What Are The Challenges Of Virtual Teams? 11 Steps to Successfully Manage A Team Remotely

The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown an unexpected curveball for which many companies now are struggling to manage their teams remotely. Many tech giants like Google, Twitter, Spotify, Cisco, and Salesforce have embraced remote work and boast record-breaking revenues. In theory, managing a virtual or remote team should be all milk and honey. Working from home indeed benefits both companies and employees. Yet, for many reasons, managing a virtual and remote team is not so easy. Various challenges come in the way of a virtual team. Knowing how to manage them is imperative to increase productivity and for an efficient workflow.

Here, we talk about the challenges of running a virtual team, how to manage a remote team successfully, and boost performance.

But before we begin with the challenges, let’s take a quick moment to know the benefits of having virtual teams.

Advantages Of Having Remote Teams

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  • Low costs for employers as the money spent on office space and electricity can be saved when working from home. This can be a large chunk of money, especially for big organizations with lots of office space.
  • Access to global talent. Remote working has made hiring candidates from different parts of the world easier. This is because you don’t need visas/physical presence of employees in the office.
  • Better work-life balance. Since everyone works from their home’s comfort, it’s easier for them to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Increased levels of productivity. A 2-year long study conducted by Standford shows that remote work has massive boosts in productivity levels.

What Are The Challenges Faced By Virtual Teams?

Since there’s no solid physical presence of people, virtual meetings come with their share of challenges.

The most significant challenges that many companies face while managing a virtual team are as mentioned below:

1. Lack Of Trust

While remote work has its benefits, one of the virtual team meetings’ everyday challenges is distrust. Since there is no one to supervise, sometimes it may lower the employees’ efficiency.

2. Minimal Face-To-Face Interaction

Although remote work provides flexibility and the freedom to work from anywhere, it can also lead to feelings of being left out, loneliness, and isolation.

Statistics reveal that 26% of remote workers feel socially isolated.

Working from home can be lonely because of not having a face-to-face interaction. And if not taken care of by the company, this can take a severe psychological toll on their employees’ mental well-being.

3. Communication

Statistics show that communication within the team is one of the biggest obstacles a company can overcome in managing virtual teams.

Apparently, 86% of the working organization reported poor communication skills as a challenge, and 80% struggle to understand different accents.

As a result, this can cause hurdles in conveying important work-related messages and feedback.

4. Conflicts Due To Cultural Diversity

Did you know that only 15% of corporate leaders can effectively lead teams across countries and different cultures?

The above statistics are shocking as lack of cultural diversity can lead to conflicts within an organization. Also, diversity impacts productivity due to communication problems occurred by language barriers and cultural differences.

5. Time Zone Differences

With a diverse virtual team consisting of people from different countries, time zone differences could be a major problem. This is a common issue that a company goes through.

It could result in an imbalanced work-life due to early/late working hours for some team members due to varying time zones.

6. Lack Of A Defined Structure

Unlike an office where you have a clear structure of the workflow in different departments, the same is difficult to follow while having a virtual team. Due to this, there can be an uncalled delay in executing plans, which could further lead to a lower productivity level within an organization.

7. Struggle With Distracting Environments

In-office, you get an actual space all to yourself where you can work without any disturbance or interruption. The same is difficult to follow while working from home, especially for mothers.

Managing the household, looking after kids, and running errands can cause an inefficient workflow if not appropriately handled.

8. Trouble Keeping Their Spirits High

Since a virtual team meeting consists of people working from the comfort of their home, the same can lead to lethargy among the team members. This lethargy feeling can manifest in lower team spirits.

11 Steps for Successfully Managing a Virtual Team

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Although you may end up making a few mistakes while managing a virtual team, the good news is that it is not impossible.

Keep reading to find out how you can manage virtual teams more systematically.

1. Provide A Smooth Onboarding

The first and foremost step to manage a virtual team efficiently is to onboard the members smoothly. Smooth onboarding saves time for both parties and gets to work as soon as possible.

Here are some tips you can follow while onboarding a new member on a virtual team:

  • Schedule a date for an online meeting through Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meeting,  Skype.
  • Discuss the set of tasks and responsibilities on call.
  • Prepare a presentation about your company’s culture, expectations, values, and goals.
  • Share the presentation on call on the day of onboarding.
  • Inform them to follow up with you if they have any questions.

2. Daily Scrum Meeting or Check-Ins

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A study shows that the daily stand-up meeting was used by 87% of those who employ agile methods.

Virtual daily check-ins of about 15 to 30 mins depending on the team’s range can help the team’s effectiveness. It also ensures that your team members are present and doing their job properly daily. Make sure to have daily check-ins either through a video meeting or through audio calls.

Good practices & What to include in daily Scrum meetings?

  • Daily updates of what tasks at hand are completed
  • Roadblocks that are stopping progress
  • Challenges faced in daily work
  • Identify impediments
  • Provide quick decisions

3. Get To Know Each Team Member

One of the necessary steps in solving any virtual team challenge is getting to know every team member. Since every virtual team is different, getting to know people personally may seem a tedious task.

However, you don’t need to meet in person to know someone.

Here are a few tips to know your team members:

  • You can organize a video conference.
  • Virtual Hackathon
  • Online Workshops
  • Communicate through instant messages.
  • Conduct team activities to build a connection within teams.
  • Have them take a test.

The idea is to check how fast they respond, how attentive to details they are, how much they care about their job and your impression of them, etc.

This is also an excellent opportunity to determine their priorities, what issues you could encounter with them, and how you can motivate your team.

4. Set Clear Goals For Your Team

Having a roadmap with clear professional goals can help remote employees achieve great results. Managing a remote team successfully begins with a set of clear rules. Everyone on the team should know exactly what you expect from them, what you offer in return, and what is acceptable and what is not.

For example, during the first months of the activity, you can put together the following guide to explain to the new team members.

  1. How to approach each project, when, and how to submit it.
  2. What rules to follow when working on the project.
  3. How each project was evaluated and paid.
  4. What they were supposed to do when they couldn’t complete an assignment in due time.

It can be a guide, a set of team rules and regulations, a collection of frequently asked questions and corresponding answers, whatever helps you get your rules across. With its help, you won’t have to explain the same things repeatedly, and you will have something to turn to when a team member breaks the rules.

5. Understand Your Employees With One-One Meeting

With the pandemic in place, several people are facing problems both mental and physical. Especially, 56% of young adults who are fresh out of college with a loss of income reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorder during the pandemic.

If you have freshly onboarded young talents, you must follow the basic things.

  • Communicate effectively.
  • Regularly get in touch with them.
  • Learn if everything is going well on their side.

6. Remote Work May Increase Productivity But Burnout, Your Employees

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According to Monster.com, 69% of employees experience burnout while working from home.

The above statistic is quite concerning because having a work-life balance is key to a healthy, happy, and successful life. Feeling of burnout can take a severe toll on physical, mental well-being in the long run.

So, encourage your team members to take short breaks to prevent burnout or exhaustion due to overworking.

You can implement the following practice to prevent your employees from burning out:

  • Offer flexible work hours.
  • Encourage your employees to decompress whenever they feel stuck.
  • Ask them to take breaks in between work.

7. Set Clear Rewards And Boundaries

Hopefully, every member of your team will do their job well, and your only worry will be to reward them. However, it would be best if you were prepared to apply penalties as well.

Besides, everyone should be aware of the stake and the risks. Set clear rules about rewards and the consequences of not meeting essential deadlines while managing a remote team.

Examples of Rewards for remote teams

  • Promotion after completing projects successfully.
  • Gift cards and shopping vouchers.
  • Bonus pay based on performance levels.

Examples of Boundaries for Remote teams

  • Informing the manager beforehand if there’s a delay in delivering work.
  • Adhering to specific work hours.
  • Let everyone know when you take a day off.

8. Promote Dialogue With Polite Yet Thorough Feedback

Ensure that the feedback you’re providing to your team members is practical and valuable. Constructive feedback is straightforward and allows others to work on them strategically.

Be gentle and honest with your feedback and make sure your opinions are based on practical grounds. Always explain how they can improve the work process so that it’s efficient and saves their time.

9. Automate Processes & Include Agile Practices

Ensure that your team members are resolving the mistakes committed by them. This confirms that every team member is accountable and prevents themselves from committing the same mistakes in the future.

These are a few tips to automate the process while managing a virtual team.

  • Define the tasks and assign them specifically to different team members.
  • Identify the goals of a project before working.
  • Measure the performance of your team members.
  • Give regular mini-training to your team.

10. Provide Tools Ease Remote Work

Several tools can ease the process of setting up a remote workspace. Consider offering your team member the necessities required while working from home.

For instance, these are the few things that are must-haves for any virtual team.

  • Check if they have a stable WiFi and internet connection.
  • Get them adjustable table or furniture if necessary.
  • Computer accessories.
  • Camera for video calls.

Apart from this, here are some online tools that make the online onboarding process seamless.

  • Asana
  • Trello
  • Airtable
  • Miro

11. Organize Virtual Events For The Team

Remote work can become mundane and boring without any engaging activities. It’s always commendable to organize virtual events that will enhance your employees’ mood levels in such cases.

To ensure that your employees are always excited to work, you can conduct:

  • Online standup comedian
  • Virtual music concerts
  • Desk yoga
  • Group meditation

A Word From AlignThoughts On Managing a Virtual Team,

The above advice will help you discipline your team and keep your projects under control. However, each type of remote work is different, and each team member is unique. The fact that you got to manage a team means you know your work, and you have people skills.

All you have to do is put your knowledge and skills to work, pay attention to your team’s needs, performance, and expectations, and follow your instincts.

Key Takeaways On Managing Remote Team

  • Managing a remote team can be very different and challenging than managing team members in an office.
  • A virtual team’s common challenges are lack of trust, poor communication, unclear direction, lazy unsupervised employees, low productivity, etc.
  • Firstly, keep certain factors in mind like time zone, cultural gaps, etc., while managing a remote team.
  • Communicating more often with your team can help bring a good team atmosphere and handle challenges effectively.
  • We recommend that you share timely and thorough feedback with your team members.
  • Try to get to know each member of your virtual team without judgment.
  • Everyone should be aware of the stake and the risks of making mistakes or uninformed decisions.
  • Help your team members to take accountability and learn from their mistakes.
  • Lastly, a shared understanding of different aspects can help to manage a virtual team successfully.

How to keep the spirits high of a virtual team?

  • Provide training to your team.
  • Assign rewards for the completion of work within time.
  • Allow them to enjoy their time with their family and friends.
  • Appreciate their work and provide constructive feedback.

What are some common challenges of virtual team meetings?

  • Poor communication skills.
  • Lack of trust.
  • Time zone differences.
  • Undefined work structure.
  • Lack of cultural diversity.

What steps do you consider essential to managing a virtual team successfully, and what strategies have helped you? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us, and share this post if you found it useful or agree with its ideas!

Mihaela is a sociologist, an English – Romanian translator, the proud mother of two joyful girls and the happy wife of her soul mate. She turned writing into a career in 2010 and has never looked back. She spends her leisure time by cooking healthy foods, reading princess stories, watching movies, playing games in the park, or walking along the Danube.