What Are The Challenges Of Virtual Teams? 5 Steps to Successfully Manage A Team Remotely


Many companies now are struggling to manage their teams remotely. In theory, managing a virtual or remote team should be all milk and honey. You offer your team members perks and freedoms they could not enjoy at a traditional job, without tying them to a specific location or a strict schedule. Yet for many reasons, managing a virtual and remote team is not so easy. There are various challenges that come in the way of a virtual team. Read on to know the challenges of running a virtual team and how to successfully manage a team remotely.

Challenges of Virtual Teams

The twelve greatest challenges of managing a virtual and remote team are:

  1. Lack of trust
  2. Poor communication skills
  3. Time zone differences
  4. Lack of defined structure
  5. Struggle with distracting environments
  6. Conflicts due to cultural diversity
  7. Minimal face-to-face interaction
  8. Unclear direction
  9. Difficulty while scheduling meetings
  10. Quick to go over budget
  11. Low productivity (due to lazy unsupervised employees)
  12. Trouble keeping their spirits high

In practice, you cannot know them personally, so holding them responsible for their actions is a little more difficult. You may end up making a few mistakes.

The good news is that it is not impossible, and if I did it, so can you.

I started managing my first virtual team in 2012, after being promoted from junior copywriter to senior copywriter, junior editor, senior editor, and, eventually, team manager.

I had no previous remote work or management experience, no studies in the field, just a desperate ambition to succeed and not disappoint the man who had taught me everything I knew and had helped me turn my passion for writing into a career.

Then I started from scratch and created and managed a successful team, learning from my own mistakes and developing my strategies. Keep reading to find out what worked for me and what I learned from my virtual team management experience!

5 Steps for Successfully Managing a Virtual Team

5 steps to successfully manage a virtual team-alignthoughts

1. Get to Know Each Team Member

The first step in solving any virtual team challenge is by getting to know every team member. I realize each virtual team is different, and, sometimes, getting to know people personally is impossible.

However, you don’t need to meet in person to know someone. You can organize a video conference, communicate through instant messages, talk on the phone, have them take a test or any of these solutions combined.

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 find out what their priorities are, what issues you could encounter with them, and how you can motivate your team.

See this: How To Create a Happy and Friendly Work Environment?

2. Set Clear Rules

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 activity, I put together a writer’s guide to explain to the new team members

  • how to approach each project, when and how to submit it
  • what rules to follow when writing
  • how each project was evaluated and paid
  • what they were supposed to do when they couldn’t complete an assignment in due time, etc.

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It can be a guide, a set of team rules and regulations, a set 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 over and over again, and you will have something to turn to when a team member breaks the rules.

3. Set Clear Bonuses and Penalties

Hopefully, every member of your team will do their job well, and your only worry will be to reward them. However, you should prepare to apply penalties as well. Moreover, everyone should be aware of the stake and the risks. Set clear rules about rewards and punishments while managing a remote team.

For example, in my team, writers who completed their projects on time and according to the given instructions were promoted no questions asked after submitting 500 articles. Writers who were good and met deadlines received the promotion much earlier, sometimes after the first ten articles.

As far as submission deadlines were concerned, writers were allowed to request extensions or give up a project with 48-24 hours before the deadlines.

Those who failed to do so and did not meet their deadlines were fired on their third delayed submission.

4. Provide Polite But Thorough Feedback

I hope you will only give positive feedback. When you do, it pays to do it publicly, to congratulate your team member through a public group post or an email sent to the entire team.

If a team member says or does something you do not like, draw their attention. Otherwise, they won’t know they did, said, or wrote something wrong. You can deal with many challenges by providing timely and thorough feedback to your virtual team.

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However, when giving negative feedback, always be polite and, unless you need to set an example, keep it private. Your opinion or your relationship with a specific team member does not give you the right to insult them or humiliate them.

If they do not accept and do not act on justified criticism, perhaps they shouldn’t be on the team. Just make sure you bring clear arguments. Always explain why a particular action or gesture is not acceptable and what may happen if it continues.

For example, I used to edit the articles my writers submitted in Word with the “Track Changes” option activated, to allow them to see the changes I made, and I added comments throughout the text to explain significant issues.

5. Make Your Team Members Repair Their Own Mistakes When Possible

The accountability of mistakes can be a challenge while managing remote teams. Sometimes, your team members continue to make mistakes you’ve warned them to avoid or neglect to act on your feedback.

When possible, ask them to repair their errors, no matter if it means apologizing to a client, reviewing a presentation, or doing something all over again.

It is the only way for them to learn to do things right the first time and avoid delays, revisions, and later hassle.

A frequent issue I ran into with some of the writers on my team was duplicate content. Some of them found it easier to “borrow” ideas they found online without giving away the source and without using their own words.

When I found duplicate content, I sent them the Copyscape report and asked them to revise their articles accordingly, sometimes repeatedly.

Most of the time, it would have been easier to rephrase the paragraphs in question or add links to the sources myself, but my writers wouldn’t have learned their lessons. The revision requests made them aware of their faults and determined them to subscribe to Copyscape and check their articles before submitting them.

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Final Piece of Advice 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.

You’ve been part of teams too, you’ve performed similar activities, and you can put yourself in your team members’ shoes. This means you know how to motivate them, engage them, and help them improve. As a result, your job is half done.

Key Takeaways On Managing Remote Team

  • Managing a remote team can be very different and challenging than managing team members in an office.
  • Some common challenges of a virtual team are lack of trust, poor communication, unclear direction, lazy unsupervised employees, low productivity, etc.
  • 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 successfully manage a virtual team.

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 our readers and us in a comment below, and share this post if you found it useful or you agree with its ideas!

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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.