The emergence of internet communication tools like Skype and Slack has accelerated the adoption of virtual teams globally.
Though not entirely novel, virtual teams involve a group of individuals collaborating on one or more projects. These could be from disparate geographical locations by using communication and document sharing tools.
Such teammates can be employed by the same company, or even work in different companies on a vendor-client basis.
However, despite the benefits of time savings on commutes, no geographical constraints, and easier collaboration across multiple time zones, virtual teams still face some challenges.
Let us learn more about these challenges and how to overcome them.
Virtual Team Challenges and Solutions
1. Lack of structure
A lack of a defined work structure can put any virtual team at a disadvantage and cause miscommunication. This, in turn, can translate into work inefficiencies and delays on deliverables.
So, a clear structure and online workflow should typically constitute processes and procedures that are as efficient as possible.
Solution: You can consider employing structured online tools that allow teammates to collaborate with ease, like Asana.
Also, achieving an efficient work structure necessitates a workflow analysis that can help you better understand how your process works.
2. Communication challenges
Staying connected with people while working remotely can be challenging. This is because online tools don’t offer the same level of personalisation as face-to-face encounters.
For example, emails and text messages do not transmit elements of body language, tone, or subtle nonverbal cues that colleagues get from in-person conversations. Furthermore, team members are less likely to openly talk on digital channels during remote work, and thus may be more reserved.
- Having online video check-ups with workers.
- Occasionally having physical interaction days at the office.
- Using virtual reality to organise team meetings, training, idea sharing, and events. This provides the team members a headset to communicate with each other as they would in the real world.
3. Poor task delegation
Poor task delegation can confuse staff responsibilities, and even lead to misinterpretation and inference of assignments. This, in turn, can risk upsetting team unity.
To further exacerbate issues, some leaders micromanage their virtual teams and don’t know when to take a hands-off approach and trust employees.
Solution: Utilise task management tools to assign tasks and roles and set clear expectations with the trust that they’ll be met.
4. Lack of a personal connection
Humans are relational beings, and remote workers can sometimes feel lonely. Lack of personal interaction can sometimes be detrimental to a virtual team’s efficiency and communication.
This is because arguments can escalate, and some workmates might not just be able to get along. And in such instances, remote work can aggravate any rifts or distance between workers.
Solution: Maintain clear and constant communication to facilitate conflict resolution whenever a misunderstanding is identified.
5. Lack of focus
Since employees can work from home or the beach– it’s possible to easily lose focus. Most times, virtual teams tend to struggle with distracting environments, which can diminish the efficiency of typically well-performing employees.
Solution: Set standards and guidelines for each employee of the work hours and quality to be maintained. Furthermore, encourage them to utilise noise cancellation software, website blockers, timers and even white noise generators to maintain focus and avoid distractions while working.
6. Differences in work ethics
Some people have distinct ethical differences in how they work. For example, in remote settings, some employees may ignore task requests or even delay responses.
And if other employees perceive that their colleagues aren’t putting in as much effort as them, it can trigger distrust, disrupt the team and derail a project.
Solution: Intentionally assess team members’ work and provide ongoing feedback to address laxity problems.
7. Remote project and task management
Planning and monitoring projects and tasks become more challenging when workers are in different geographies.
Part of the challenge relates to human behaviour and remote coordination. This, in turn, can mean a poor customer experience, snide reviews, and even angry phone calls when software malfunctions.
Solution: Employ project management tools like Jira, and Wrike to meticulously organise projects and collaborate with your remote team. These comprehensive tools enable users to easily assign tasks at an individual level, split them into subtasks, and even set priorities.
Therefore, ensuring that tasks are completed on time, with no confusion about who should be doing what.
8. Scheduling meetings and events
Time zones can easily affect the planning of meetings and events. It can be extremely challenging to agree on a time slot that works for all employees and doesn’t necessarily inconvenience everyone.
Solution: Ensure to intentionally work out timeframes that are flexible for all workers across different geographies.
9. Budget management
Virtual teammates can easily lose track of time spent on specific projects and easily go over budget without proper management.
Despite virtual teams saving employers approximately $2,000 per year per employee, it is still possible to lose track of how long specific processes are taking. Especially for long-term projects that are managed on an hourly basis.
Solution: Ensure that department heads and managers maintain frequent or daily tasks to check in on team efficiency and productivity. If you observe a dip from month to month, ensure to speak to those team members to get things back on track.
10. Low morale
Lack of social interaction for long periods can negatively impact mental health and morale.
This, in turn, can affect virtual employees’ physical health and mood, and eventually negatively impact collaboration and communication — the pillars of effective remote teams!
Solution: Provide mental health programs for employees and provide access to counselling. Another approach is to conduct virtual team effectiveness workshops that motivate the employees to learn from each other, and work together.
Dealing with people from different cultural, religious, and tribal diversities can be challenging but also a fun experience. When hiring a global talent pool, ensure to consider all the challenges and solutions we have discussed above.
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Co-founder and Managing Director
Stuart Harris, co-founder of Growth Academy Asia, has a vast background in corporate events and learning & development. As co-founder and managing director at Team Building Asia, Stuart has developed a large network of international clients over the past 20 years and brought an innovative perspective to the more traditional elements of team building, which lead to the founding Growth Academy Asia. With GAA, he aspires to disrupt the L&D industry with the immersive VR organisational and leadership programmes.