9 Challenges of virtual teams and how to solve them

The various challenges of virtual teams from communication to scheduling meetings

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.

The growing demand for 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.

Showing a man leading a virtual team via his laptop.

Leading virtual teams

Since virtual teams require special structure, it’s important for managers to understand how to properly run this type of workplace.

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.

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.

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 challenges of virtual teams

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.

1. Differences in communication style

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 the communication style of your entire team 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.

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 put a team at a disadvantage. 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.

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.

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.

4. Distrust

When you’re spending money, but never seeing where it’s going, something interesting happens. You become distrustful.

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.

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.

Being to comfy and forgetting that you are working is a challenge of virtual teams

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Building a virtual team culture is very important for a successful team

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.

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.

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.

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 these meetings at a convenient and accessible time may take some planning, but it will be well worth it.

By Stephanie Watkins

June 19, 2018


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