Virtual teams are commonplace these days – if you aren’t part of the remote workforce yet, you may be soon. While it’s true that there will be many challenges faced by virtual teams, it’s also true that they have the potential to be more productive and produce better results than a traditional work team. However, in order for this to be realized, a virtual team does need to be extremely well managed.
First, let’s take a look at some of the challenges virtual teams may face, followed by several key reasons they can actually outperform conventional teams. Finally, we’ll discuss a few essential tips for managing virtual teams effectively, in order to help them perform at the highest level possible.
Challenges for virtual teams
Lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to lower levels of empathy amongst team members, as well as a lower degree of trust – simply because you have never met the people you’re collaborating with. Not being able to see and respond to verbal cues certainly plays a role in how well a team can interact and gel with one another.
Cultural barriers are also very real challenge for global teams. Differences in language, communication style and work ethic will influence team members’ interactions and understanding of one another.
Potential over-communication is also a factor to consider. Some virtual teams may try to overcompensate for the lack of face-to-face interaction by sharing too much information that may often be irrelevant or unimportant. This information overload may cause team members to filter out the ‘noise’, leading to some important things missed.
Despite the challenges, virtual teams can still be more effective…
There is certainly evidence to suggest that virtual teams can indeed be more effective than traditional teams, as reported by Meena Dorr in her article for Training Magazine:
In line with this, Keith Ferrazzi lists 3 reasons why virtual teams have the potential to outperform conventional teams in his article ‘Virtual Teams Can Outperform Traditional Teams’:
- The best expertise can be enlisted from any location in the world.
- Cycle time of projects can be reduced with ‘follow the sun’ schedule – effectively, there are always team members, in various geographic locations, working on the project 24 hours a day.
- Tap into a diversity of input – people are working closely with customers in each of their local markets.
But these potential benefits of virtual teams will only be realized if the team is managed effectively.
Essential tips for virtual team management
Pick the right people at the start. That is, people who are self-motivated and can work independently, yet are also good communicators.
Provide excellent training. Virtual team members need to know how to make the most of the various technologies that they are using to collaborate and share information in order to be highly effective.
Have set processes in place. This is particularly important in the area of decision making within the team, as well as having regular check-ins to make sure progress is consistent and that any potential issues are addressed and fixed before they can escalate into major problems.
Be aware of communication overload. The quality of communication is more important than the quantity. It’s advisable to have these communications at predictable times each day or week, so people can be prepared and aware that important things will be shared and discussed.
Where there is conflict, keep it task related. Don’t let conflict get personal, which could happen more easily in virtual teams because of the potential lack of face-to-face interaction, empathy and trust.