Just like in traditional settings, managing virtual teams comes with its challenges. The life of humans in itself is full of challenges – hence, you need to prepare yourself ahead of time to overcome them. This can't be wished way – as it can only be solved by matching against it with the required fist.
One critical challenge of managing virtual teams is communication. It can get muddled, especially because a real-life face-to-face meeting is absent. In this manner, trust and collaboration would significantly decline. Also, managing a virtual team may prove challenging to determine if the team's workload is much or less.
But despite these worries, the benefits of virtual teams stand taller. Thus, it calls for an action plan to reduce the noted challenges and ensure that the benefits are fully maximized.
How to Overcome the Challenges of Managing Virtual Teams
Here are some top challenges you'll encounter while managing virtual teams and how to overcome them.
Challenge One: Communication
Communication is essential in any workplace, especially where most interactions occur via email, chat, or phone calls. Ensuring the free flow of accurate information throughout your company's structure entails hiring the right people, cultivating a communicative culture, and employing the appropriate tools.
Some scholars posit that it's critical to pay rapt attention to relationship-building and a process as a critical ingredient to ensure good communication. When an organization has a strong culture that encourages team collaboration, this can ensure detailed steps are followed.
Hire the Right People
The interview process is an excellent way to determine someone's communication skills. Your employees' communication skills are critical to virtual teams' success.
It isn't easy to accurately assess communication skills in a single interview. Consider conducting multiple rounds of interviews through various mediums.
Suppose the person will be working remotely full-time. In that case, observing how they communicate in writing and on calls is critical. Face-to-face communication, on the other hand, can be very telling. If possible, try to set up an in-person interview.
When interviewing new candidates, have several hands on deck to get a variety of perspectives. This also gives candidates a taste of your company culture, which helps them decide if it's a good fit.
Foster a Culture of Communication
Your responsibility as a leader is to foster a strong organizational communication culture. Set a good example by regularly updating and checking in with your team. If your employees notice that you are an effective communicator, they will emulate you by adopting your good habits.
Make it clear how your employees should communicate. Remove the ambiguity that frequently surrounds workplace communication by providing written guidelines outlining what types of messages should be sent via which mediums and how your team members are expected to interact with one another.
This is important, especially if you have a multicultural staff or members who live in different time zones. Directly address any language or time barriers. And advise on how to communicate effectively despite them. (For example, if not all team members are native English speakers, you might advise employees to refrain from using slang or colloquialisms.)
Make it a point to get the entire team together in a one-on-one gathering once or twice a year, if possible. Meeting in person as a group is an excellent way to foster teamwork. It allows remote employees to meet, interact and know one another outside of their job roles.
Choose the Best Tools
Virtual teams are made possible by technology. Don't be afraid to use tools and software that will make your job easier. The following is a list of tools that can help virtual teams communicate more effectively, as well as some popular options to consider:
- For Chat you can use the following software: Slack.
- For project management of workflow: Asana
- For Web and video conferencing song team members: Google Meet, Zoom, Cisco Webex
- Collaboration and prototyping: Invision, Marvel, Adobe XD
- Scheduling of meeting: Calendly, Doodle
- Workflow automation: Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Monday
Not every tool will be suitable for your team. Consider trial periods or delegate the task of researching all options to determine which best meets your needs. Provide training for your staff on the necessary tools you choose to ensure that everyone uses them consistently and to their full potential.
Creating communication strategies that work for your entire organization and virtual teams can be difficult. Out there, you'll find some professional development programs specifically designed to assist you in delivering clear, concise messaging to your teams.
Challenge 2: Trust
In any relationship, trust is essential. Collaboration and engagement occur naturally when employees trust their managers and believe they are working toward a common goal. However, it is difficult to achieve in an environment where face-to-face interaction is rare. A common goal, a collaborative spirit, and strategic team building can all help to instill trust in both remote and onsite workers.
Establish a Mission Statement
Document why your company is doing what it is doing in a few sentences. Ideally, this should be about the greater good of humanity, but it should be related to your industry in some way.
Nontraditional workers (particularly millennials) value mission-driven organizations because they want to know that their time is being put to good use. Declare your mission clearly and incorporate it into everything you do. Donate to charity, hold volunteer days or incentives, or collaborate with nonprofits that share your mission to demonstrate your commitment to the cause.
Encourage Collaboration and Team Building
People who work together have a higher chance of sticking together for a long. Hence, ensure effective collaboration among teams to help bond and builds trust. Relationships flourish when employees can build on each other's ideas and play to their strengths.
To begin, having clearly defined teams is beneficial. This establishes the expectation that people will work collaboratively, even if they are separated. It may seem obvious, but startups and small businesses frequently undermine collaboration by failing to form internal teams. This can lead to employee confusion and low cooperation. People, especially remote workers, need to know where they belong and to whom they report.
Encourage teams to meet via video conference regularly, as these virtual face-to-face meetings can help them build a sense of community and familiarity among themselves. As a manager, communicate your expectations to each team, so everyone works toward the same goal.
Solution: Establish a Shared Goal
What is the overarching goal of your team, and how will you know when the goal has been achieved it? You could have one goal or several goals. Regardless, it is critical that your team has a common understanding on the metric to measure progress and a shared goal (or goals).
Larger business objectives will most likely dictate these objectives, or you and your team may determine them. This is an excellent opportunity to meet in person, get to know each other as colleagues better and work through a strategic planning process. If meeting in person is impossible, this work can be done via video conference.
Challenge 3: Productivity
One of the risks of virtual teams is that low productivity is obvious when employees work outside a traditional office. Some employees may not use their time wisely in an environment with no day-to-day oversight. On the other hand, certain employees are at risk of burnout when working remotely because they may not know when to call the shot.
Setting clear expectations for each role and having regular check-ins to gauge progress are the best ways to ensure everyone is doing their job without invading privacy. Expecting everyone to work at the same pace is unrealistic, but you need to know how long each task requires and how much each person accomplishes weekly or daily.
To be safer, it's necessary to have tools like Toggle or Harvest to help track accountability for members, especially if they do client work because it provides you with a clear sense of billable hours spent.
Even for those who do not perform client work, tracking hours provides unprecedented transparency. By observing how long it takes to complete specific tasks, you can establish baseline expectations that will be useful for your current team and future ones.
Form Supportive Structures
Pay as much attention to your best performers as you do to the rest of your team. These are the people who may be at risk of overworking. Without the clear boundaries provided by office life, the go-getters among your team may have workdays that never end, leading to exhaustion and resentment toward the company.
Encourage your employees to keep regular business hours and to use their paid time off. Check-in if you suspect someone is staying up late. Erratic or moody behavior, emails sent at inconvenient hours, and a drop in work quality indicate that a remote worker needs to take a break.
Conduct one-on-one meetings with each team member regularly to hold them accountable for their performance and appraise their workload and the necessary support they need.
Daily stand-ups, also known as daily scrums or huddles, may be essential for many teams to foster productivity, transparency, and collaboration. A daily informal group check-in keeps the team on track. It holds everyone accountable for their daily tasks and ongoing projects.
Make it a rule for managers to schedule one-on-one time with their direct reports every month or quarter, in addition to group check-ins. This alleviates the stress of an unexpected request for a meeting and provides employees with dedicated time to discuss their progress or any issues they may be experiencing at work.
Devising a Game Plan
Managing a virtual team can be difficult, but facing those challenges head-on is worthwhile.
When you overcome the obstacles, you'll reap the benefits of leading a cohesive virtual team, such as setting and achieving goals, watching your team members develop and lean into their strengths, and benefiting from a healthy team dynamic that ensures the right decisions are made and implemented.
Because the issues and solutions discussed in this post are complex, proceed cautiously and seek outside counsel if necessary.
*Disclaimer: Mentions of proprietary tools or software are provided as examples only and do not imply endorsements by Harvard University or any of its subsidiaries.
The Rise of Virtual Teams
Statistics show that the number of remote workers in the United States is rapidly increasing, and this trend is only expected to continue. According to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2017 Employee Benefits Report, more than 60% of companies offered ad hoc telecommuting benefits in 2017.
According to SHRM's 2019 Employee Benefits Report, that number increased to 69 percent in 2019. Furthermore, the on-demand economy has increased the number of freelancers and contractors in the workplace. According to the most recent Upwork data, 35% of the US workforce engaged in some freelance or contract work in 2019.
According to research from a Stanford professor, remote work increases productivity while decreasing attrition. His research found that employees who worked from home found it easier to concentrate and were less likely to take sick days or extended breaks. Furthermore, employers saved $2,000 per employee per year on real estate costs.
Nonetheless, major corporations such as Yahoo and IBM have recently reversed their work-from-home policies. This contradicts the trends but highlights some businesses' challenges when working with remote teams.
According to Harvard Business Review research, remote employees are more likely to feel alienated or disconnected than onsite employees. Leaders face difficulties as a result of these communication issues. Suppose you're managing a group of employees. In that case, you also need to consider whether everyone is working toward the same goal and putting in their appropriate hours.
If you manage a group of employees, you must also consider whether everyone is working toward the same goal and putting in the necessary hours.
Rather than reverting to old business practices, you can directly address the challenges of managing virtual teams. You can build a strong, agile, and collaborative team worldwide by successfully identifying and resolving remote workplace issues.
“Managing a virtual team necessitates managers doubling down on the fundamentals of good management, such as setting clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, and leveraging team members' individual and collective strengths,” says Julie Wilson, founder of the Institute for Future Learning and Harvard University instructor.