As employers begin to see the benefits of non-traditional workplaces, virtual teams are becoming a popular option. Remote workers allow you to select the best and brightest team members irrespective of location. In this digital win-win scenario, employers benefit from quality work while employees enjoy the freedom of working remotely. However, there are a few key challenges for virtual teams that are important to understand in order to succeed.
By understanding these unique needs, you’ll be able to prevent larger issues from developing.
What are virtual teams?
Virtual teams are a group of people who work together but are not located in the same place. It may be a team of employees who work in different offices or people who work from their homes. As technological advances such as email, and other forms of communication possible, the virtual team has become more popular, specially after COVID19 in 2020.
The increased use virtual teams
More than ever, businesses are hosting the majority of their infrastructure online. This means that people across the world can simultaneously access the same project and chat as easily as if they were in person.
Digital workplaces and virtual teams are now popular options for forward-thinking employers. The idea of the digital nomad fairly new, but it points to a growing need for flexibility within the workplace.
That’s why many companies opt for virtual teams over traditional brick-and-mortar operations.
Virtual teams leadership
Since virtual teams in the workplace require special structure, managers need to understand how to properly run this type of workplace and the importance of time management.
In some cases, it’s helpful to outline communication guidelines to ensure that everyone is on the same page. A strong manager will be able to create a structured digital workplace that lets everyone work together cohesively.
Create a project milestone, a key tool for project managers while planning, they can indicate a project deliverable, successful completion of a phase, or a critical deadline for your team or your clients.
The role business leaders take in supporting virtual teams
After a solid foundation of training and task management is in place, virtual team managers can enjoy the freedoms of working with a flexible team.
You have to see the big picture, understand what parts must be present, and know where people could go wrong. Using a risk assessment matrix will help visualize this process and will assist in your project risk assessment.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are verifiable studies that point to remote workers being happier and more efficient. Virtual teams are an investment that pays off through a 13.5% increase in efficiency.
The 9 virtual team challenges and solutions
The challenges of virtual teams are both common and manageable. If you can create a system that supports the entire team, regardless of their locations, everyone can be successful. There are many benefits and challenges of virtual teams, we will focus on the 9 main challenges and the solutions.
Follow this list to learn how to overcome challenges of virtual teams:
1. Differences in communication style
One of the main challenges with virtual teams is communication. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to communication. Some people prefer to be reached via email while others do best with instant messaging.
You need to effectively manage your virtual team communication style and create a structure that supports collaboration.
It’s good practice to have set business hours when teammates must be online. For digital nomads, this means they can choose to live in Bali as long as they’re online for part of their day.
Make sure your employees understand what the expected level of communication is. When someone encounters a problem, welcome collaboration and brainstorming just as you would with a physical team, showing them the importance of teamwork.
Communication is the bane of any successful virtual or physical workplace. Leading a virtual team requires a strong manager to pull things together and create a productive team.
2. Lack of structure
Much like communication, a lack of defined structure can create problems with virtual teams. Make sure you are constantly reviewing your process and procedures to be as efficient as possible. Conducting a workflow analysis can help you better understand how your process works.
Solution: Defined workflow
It’s important to have clearly defined standards and an online workflow that supports the process. There are many online tools that allow teammates around the world to collaborate with ease. There’s no one tool that will work for everyone, but many virtual teams have found having a central hub for information to be helpful.
3. Not the right tools
When you’re all working in a physical office, it’s hard to ignore obvious gaps in necessary technology. Your teammates will thrive when they have access to the best equipment.
Keep things up to date even if you never get to see a person using these tools due to location. Some business owners add a technology loan clause into their employee contracts. After a brief trial period, these employees will get their own work equipment shipped to them.
Solution: Invest on the right tool
By investing in the right tools, you’ll be boosting your company’s ability to deliver great services. So, make sure that you have a plan for keeping technology up to date for all employees.
When you’re spending money, but never seeing where it’s going, something interesting happens. You become distrustful.
Example of challenges of managing virtual teams: a co-worker might notice that one person never responds quickly and begins to feel that they’re working more than others. Suddenly, a great member of your team feels withdrawn and defensive.
Distrust is one of the most serious challenges of digital teams. Make sure that your task management tools are transparent. This will allow you to see set data on how much work each employee is completing each week.
Solution: Be transparent with your workload
The more transparency there is on how much work is being done by each staff member, the better. Distrust develops when a misunderstanding turns into something more serious.
5. Distracting environments
Everyone loves working from home or the beach – but it’s possible to have too much of a good time while you’re working remotely.
Virtual teams often struggle with distracting environments. Each distraction diminishes the efficiency of usually well-performing employees.
Solution: Set standards and guidelines for employees
To best manage this problem, you will want to set standards and guidelines for each employee. Best discussed in a one-to-one meeting, you should make it clear that work hours and quality must be maintained as seriously as they are in traditional offices.
6. Slow response times
Slow response times is a common challenge when it comes to leading virtual teams. Each member should join the team understanding that their flexible work location does come with some structure. Doing so will prevent delays and other setbacks from happening in the future.
All teams must operate under certain deadlines and schedules. If progress is being slowed by timezone differences, a structure must be set up to support everyone.
Solution: Maintain semi-regular business hours
If you want to maintain the most efficient workflows possible, you will need to maintain semi-regular business hours. This means that, at some point in the day, there must be a period when everyone is online and available to communicate, this will improve employee productivity and communication.
7. A lack of office culture
This challenge can be a tricky one to manage. It’s hard to create an awesome office culture when you’re lacking an office. Colleagues may go days without “speaking” to each other and it’s likely that they’ll never meet in person.
Solution: Create a strong office culture
It’s important to create an office culture nonetheless. Having company and department instant message groups can help build an ongoing conversation. Swap memes, share weekend stories and ask your team about their hobbies whenever possible. Opportunities for bonding should be encouraged to build a great office culture for virtual teams.
8. Managing the budget
It can be easy for individual teammates to lose track of the time they’re spending on certain projects. Without proper management, it is quick to go over budget. It’s important to follow the phases of project management so you can do it efficiently.
Although virtual teams tend to save employers around $2,000 per year per employee, it’s still possible to lose track of how long certain processes are taking. Make sure that department heads and managers have frequent, or daily, tasks to check in on team efficiency.
If you notice a dip from month to month, make sure you speak to those team members to get things back on track. Oftentimes, employees can benefit from manager guidance to maintain timelines.
Solution Strong structure and communication
A virtual team should have a strong structure that allows the business to be scalable over time. If projects aren’t managed on an hourly basis, you could be losing some of the profitability of a virtual team.
9. Scheduling meetings
Since many virtual teams find themselves working from different places in the world, setting up a meeting can be difficult.
When your team works on vastly different schedules, everyone must compromise. This means some people may need to log in to work extra early on a Monday “morning” to be able to meet with the rest of the team in their geographical afternoon.
Solution: Schedule meetings suitable for the team
Meetings are an important part of bringing teams together through human interaction. Whether they’re held weekly or daily, meetings allow everyone to clear the air and check in on progress. Scheduling a virtual teams meeting at a convenient and accessible time may take some planning, but it will be well worth it.
The best virtual activities for remote team
Your employees can get to know each other, wherever they are. There are many team building solutions you can try, from simple and spontaneous games to very well-structured programs. Find inspiration in the list below to build a fun virtual team building plan to keep your employees engaged and connected.
- Start a ‘good news’ conversation.
- Encourage recognition.
- Celebration hub: to nurture a great company culture.
- A slack channel to post cute pictures of pets.
Managing virtual teams doesn’t have to be difficult. Sure, there are some challenges you will need to overcome, but they’re more virtual teams benefits!
If you implement simple solutions like the ones mentioned throughout this blog post, it’ll take no time for your remote team to work as efficiently as an in-office team!