It is becoming more common for organizations to collaborate with some remote virtual teams. Nowadays, thanks to technological developments such as instant messaging, web conferencing, and online project management, employees can work outside their offices.
And that’s where virtual teams come into the picture. A virtual team refers to colleagues that work remotely from different places such as co-working offices or home. These people work on one team and towards the same goals.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 3.6% of the U.S. workforce, or 5 million employees, work from their homes at least 50% of the time. Companies worldwide are completely revamping their working arrangements to adapt to the fact that company workers are already mobile; especially entrepreneurs.
Some of the professionals who work in virtual teams include: software developers, website designers, marketers, and salespersons, among others. For remote job of website designers, website builders are the best tools to efficiently complete any task, and you can check an online comparison for more info if you are a web designer. In addition to that, virtual teams provide both companies and employees numerous benefits (more on that below). But working virtually isn’t always a walk in the park. Virtual teams face their share of challenges and difficulties. In order to fully realize the benefits of working virtually, you need to first know the challenges virtual teams face, and then how to solve them.
Read on to find out!
Benefits of virtual teams
Virtual teams are a great alternative for small businesses. When getting started, many small companies and startups operate virtually as it helps them reduce small business costs.
Virtual teams provide businesses the opportunity to employ experienced staff, such as telecommuters and freelancers, at a lower investment. What’s more, working with virtual teams enables you to bypass many of the challenges associated with scaling, such as adding additional office space.
Virtual teams can also:
- Improve efficiency, productivity, and flexibility
- Increase the availability of top talent
- Reduce unnecessary meetings
- Decrease employee turnover
- Boost employees’ happiness and satisfaction
Challenges of virtual teams and possible solutions
As you can see, virtual teams can offer many benefits. That said, they can also present many challenges. Without fully understanding the challenges and how to solve them, virtual teams can be quite difficult to manage. Some of the biggest challenges of remote teams include:
1. Poor communication
When working remotely, there is the absence of non-verbal cues. These cues are vital for building trust between new employees. There’s no shortage of communication tools, such as instant messaging, videoconferencing, phone, and email. But people need to have a knack for when, what, and how to utilize these tools to ensure their effectiveness.
Many times, team members are left in the dark without detailed timelines, clear roles or responsibilities, or status updates on the progress of the current project. This makes it difficult to get the big-picture view of how their work is adding value to the project, as well as the organization.
Hire the right employees
The interview process is one of the best ways to know how well a person communicates. The communication skills of your employees are a significant factor when it comes to the success and effectiveness of virtual teams. If an individual will be working remotely full-time, it is vital to gauge how they communicate on voice and video calls and through writing.
Additionally, try to arrange an in-person interview. Face-to-face communication can reveal traits and characteristics that can’t be judged through technology.
Foster a communication culture
It is your responsibility as a team leader to encourage and nurture a communication culture throughout the company. Lead by example by holding regular check-ins and giving regular updates to your team. If your employees realize that you are an excellent and effective communicator, they will follow suit by imitating your good habits. Eliminate all ambiguities surrounding workplace communication and be explicit about the way your employees should communicate and how they should interact with each other.
Select the best tools
The primary thing that makes virtual teams possible is technology. Look for the software products and tools that make your work easier. Select the best tools for team chat, project management, video calling, a platform for web training and online courses, scheduling, collaboration, and prototyping and workflow automation.
Make use of the available communication-based technological tools to improve communication within your team. For instance, business instant messaging solutions make communicating and sharing project issues and solutions much easier. Such software increases efficiency and teamwork, guarantees data privacy, and helps mitigate the challenges of working remotely. Some apps that you can use to enhance communication in virtual teams include Slack, ProofHub, and Connecteam, among others.
2. Lack of trust
One of the vital forces that determine the overall success of a virtual team is trust. The socialization process essential to building trust in a group of remote employees is not present in a virtual team setting. A lack of trust between team members, or between team members and management, can lead to high conflicts and low relational commitment that will manifest itself in the team’s performance and productivity.
Create a shared goal
The overarching goal of your team and how you will know when it is achieved should be clear. You can have one primary goal, several smaller objectives, or both. Regardless, it is vital that your remote team has shared goals, as well as a common understanding that outlines how progress is measured.
Consider meeting face-to-face if possible. While some broader business goals might dictate the direction of your aims, getting together to establish goals is an excellent opportunity to get to know each other as colleagues and work together to plan strategically.
Give timely feedback
Employees require regular feedback in order to correct issues early on, become top performers, and find satisfaction in their roles. Ensure that all managers and project leaders are giving regular feedback to help address any roadblocks, challenges, and issues people are facing. Frequent feedback will assist the managers in developing trust with the team members and giving them the flexibility required to make a virtual teamwork.
Encourage team-building and collaboration
Effective collaboration assists virtual teams in bonding and building trust as team members get to understand each other’s working styles and thought processes. When employees can seamlessly build on each other’s unique ideas and use their strengths, working relationships flourish. Have clearly defined remote teams and let them know to whom they report and where they belong.
To build a sense of familiarity and community, encourage team members to meet frequently through video calling and conferences. Virtual teams can check in with each other on the fly, or even carry out fun remote team-building activities.
3. Lack of focus and productivity
Working remotely can feel like a battle due to the distractions around us. That’s why it requires better organization, discipline, and proper planning to concentrate on the task at hand and deliver results. Low productivity is a common risk when some or all your staff work remotely. In an environment without daily oversight, some employees might not use their time wisely. On the other hand, some employees risk burnout when they work remotely because of a lack of boundaries.
Invest in distraction management and productivity tools
Consider investing in a software application that can assist you in tracking computer activity remotely to ensure that your remote workers are doing the job you are paying them to do. Many companies utilize employee monitoring applications like Brosix that provide the necessary tools to increase team productivity in one easy-to-use platform.
Brosix’s rich administrative features makes it an excellent option for organizations looking to scale up productivity. By logging user activities and enabling managers to control on a user basis contact lists, features, and chat spaces, employers can more effectively ensure the productivity of their virtual teams.
One of the best methods to ensure virtual team productivity, without invading employees’ privacy, is to set clear expectations for each role and check in frequently to track work progress.
You should have a general idea of time a given task should take, as well as how much each individual is accomplishing day by day or week by week. It is unrealistic to expect all employees to work at the same pace, but by knowing the duration it takes to finish specific jobs, you can easily set some baseline expectations that are beneficial for both future and current roles.
Have supportive structures
Without clear boundaries like the ones provided by a traditional office, the go-getters in your virtual team may have working days that never end. That can lead to burnout and resentment towards the organization. Encourage your employees to keep regular working hours and take some time off after business hours. Conduct frequent one-on-ones with every worker, not only to hold them accountable for their performance, but also to monitor the workload and any support needed.
4. Loss of team spirit and low morale
The lack of social interaction associated with working from home can negatively impact your employees’ mental health. That will not only impact your virtual employees’ health and mood, but will also adversely affect communications and collaboration. Mood and mental health are also linked to performance and productivity. According to research, a high percentage of remote employees have difficulties keeping their working spirits high. Unlike face-to-face team members who create cohesiveness, remote employees feel like dispersed people who are just working on one project.
Be a supportive team leader
If you would like your virtual employees to deliver the best results, you need to do your part as a team leader. You can start by encouraging your employees not to overwork themselves and maintain a strong work-life balance. Ensure the current workload is distributed evenly to make sure that no one is forced to overwork themselves. Express your support for their issues and allow a particular number of paid leaves every month or quarter.
Consult the human resources department of your company about what you can do to lift the spirits of your employees and if there are any available employee-benefit programs that can help them. Check in with the members of your team every once in a while to show them that you always have their back. Check for any erratic behaviors like odd decision making or sudden changes in work hours and communication style. These are some of the warning signs that the employees might be struggling with something and can use some help.
Although faced with a lot of challenges, a virtual team can be more productive, engaging and cohesive through shared leadership. Team leaders should have a clear direction for the virtual team, which ensures everybody is connected to one vision and a common goal. Team members need to understand how each member’s goal is connected to that of other people. Team spirit does not happen overnight, but rather materializes through daily actions and consistent virtual team efforts.
Appreciate and reward your employees
When your remote workers are doing well, always show appreciation. On the flip side, help them get up when they’re down. Try your best to highlight the achievements of each team member regularly. This kind of recognition can be a great motivator for them to continue working hard. Nonetheless, in the case of incredible accomplishments, you can give them small tokens of appreciation, such as gift cards. Always keep in mind that if your workers feel like their efforts and work are valued, they are more likely to give their best to their roles.
5. Cultural and language barriers
If you are hiring employees from all over the world, you might have to deal with some cultural differences or language barriers. These differences can significantly impact how workers interact with each other, what they consider to be a success, and how they prioritize their project tasks, among other things.
Overcoming cultural diversity and language barriers can be challenging since everyone follows their way of working. Team leaders face the challenges of finding common ground to manage the team effectively. Managers should learn to navigate these barriers and differences to enjoy the benefits of a virtual global team completely.
Have clear goals
To minimize work conflicts, the virtual team should agree on team customs and some work ethics to promote cultural understanding. You need to be clear and specific about the project goals, expectations, and deadlines. If your remote employees understand what you are after, you are more likely to get the results you want, even if differences and barriers exist.
Nurture friendly and positive relationships
One of the best ways to overcome language barriers and cultural differences in the work environment is by encouraging your team members to nurture friendly and positive relationships with each other. As part of team-building exercises, nurture within the team open-mindedness that celebrates differences.
You can also allow your remote workers to share details and insights about geographic regions and cultures. That assists in reducing cultural-related misunderstandings and strengthening bonds among the members of your team. Establishing and nurturing good relationships between team members is a wonderful way to retain workers and increase employee productivity and overall levels of happiness.
Many problems can arise when you are managing a virtual team for the first time. Nevertheless, you can easily overcome all these challenges.
When managing remote employees, communication is vital throughout. Ensure that your team members understand what you expect of them, and regularly check with them to know what they also expect of you.
Understand what they need to accomplish what you ask of them. It’s also essential to utilize the right software, hardware, and other tools for remote teams that can easily link to everyone’s gadgets, such as the interactive whiteboards used for remote meetings. Also, before putting your remote team together, consider some of the unique virtual team challenges like time zone difficulties that might arise from employing people across the globe.
These are some of the common points that need your consideration before you put together a virtual team. However, you should rest assured because we have covered not only the common challenges encountered by virtual teams, but also the potential solutions to these problems. Knowing what you can do when working with remote employees will ensure that your organization will successfully overcome most of the challenges that virtual teams bring.