This Perspectives article seeks to redirect research on distributed (also referred to as virtual) groups, a well-established organizational phenomenon in which group members are separated by one or more forms of distance (e.g., geographic or temporal). Such distances directly affect individual behavior and shape other features of the context that alter group processes (e.g., by forcing groups to adopt new communication tools). Prior research has examined isolated effects of various dimensions of virtuality without considering how these effects on individual behavior and group dynamics might have conceptually related underpinnings. To address this gap, we propose an extension of construal-level theory as a way to link the effects of virtuality through a common mediating mechanism. According to construal-level theory, events or objects that are physically or temporally distant are also distant psychologically and thus are likely to be described in terms of their general characteristics. In contrast, views of more proximal events or objects will be more detailed and nuanced. We develop propositions that illustrate how objective dimensions of distance create psychological distance and how that in turn affects how individuals view and interact with their teammates. We also develop propositions that show. how the context of the distributed group (e.g., technology usage) affects this process over time. We compare and link this construal-based approach to alternatives based in theories of computer-mediated communication and social identity, and we thereby show that construal-level theory offers both parsimonious explanations and novel predictions about how and why distance alters perceptions of distributed group members (including oneself). Finally, we consider theoretical and practical implications of construal-level theory for future organization science research and the management of virtual teams.
Wilson, J., Crisp, C. B., & Mortensen, M. (2013). Extending construal-level theory to distributed groups: Understanding the effects of virtuality. Organization Science, 24(2), 629-644.