co-creation and co-
innovation. Another study with an explicit focus on
SVR by Latoschik et al. [16] studied the relationship
between avatar realism, embodiment, and social
interactions. They found that more-realistic avatars
contribute to feelings of embodiment and higher
quality of social interactions. Many similar studies
concerning SVR environments have been conducted
(e.g., [7, 11, 15, 18, 20, 31, 32]). A common approach
in these studies has been to examine individuals’
perceptions of social interactions in SVR. However,
there is a lack of studies examining team outcomes
rather than individual perceptions. For this reason, this
study focuses on SVR use and participant teams’
shared experiences and outcomes, that is, team
cohesion. Another reason to adopt team cohesion as an
analytical framework is that it has strong empirical
links to team performance [22].
2.2. Team cohesion and affordances
Team cohesion, which includes social- and task-
cohesion elements, correlates strongly with team
performance [22]. Task cohesion is “an attraction or
bonding between group members that is based on a
shared commitment to achieve the group’s goals and
objectives” [22, p. 368]. In addition, social cohesion
has been defined as “a closeness and attraction within
the group that is based on social relationships” [22, p.
368].
Achieving team cohesion in VR can be difficult.
According to Dede et al. [6], VR environments must
be designed especially carefully when the goal is to
solve complex problems. In terms of the plan, act,
reflect cycle, Dede et al. recognized that planning in
VR is often difficult. Acting (i.e., learning-by-doing)
works well, while reflecting tends to be difficult.
On the other hand, including elements of social
interaction in VR can significantly improve its
potential for the acquisition of skills and knowledge
[6, 29]. Furthermore, many scholars agree that VR has
long been a promising tool for facilitating
collaboration [1, 24] and the effects of embodiment
and different forms of presence have been recognized
to have the potential to affect group dynamics in
virtual teams [24, 29]. However, there is basically no
research on SVR system or technology features that
enable or enhance collaboration, and extant VR
affordance research (e.g., [26]) has identified
collaboration as merely one of the generalized
affordances created by VR but has not studied this
social aspect in depth.
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In the information systems (IS) literature,
affordances have been used to explain the
relationships between system features and their
outcomes. Bernhard et al. [4] defined an affordance
process as including affordance existence, perception,
actualization, and outcomes. They defined affordance
existence as the outputs of organizational strategies
and technological features; that is, affordances exist as
a result of these two main factors. Affordance
perception is an individual process where previous
experiences and perceptions play a major role.
Furthermore, some existing affordances may be
perceived and some not. The same applies
to affordance actualization: Some perceived and
recognized affordances are further actualized and
some not. The last phase is the affordance outcomes,
representing the meaningful results in terms of
organizational, systemic, or individual goals. Strong et
al. [28] suggest that there is a feedback loop from the
affordance outcomes that reshapes organizational
strategies, as well as technological features, and thus
the affordance existence.
Furthermore, we draw from Markus and Silver
[19] and describe the essential features of the
technology as material properties. This analytical
framing helps us provide a framework for how SVR’s
material properties can be used to enhance virtual-
team performance. The framework combines the
affordance process [4] as well as team cohesion
elements [22] which are further categorized under
primary- and sub-affordances (e.g., [26]), i.e., higher
order abstractions and latent constructs.
3. Method
The objective of this study required data on how
members of virtual teams experienced the formation
of team cohesion in SVR. We chose to use a
qualitative approach based on interview data to target
the interviewees experiences of using SVR. We used
this approach because qualitative methods can provide
rich and previously unmapped insights about the
connections between IT features and user perceptions
[30].
3.1. Data collection
The empirical data were collected from student
teams working on a six-week knowledge work
assignment. The assignment was part of a masters
level university course about organizational
teamwork. Each virtual team was assigned a
challenging task in SVR to complete over a six-week
period. To improve the transferability of the findings
of our study into other contexts, the task was structured
to meet the requirements of collaborative knowledge
work (e.g., a need for open-ended problem solving and
the mental alignment of participants). In their tasks,
the teams focused on the organizational adoption
and/or use of an emerging technology in a context of
their own choosing. Teams used Oculus Quest head-
mounted displays in their meetings and experimented
with multiple SVR platforms, such as Spatial,
Immersal, Big Screen, Glue, AltspaceVR, and XR
Campus (a large-scale collaborative SVR platform
that was in an early alpha phase during data
collection). From these options, each team selected
Spatial as the main platform for their collaboration.
Twenty semi-structured interviews were
conducted for the study between October 2020 and
March 2021. The interviews lasted between 30 and 60
minutes. The interviewees were asked to reflect on
their SVR user experiences and specifically to reflect
on the potentials and bottlenecks, as well as their
ability to use SVR in virtual teamwork. All interviews
were held via video conferencing, and interviews were
recorded and transcribed for later analysis. Data were
collected by interviewing each member of the virtual
teams (a total of six teams with three to four members
each). All the interviewees were students in the age
range of 21 to 30. Twelve of the interviewees were
women (60%) and eight were men (40%). Eighteen
interviewees were Finns and two were French.
3.2. Data analysis
In this study, we analyzed individual users’
perceptions and actions in terms of task and social
cohesion formation in SVR. The analysis followed the
affordance process framework [4] i.e., analysis of the
affordance perceptions and actualizations. Perceptions
that were not fully actualized allowed us to interpret
hindrances which are our propositions to be solved by
the future research and designs. All task and team
cohesion affordances were categorized according to
primary affordances and sub-affordances (e.g., [26]).
Our research approach can be considered as an
interpretive case study [23]. In the process of
qualitative and interpretive data analysis, we drew
from Berg [3] and formed overarching categories from
prior literature, created data-driven categories and
coding schemes, searched for patterns, and reflected
on the findings in the context of prior research.
Initially, task cohesion and social cohesion were
selected as the overarching categories for the analysis
because of their strong empirical links with team
performance [22]. Notes from the interviews were
then assigned individual labels and grouped under the
two aforementioned categories. We continuously
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ensured that the labels were compatible with the data
and literature.
4. Findings
In this section, we present the qualitative findings
of our study, distinguishing primary and sub-
affordances for task and social cohesion, which are
critical components in team cohesion formation. We
also describe how different hindrances prevent the
actualization of these affordances in SVR. Our
findings and examples from data are summarized in
Tables 1 and 2.
4.1. Task cohesion
Shared sense-making
Shared sense-making (i.e., the team’s ability to
understand and communicate task-related topics) was
identified as one of the primary affordances for task
cohesion formation in SVR. In addition, dialogue and
information transfer were identified as sub-
affordances for shared sense-making.
The basic building block of dialogue was avatar-
based interaction, including both verbal and nonverbal
communication. In addition, shared space and spatial
sound contributed to dialogue quality. When people
presented task-related content in VR, 2D screens and
3D objects were also used in creating dialogues. In
addition, material properties such as emojis and voice-
talk indicators were perceived to enhance nonverbal
communication, distinguishing the use of SVR from
face-to-face communication. As one interviewee
noted, We did not talk over each other that much in
VR. We could hear who was talking and where the
sounds were coming from. We also used emojis in turn
taking.
However, the lack of richness in nonverbal
communication hindered dialogue because
participants were not able to perceive each others
nonverbal cues in discussions. An inability to hold
private or small-group discussion due to spatial
limitations also decreased dialogue: It would be nice
to discuss with someone in private, or in a small group.
Then you could continue discussing your own stuff
without interrupting others or breaking your own chain
of thoughts.
Another sub-affordance of shared sense-making
was information transfer, where asynchronous
communication (e.g., sticky notes), content
persistence, as well as shared space as a living 3D
document were perceived as useful properties; for
example, It was good that the environment was
saved. We used the Lean Canvas model and PESTEL,
and later were able to return to what had been done
before.”
However, an inefficient asynchronous
communication pipeline (e.g., the inability to edit
cloud documents) was seen as a hindrance to
information transfer. In addition, a lack of task-related
content decreased information transfer. Here, one
interviewee expresses frustration at how difficult it
was to get content into SVR and the potential thus lost:
I thought that sharing content would have been easier.
There should be like 20 displays open [in VR], with all
the information available.
Shared focus
Shared focus (i.e., the team’s ability to focus on the
task at hand) was perceived as one of the most
fundamental benefits of using SVR in remote
collaboration and was thus selected as a primary
affordance of task cohesion formation in SVR. More
specifically, task-related focus and co-presence were
seen as important sub-affordances. In SVR, immersive
spatial communication and interaction (in addition to
the use of head-mounted displays that isolate users
from the real world and other IT interferences)
resulted in an increase in both task-related focus and
co-presence. As one of the interviewees stated, “You
could see another person’s body [as an avatar] in the
same room. You see the hands, and everything that
represents the other person... It felt like everyone was
100% present.”
Additionally, task-related focus was enhanced by
material properties such as nonverbal communication
(e.g., gaze and hand gestures) and tools or features that
help focus attention (e.g., laser pointers). Shared
space, avatar-based interaction, and status display
features (e.g., mute) increased co-presence. However,
difficulty in prioritizing or filtering task-related
content was seen to decrease task-related focus.
There were also at least three hindrances that
decreased co-presence: (1) chaotic or too-fast
movement of other avatars, (2) difficulty tracking the
location of other avatars in a shared environment, (3)
difficulties in perceiving user status (e.g., offline).
Shared workflows
Shared workflow (i.e., the ability of the team to
perform and coordinate tasks) was the last primary
affordance identified under the affordances
contributing to task cohesion. Role and task
assignment was found to be a sub-affordance, with
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Table 1. Task cohesion affordances in SVR: affordance actualizations and hindrances
Task cohesion
Primary
affordances
Example from data
Affordance actualization
Hindrances
Shared
sense-
making
“We watched documents together in
VR, and body language such as hand
movements was conveyed relatively
well. It felt almost like a face-to-face
meeting. VR is good if you have to
discuss technical issues, for example.
Interview 10, male, 28 years old.
The lack of richness in nonverbal
communication (decrease in dialogue): It
[the lack of realistic avatar gaze] was
difficult when you couldn’t target speech to
an individual rather than to a group.”
Interview 19, female, 24 years old.
“When you turn your head, there can
be information anywhere. Old and new
content, such as notes, and screens,
were left to settle [in the virtual space].
You could go and check that content
without disturbing others in the same
space.” Interview 5, male, 26 years old.
Inefficient asynchronous communication
pipeline (decrease in information transfer):
“After the meeting, we have to write the
documents separately outside VR.”
Interview 11, female, 22 years old.
Shared
focus
“We were forced to focus on a task at
hand because multitasking is difficult in
VR. In Teams one can do the dishes at
the same time!” Interview 20, female,
27 years old.
Difficulty prioritizing or filtering task-related
content (decrease in task-related focus):
There should be a dedicated object that
would draw attention to a specific point. In
this way, one would be able to have more
controlled discussions.” Interview 15,
female, 23 years old.
“There was a feeling of group
cohesion. You can move, move around
with others, sit with others. There was
a much stronger feeling of working
together.” Interview 13, male, 21 years
old.
Difficulties perceiving user status
(decrease in co-presence): “There should
be an option available to indicate that you
are not currently available. Users were
jumping between VR and the real world,
which made things unclear.” Interview 7,
female, 25 years old.
Shared
workflows
“Setting up group roles, such as in
terms of retrieving and sharing
information, was easy because we
were in the same space. In Teams or
Zoom there's always someone who
shares the screen, in VR we just take
turns.” Interview 7, male, 25 years old.
Difficulty sharing and assigning tasks
(decrease in role and task assignment):
There should be ready-made tasks in VR,
so that we wouldn’t have to spend time
writing them down in VR.” Interview 10,
male, 29 years old.
“We used sticky notes and drawing
features. It was easy to illustrate your
ideas while brainstorming. It was about
doing things together.” Interview 14,
female, 22 years old.
Inefficient user input (decrease in
collaborative work): “Typing in VR was
really slow. Presentations and
conversations succeeded, but it was
difficult to create something new.”
Interview 6, female, 23 years old.
three advancing properties: conventional role and task
assignment (e.g., user profiles connected to tasks), ecologically valid role and task assignment (e.g., a
virtual presentation booth or sticky notes), and
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transparent task and project management systems
(e.g., Kanban boards). In general, role assignment in
SVR was perceived to be intuitive; for example, “In
VR, someone just picked up the microphone, and his
voice was amplified over others.” However, difficulty
sharing and assigning tasks was seen as a hindrance to
role and task assignment.
Another sub-affordance was collaborative work,
which was enhanced by shared space and
collaboration tools (e.g., 2D screens, whiteboards, and
sticky notes) and task-related interactions. As one
interviewee described, “Drawing and explaining
schemes and ideas to others worked well. However,
inefficient user input was seen as a serious hindrance
to collaborative work. All interviewees agreed that this
hindered collaborative work considerably; for
example, Collaboration was really hard. When we
had to write things down quickly, everything became
really complicated. Other significant hindrances to
collaborative work were inefficient workflows and
content pipelines between VR and the real world, such
as an inability to use a shared browser in VR.
4.2. Social cohesion
Enhancing task relationships
In terms of enhancing task relationships (i.e., social
bonding through tasks), the first sub-affordance
recognized was monitoring of user participation and
performance, which many participants saw as a natural
outcome of using SVR. Spatial collaboration and
communication in a shared space (e.g., drawing on a
whiteboard or small-group discussions) enabled
participants to concretely perceive how others did their
part and contributed to the performance of tasks. As
one interviewee described, “It felt like talking to
people, and being in the same place with them, and not
just talking to a screen. You could see if everyone was
involved.”
Table 2. Social cohesion affordances in SVR: affordance actualizations and hindrances
Social cohesion
Primary
affordances
Sub-
affordances
Example from data
Affordance actualization
Hindrances
Enhancing
task
relationships
Monitoring of
user
participation
and
performance
“In VR, you can see if someone is
holding a phone. You can see how they
are participating and contributing.”
Interview 17, male, 24 years old.
Inefficient and non-transparent
workflows (decrease in monitoring of
user participation and performance):
“The lack of transparency was a
problem. There [in a virtual space]
should be an old-fashioned project
room, and an ability to print [task
related content] to the walls. When
everything would be visually there, it
would be clearer.” Interview 10, male,
28 years old.
Reciprocity
“It [working together in VR] was more
motivating than in Teams. This was an
especially positive thing when there
was a new person in the group. I also
discussed more with others in VR that I
would normally do in Teams.” Interview
8, female, 24 years old.
Inefficient and non-transparent
workflows (decrease in reciprocity):
“There were no tools in VR. There
should be a VR desktop that can be
shared with others, to share a code, pair
encoding, for example, so I could show
others that I was doing this kind of
function.” Interview 7, male participant,
25 years old.
Enhancing
social
relationships
Individuating
information
“Being able to customize your avatar
was important in order to recognize
team members.” Interview 1, male, 25
years old.
The lack of informative avatar profiles
(decrease in individuating information):
“Should you introduce yourself or stay
still? [Via avatar profiles] you could see
who is who. Being able to connect [real
persons and avatars] would make
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things easier.” Interview 15, female
participant, 23 years old.
Emotional
communication
“Recognizing the avatar's facial
expressions was important even though
the mouth and eyes were faked to
move according to the user’s real
movements.” Interview 1, male, 25
years old.
The lack of richness in nonverbal
communication (decrease in emotional
communication): “Now you cannot see
how the other user actually feels. You
can blame the technology, go hiding,
and claim that there was a poor
connection. Better avatars would help a
lot. Interview 11, female, 22 years old.
Informality and
playfulness
“We took some pictures and videos
from the Web, laughed together, and
noticed that the group did well and was
comfortable being together.” Interview
1, male. 25 years old.
The lack of informal content and
interactions (decrease in informality and
playfulness): “Gamified [informal]
content would allow people to get to
know each other and be more relaxed.”
Interview 19, female, 24 years old.
The second sub-affordance was reciprocity (i.e.,
focusing on the reciprocal performance of tasks and an
ability to provide help and feedback). For example,
mechanisms for feedback such as gestures and emojis
were seen beneficial for this sub-affordance. However,
significant hindrances for both sub-affordances
(monitoring of user participation and performance and
reciprocity) included inefficient and non-transparent
workflows.
Enhancing social relationships
Enhancing social relationships (i.e., social bonding
through sociability) was recognized as a second
primary affordance of social cohesion. Three sub-
affordances were identified: individuating
information, emotional communication, and
informality and playfulness. Avatar customization
enhanced individuating information when participants
were able to customize avatars based on their
preferences or real-life appearance (e.g., cartoonish
avatars built from photos). The lack of realistic facial
information showed a decrease in individuating
information but also, interestingly, had a positive
effect on sociability for one participant: “It felt
relieving to note that no one knew who you really were
or what you looked like.” The lack of individuating
information in avatar profiles (e.g., showing users’
organizational position) also hindered individuating
information, emotional communication, and
informality and playfulness.
Another sub-affordance was emotional
communication, which was enhanced by the increase
in an avatar’s behavioral realism (e.g., gestures), or
enhancements in nonverbal communication (e.g.,
gestures with sound and visual effects). However, the
lack of richness in nonverbal communication was a
hindrance in emotional communication as participants
were not able to accurately perceive and predict each
other’s emotional states in SVR. Avatar’s accurate
behavioral realism (e.g., gaze and facial expressions)
was one of the most important material properties of
SVR that the participants missed the most in terms of
creating social cohesion.
The last sub-affordance was named informality
and playfulness, which was enhanced with material
properties such as games and interactivity, avatar
customization (e.g., non-human or otherwise
transformed avatars), shared informal content (e.g.,
video wall), and customizable environment. The
following quote is illustrative with respect to how
many interviewees enjoyed each other’s company in
SVR: The conversation got sidetracked Someone
found a cat, and soon we had six cats and a campfire.
But this was welcome, because there hadnt been
much contact between team members [during
COVID-19], and now we were able to act like clowns.
This kind of stuff increases team bonding.However,
the lack of informal content and interactions led to a
decrease in informality and playfulness, as
opportunities for informal socialization were limited.
5. Discussion
The present study contributes to the scarce SVR
literature, which has so far mainly focused on
individual perceptions of social interactions (e.g., [7,
11, 15, 18, 20, 31, 32]) and different forms of presence
(e.g., [11, 24, 31]. Although the use of SVR in
enterprises is growing [28, 14], there is currently a lack
of research systematically focusing on team cohesion
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or other performance indicators of SVR-enabled
teams.
Solving complex problems in VR has often been
challenging [6], but the potential for increasing team
performance with VR has also been noted in the
literature [24, 28]. However, the relationship between
certain material properties of SVR and social
interaction, as well as team cohesion outcomes, i.e.,
affordances, have not been systematically researched.
This formed the basis of the motivation and analytical
framework for this study’s research question: How
does SVR contribute to the formation of team
cohesion in remote virtual teams?
In our analysis, we identified five primary
affordances and 11 sub-affordances for team cohesion
in SVR (Tables 1 and 2). We also found that the SVR
environments in our study did not enable the full
actualization of team cohesion affordances, and the
root cause for these hindrances was found in the
functional limitations of SVR’s material properties.
However, more efficient material properties in
SVR are constantly being introduced, and recent
examples from industry show that SVR can already
facilitate effective teamwork. For example, some of
the newest SVR applications can now effortlessly tap
into outside workflows (e.g., annotations made on 3D
models in SVR can be transferred into related 2D
design software) [13]. Hardware advancements in
head-mounted displays (e.g., accurate eye tracking in
the HP Reverb G2 and Varjo XR-3) are also increasing
the behavioral realism of avatars in SVR, which can
help more fully actualize some of the sub-affordances
identified in our study, such as dialogue, task-related
focus, and emotional communication. Furthermore,
major industry players are investing heavily in
increasing avatars' visual realism [5]. See-through
keyboards (i.e., ability to see and use a physical
keyboard in VR) are also starting to become available,
increasing the input options for users [27].
These examples show that mitigating the
hindrances of team cohesion formation in SVR and,
ultimately, getting things done in SVR can be achieved
by focusing on the development of critical material
properties of SVR. Through these developments, we
believe that SVR can further redefine conventional
online collaboration practices in organizations. Based
on the findings of our paper, we argue that SVR
enables new methods of problem solving, increases
task-related focus, and improves social relations that,
interestingly, are all well-known bottlenecks in high-
performing remote work.
5.2. Research and practical contributions
Studying affordances for team cohesion (i.e., task
and social cohesion) enabled us to study team
performance indicators in SVR-enabled virtual teams.
By identifying five primary and 11 sub-affordances for
team cohesion and illustrating the connection between
hindrances to team cohesion formation and functional
limitations of the material properties of SVR, our
study provides a theoretical framework for IS
research, focusing on team dynamics and performance
in SVR. This is important because our study also
improves the understanding of SVR as a novel
sociotechnical system that enables organizations to
revamp their (often inefficient) remote work practices.
As a practical contribution, one of the main take-
aways of our paper is that SVR enables unique
mechanisms for team cohesion formation, but there
are still many hindrances that prevent this from
happening. Understanding team cohesion formation in
SVR helps organizations further develop critical
material properties of SVR that can boost the
performance of virtual teams and lead to productivity
gains in remote work. We also believe that our study
has vast implications for many organizations using
SVR across different fields, such as in education and
business.
5.2. Limitations and future topics
One of the aims of this study is to provide a basis
for identifying critical material properties for team
cohesion formation in SVR, which we did not
systematically conduct due to the scope of the study.
Another limitation in our study was the limited amount
of SVR platforms tested. Furthermore, the interview
sample (students, mostly Finns) might emphasize
affordances and experience team cohesion formation
differently than if the sample were drawn from other
countries or segments of the population. The
transferability of our findings into the context
knowledge work and virtual teams would also benefit
from longitudinal data from authentic SVR use in
virtual teams. As our subjective and interpretive
analysis is prone to bias, team cohesion formation
could also be measured quantitatively. However, as
the features of the SVR environment can be strictly
controlled, the potential for rigorous experiments
examining how certain features and material
properties of SVR affect team cohesion formation in
SVR hold much promise.
Page 477
6. Conclusion
This study found that SVR has novel affordances
for team cohesion, but their actualization was limited.
However, our analysis suggests that further
development of the material properties of SVR can
significantly improve team cohesion formation in
SVR. When more efficiently functioning material
properties of SVR are introduced, and affordances for
team cohesion will be more fully actualized, SVRs
potential to facilitate virtual teamwork is significantly
increased.
Acknowledgements
This research was co-funded by ECIU University
project (612521-EPP-1-2019-1-NL-EPPKA2-EUR-
UNIV), European Universities funding.
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