Abstract —In this paper, we present our more than two years research experiences on virtual R&D teams in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and draws conclusions, giving special attention to the structure of virtual teams required to support education-industry collaboration. We report the relevant results of an online survey study. The online questionnaire was emailed by using a simple random sampling method to 947 manufacturing SMEs. The findings of this study show that SMEs in Malaysia and Iran are willing to use virtual teams for collaboration and the platform for industry-education collaboration is ready and distance between team members or differences in time zones, are not barriers to industry-education collaborations.
Keywords —Collaboration, virtual teams, SMEs, Education
With the advent of the global economy and high-speed Internet, online collaboration is fast becoming the norm in education and industry . Information technology (IT) creates many new inter-relationships among businesses, expands the scope of industries in which a company must compete to achieve tcompetitive advantage. Information systems and technology allow companies to coordinate their activities in distant geographic locations . IT is providing the infrastructure necessary to support the development of new collaboration forms among industry and education. Virtual research and development (R&D) teams represent one such relational form, one that could revolutionize the workplace and provide organizations with unprecedented levels of flexibility and responsiveness [3-4]. Virtual teams give many advantages to organizations, including increased knowledge sharing  and improve organizational performance . Virtual teams have altered the expectations and boundaries of knowledge worker’s interactions. Many R&D organizations and teams currently use a specialized knowledge portal for research collaboration and knowledge management . Hence, the move towards a virtual world is becoming ever more relevant to industry and education as organizations outsource activities across national geographic boundaries .
The purpose of this study is to extend the research finding of virtual R&D teams in small and medium-sized enterprises to industry-education collaboration. The further outline of this paper is as first, discuss the different aspects of virtual teams and its relationships with SMEs, and then briefly explore the research methodology. Following, elaborate on the empirical findings and finally, analysis the data and conclude the paper.
II. Aspects of virtual teams
A. Definition of Virtual Team
Gassmann and Zedtwitz  defined “virtual team as a group of people and sub-teams which interact through interdependent tasks guided by common purpose and work across links strengthened by information, communication, and transport technologies”. Different authors have identified diverse definition . Reference  developed one of the most comprehensive and widely accepted definitions of virtual teams: “virtual team is the small temporary groups of geographically, organizationally and/or time dispersed knowledge workers who coordinate their work, predominantly with electronic information and communication technologies in order to accomplish one or more organization tasks”.
B. Benefits and pitfalls of virtual teams
The availability of a flexible and configurable base infrastructure is one of the main advantages of agile virtual teams . Virtual team may allow people to collaborate with more productivity at a distance . Virtual teams reduce time-to-market . Lead time or time to market has been generally admitted to be one of the most important keys for success in manufacturing companies . A potential advantage of virtual teams is their ability to digitally or electronically unite experts in highly specialized fields working at great distances from each other . Virtual teams are enlightening and managing creativity  and useful for projects that require cross-functional or cross boundary skilled inputs .
As a drawback, virtual teams are particularly weak at mistrust, communication and power struggles . Cultural and functional diversity in virtual teams leads to differences in the members thought processes . Virtual teams will not totally replace conventional teams. Although virtual teams are and will continue to be an important and necessary type of work arrangement, they are not appropriate for all circumstances . Hence, the complexity of management and coordination to choose the best collaboration tools will increases.
III. SMEs and Virtual teams
SMEs need to focus on core competences for efficiency matters; they need to cooperate with external partners such as an educational institute to compensate for other competences and resources. Reference  found that managers of SMEs should invest less in tangible assets, but more in those areas that will directly generate their future competitive advantage (e.g., in R&D to generate knowledge, and in their employees’ creativity to stimulate incremental innovations in already existing technologies). The combination of explosive knowledge growth and inexpensive information transfer creates a fertile soil for unlimited virtually invention . While, it is widely known that many big corporations have already invested in the information technology (IT) as they have come to realize the advantages and the competitive edge they will gain from IT. It is believed that SMEs, without investing heavily in total solution systems, can still benefit from the available information technology . Virtuality has been presented as one solution for SMEs aiming to increase their competitiveness . The SMEs are one of the sectors that have a strong potential to benefit from advances of virtual teams and the adaptation of new collaboration modes .
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