ITcon Vol. 22, pg. 287-304,

The impact of avatars, social norms and copresence on the collaboration effectiveness of AEC virtual teams

submitted:May 2017
revised:October 2017
published:December 2017
editor(s):Amor R.
authors:Anne Anderson, Assistant Professor
School of Design and Construction, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA

Carrie Sturts Dossick, Professor
Department of Construction Management, University of Washington

Josh Iorio, Assistant Professor of Practice
Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Virginia Tech

John E. Taylor, Professor
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech
summary:A growing number of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms are outsourcing complex design and construction work to international vendors. Due to the significant geographic distances that can separate project team members in global design networks, much of this work is executed in virtual teams, defined as teams composed of geographically separated members who collaborate to accomplish organizational tasks mediated by technology. The challenges of working in geographically distributed networks have prompted the development of alternative, virtual workspaces. Questions remain on how these virtual workspaces support or hinder collaborative work. People are social beings that rely on body language and other non-verbal cues to communicate. What happens to team formation and collaborative effectiveness when non-verbal cues are mediated through avatar actions? In this paper, qualitative ethnographic data collected over four years from studies conducted in a 3D virtual world are used to examine collaboration effectiveness of global virtual engineering project teams. We found that avatar movement and position was effective at communicating nonverbal information, even when done so unintentionally. Avatar actions that map to established social norms in the physical world results in more efficient communication. Collaboration was also enhanced when gesture bubbles were used for backchannel communication and when text chat was used to avoid interrupting voice communication. We found collaboration was hindered when the learning curve was too steep for participants to adapt to tool use or avatar actions in the environment. These findings have important implications for the future of collaboration in virtual environments, particularly in the AEC industry where 3D models can be imported into the virtual environment and explored synchronously by a project team.
keywords:BIM coordination, collaboration technologies, distributed teams, social norms, virtual worlds
full text: (PDF file, 1.264 MB)
citation:Anderson A, Sturts Dossick C, Iorio J, Taylor JE (2017). The impact of avatars, social norms and copresence on the collaboration effectiveness of AEC virtual teams, ITcon Vol. 22, pg. 287-304,