Overcoming 8 Common Challenges of Virtual Teams
Last Updated on May 30, 2022 by Milton Campbell
Virtual work centers and virtual teams are on the rise. Why would companies not want to utilize virtual teams? In most circumstances, it’s a win-win for both the employee and the employer. There are many benefits of virtual teams. Employees save time and money on travel and companies save money on real estate costs. Also, productivity can be increased in many cases. Although there are many benefits of virtual teams, there are also many challenges of virtual teams.
There are many virtual team challenges that can be unique to their special circumstances. Many of these challenges are something normal teams don’t face or are exaggerated in the virtual environment.
Listed below are some of the challenges that your team may face with its special remote circumstances. Continue reading to learn how to overcome these challenges and manage highly successful virtual teams.
Table of Contents
- Benefits of Virtual Teams
- Challenges of Virtual Teams and Solutions for Those Challenges
- How to Resolve Conflicts in Remote Teams
- Being an Effective Virtual Team Leader
- Wrapping It Up
Benefits of Virtual Teams
Although there are many challenges in virtual teams, there are also many benefits. Below is a list of just a few of the benefits of virtual teams:
- Higher Productivity – A common misperception is that virtual team members will be less productive than those who work face-to-face in an office. More often, working virtually enables team members to work smarter and more productively. For example, many people find it easier to concentrate on their work because there are far fewer distractions and interruptions. The result is a greater sense of accomplishment and motivation for employees who work virtually, as well as higher levels of productivity for the entire organization.
- Better Work/Life Balance – By reducing commutes and eliminating many other tasks associated with working in a traditional office environment, virtual teams allow their employees to have more free time for leisure activities like playing sports, going on vacation, and spending time with their families.
- Global Talent Pool – One of the biggest advantages of having a virtual team is the ability to hire the best talent, not just the best talent in your area. This can lead to an increase in productivity because you’re putting people with similar skills and experience together on a project instead of spreading out those skills among many employees at different levels.
- Lower Facility Costs – Virtual teams can also save money for companies that don’t have to pay for physical office space. They also save time by eliminating long commutes for employees who can work from home or in satellite offices. When employees aren’t wasting time commuting, they’re likely to be more productive in their work hours.
- Increased Flexibility of Hours – One of the most obvious benefits to working from home is the fact that employees can work at whatever time they want. This allows them to work when they are most productive and feel their best. It also allows team members to work around multiple commitments, such as children’s school schedules, or doctors’ appointments.
Challenges of Virtual Teams and Solutions for Those Challenges
Virtual Team Challenge 1: Difficult or Poor Communication
Communication is one of the biggest challenges in virtual teams. Virtual team communication challenges can be a big issue. Between technological difficulties and people working various hours, there can be many challenges. Not to mention how long it takes some people to answer emails.
Effective communication is vital to the success of any team and virtual teams rarely or never have that face-to-face communication. Overall virtual team communication is less frequent than communication by co-located teams. Without good communication, there will be lots of work being duplicated causing a lot of inefficiencies or work just being missed.
Just because teams aren’t located together, doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun together. Virtual icebreakers and virtual team-building activities can be a great way to bring your team together and help them function in a more cohesive manner.
There are many tools out there that can help teams with not only communication but also enhance productivity. They have features like task management, virtual meetings, and calendar syncing. Many of these tools are useful for both teams in the same physical location and virtual teams.
Slack is a great communication tool for teams. Team members can have various message boards for different projects or tasks.
Virtual Team Challenge 2: Lack of Professionalism
Being out of the office can lead to a relaxed work style. Since remote employees are not in an office, they can many times work in whatever attire they please. Clothing may not be the only issue, pets, kids, and other distractions may interfere with the employee’s professionalism. They wouldn’t bring these things to the office but when their office is their house, they can’t help it. Also, employees might not be on a set work schedule, so it can be hard to know when they are working. These are not only some benefits of working virtually, but can also be a problem when professionalism is needed.
It’s important to set ground rules for remote employees. Allow members of the team to enjoy the benefits of working virtually to the maximum extent possible but communicate and enforce professionalism when needed. If you want employees to wear professional attire when on video calls let them know. When you expect them to be on during a certain time, tell them they need to be on. Just like working at physical locations, your employees need to know your expectations.
Telework policies and training can be very helpful in this and many other areas. The right kind of policies and training can help eliminate a lot of hurdles and challenges of virtual teams. Many companies already offer great training. If yours does not you may want to get with your HR department to see if it’s something they can develop.
Virtual Team Challenge 3: Poor or Failing Technology
Technology is what makes virtual teams possible, but it can also be a huge setback when it fails. Computers fail, the internet goes down, and servers go offline. Many companies also require VPNs to log into company systems which can add another layer of potential failure. All these potential issues can put a damper on a virtual team’s productivity.
You can’t stop technology from failing, but you can plan for it. For example, if an employee’s computer goes out what is the plan. Is there an IT person readily available to get the employee back up and running? Do you have spare laptops for the employees to pick up? Try to plan out how you are going to handle each potential problem before they occur. Then they can be remedied as quickly as possible.
Virtual Team Challenge 4: Slow Response Times
With people working on different schedules and possibly even working in different time zones around the world, response times can be delayed on things. This can affect deadlines. It may cause other team members to wait on others before they can get to their portion of the job. If this is allowed to become an issue not only will productivity fail, but it can also hurt team cohesion.
To fix or avoid this problem altogether requires good scheduling and task management. Trello is a great app for helping your team schedule tasks and encourages collaboration to get more done. Tools like these can be used to keep your team on the same page and avoid delays.
To avoid slow response times on things like emails, once again planning is vital. When remote employees rely on each other, it’s best to have them all on shift or at least on call. Plan these shifts to give your employees as much freedom as possible without sacrificing productivity.
Virtual Team Challenge 5: Focus and Productivity Issues
The home can have many distractions. From family to pets to television, there are plenty of distractions that don’t normally affect people in a physical work center. These distractions can make it hard for employees to focus and therefore productivity could suffer.
So how do you eliminate these distractions without forcing the employee to go to a physical work site? The truth is you can’t, but you can give employees tips and advice on how to work around the distractions. For example, to have the best chance for limiting distractions, employees should be encouraged to have a work area separated from the common areas. Like having an office area in a spare bedroom if feasible.
Employees should also be encouraged to keep as much of a schedule as possible. Encourage them to let other members of the household know when they are going to be working to limit interruptions. Tips like these can help produce productivity increases even compared to employees working in an office environment.
Virtual Team Challenge 6: Lack of Trust
This can be an issue in any workplace, but it’s even more so in a virtual environment. People in this virtual team environment don’t typically have the same opportunities to get to know each other on a personal level. Trust is vital to the success of just about any team. Without it, team members will be duplicating each other’s work and productivity and quality will suffer.
Trust can be a little difficult to build in a virtual environment, but it can be done. It starts with putting the right people into the right roles on the team. Having the right people fill the right roles on the team and communicating those roles to the team will help show each member’s value. Early on after the team is formed, you may have to facilitate team member trust by giving teammates opportunities to work together.
Another way to build a cohesive virtual team is by allowing them to get to know each other before, during, or after meetings. They don’t need to know everything about each other but knowing a little, especially their professional past can help build trust.
Virtual Team Challenge 7: Hard to Manage and Maintain Accountability of Virtual Employees
Managing virtual employees presents some unique challenges. You can’t just walk over and check up on an employee like you can in an office setting. Not to mention you don’t always know when your employees are working. Are they putting in the hours you expect or are they only putting in a few hours a day? It’s hard to account for employees without micromanaging them.
When it comes to managing your virtual team, it boils down to setting expectations and trusting your employees to follow through with them. If you have any problems with employees, address them quickly with the employee.
As for hours of work, you need to ask yourself if the hours worked are important or if the output is more crucial. If an employee completes everything you need of them in three hours as opposed to eight hours does it matter? If it does, there are many apps and software out there for employee accountability. I only recommend using these if employees must be on the clock for a certain amount of time. If not trust your employees to get the work done on time until they give you a reason not to.
Virtual Team Challenge 8: Lack of Ownership and Commitment
When employees work from home they may not build that ownership and commitment that you get showing up to work every day. It may feel a little less real when team members can’t celebrate successes and experience setbacks together in the same place.
As a leader, it’s up to you to instill ownership and commitment within your team members. Explain to them the importance of what they are doing and always go into why you guys are doing it. You can’t force members to have the ownership and commitment to what you are trying to achieve. But sharing your goals and explaining why you have those goals will help build that ownership within them.
A great way to help your team see your goals is by crafting a vision statement with your team. This is a short statement that provides guidance and vision to inspire and motivate your team. Once created, it’s important to continue to express it to your team as much as possible. For example, you can add it to the end of every email. Also, add it to any presentations you have for meetings with your team.
How to Resolve Conflicts in Remote Teams
Many of these virtual team challenges can lead to conflicts between your remote employees. Look for these signs of conflict between your employees and put an end to it as soon as possible.
If you don’t get a handle on conflicts early they will fester and build until they boil over. For some great tips on managing conflicts in the work center, click the link. Many of these tips apply to both traditional work centers and remote work centers.
Being an Effective Virtual Team Leader
Being an effective virtual team leader is similar to normal leadership but has some specific challenges. Leadership strategies that work when you can observe your team and take them out for coffee will fail when you can’t.
As a virtual team leader, you’re faced with the challenge of building strong relationships from afar, motivating your team members when they’re not face-to-face, and holding yourself accountable for the work being done and the goals being met.
Here are some tips for becoming a successful virtual team leader:
Assess your team’s needs. Before you start leading, assess not only your own strengths and weaknesses but also those of your team members. Consider their personalities, work styles, and communication preferences.
Learn about the people on your team so you can leverage their skills and give the right amount of support in areas where they may need it.
Be intentional about communication. Communication is critical to building trust among a virtual team, yet it’s often taken for granted or used incorrectly.
Frequent communication is key to building relationships among a remote team.
Set clear expectations to avoid confusion or misunderstandings among your team members. Ask each person on your team how they prefer to communicate: phone, email, or chat. Because different people have different preferences.
Wrapping It Up
Although there are many virtual team challenges, with the right people and the right management they are very useful and productive for companies. They benefit both companies and workers when used correctly.
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