Struggling to manage your virtual team?
There are many advantages to hiring remote workers — but only if you’re prepared enough to overcome the challenges of virtual teams.
However, with the sudden COVID-19 outbreak, most teams aren’t prepared to deal with virtual work immediately.
This is why we’ve decided to cover the 7 biggest challenges of virtual teams and cover how you can deal with them! We’ll cover strategies, tools and tips to help your remote team to overcome these challenges and boost their efficiency.
This article contains:
(click on the links to jump to a specific section)
7 Main Challenges Of Virtual Teams (includes solutions to each challenge)
- Poor Communication
- Diminished Focus And Productivity
- Managing Employees And Accountability
- Task Management
- Maintaining Team Relationships
- Low Morale And Mental Health
Let’s get started.
Why Work With Virtual Teams?
So why are so many people working with virtual teams these days?
When done right, remote teams can have massive advantages for your company!
The key benefits of hiring virtual teams include:
1. Higher productivity and efficiency
If managed well, remote workers can be much more productive than in-house teams. They don’t waste time and energy on commuting each day and can work flexibly from the comfort of their homes!
2. Lower costs on infrastructure and resources
Virtual teams save you a lot of money— from electricity and rent to no office maintenance costs.
3. Access to a global talent pool
With virtual teams, you’re not restricted to talent only in your area. You’re not just limited to the United States or England – hire the best candidates from all over the world!
The 7 Main Challenges Of Virtual Teams (and how to deal with them)
Although remote teams have many advantages, they can be difficult to manage.
Let’s take a look at the biggest challenges of virtual teams and how you can deal with them.
Challenge #1: Poor communication
As you’d expect, one of the biggest challenges posed by virtual teams is miscommunication.
As you can’t have face-to-face communication in person, with your virtual employees, it can be difficult to convey messages!
The biggest reasons for this communication barrier are the cultural differences and time zone differences between virtual workers. Additionally, the visual cues and gestures that you pick up on with in-person communication are missing!
How does this impact your virtual team?
Poor team communication can cause several other problems, such as:
- Higher stress levels
- Unsatisfied customers
- Conflict between coworkers
- Falling short of targets
Solution 1: Virtual communication guidelines
By setting guidelines for team communication, virtual teams can boost their efficiency.
These may include:
Set specific working hours
Choose a few hours when everyone on your team can be online, and make these mandatory. This will allow teammates across time zones to collaborate effectively and plan their work accordingly.
Response time limits
Decide how long a virtual employee can take to respond to a message or email. This way, no query or request will go unattended for too long, and teams will function smoothly.
Avoiding slang and colloquialisms
If your remote team has members from different cultures and parts of the world, it can help to avoid slang and culture-specific references in official channels. Everyone may not be familiar with these, which may lead to misunderstandings or even conflicts.
Solution 2: Communication tools
Although email is still a commonly-used medium, it’s very outdated and lacks the functionality that other communication tools offer.
Virtual team communication tools are designed to make your life easier.
They help you stay in touch with your coworkers and ensure everyone’s on the same page.
Keep an eye out for tools with the following features:
- Instant messaging and chats: Useful for quick queries and replies. Best tools: Slack, Google Hangouts
- Video conferencing or conference calls: Help you host video meetings and group calls. Best tools: Zoom, Skype
- Collaboration and file sharing: Stores all your team files in one place and helps your team work on them together. Best tool: G Suite
- Internet based phone calls: Avoid distractions by keeping your personal cellphone away from your desk while you work. Increase focus and productivity with a virtual phone system for all your work related calls.
Challenge #2: Diminished focus and productivity
Although working remotely can be comfortable, it can also make it hard to focus!
Unlike offices, your home is full of distractions.
Whether it’s your children shouting or loud music playing near your house, any distraction can easily affect your productivity.
Additionally, employees who are not used to remote work may not feel like they’re truly at work. After all, most people don’t associate their homes with work!
In such cases, virtual employees may not achieve the same focus and productivity as they do in the office.
Solution 1: Reinforce Work Standards
If your virtual team is not used to telecommuting, emphasize the fact that the standards of work have not changed.
Help them adapt and transition to virtual work in these ways:
Use clear goals and targets.
This helps virtual team members visualize exactly what they have to do. As there’s a target in place, they have something to work towards and won’t be distracted. You could use a calendar or project management tool to provide a clear picture of the team’s goals.
Conduct frequent check-ins and reviews.
Maintain a line of communication with your virtual team by regularly checking in on their progress.
Ask them about any obstacles or difficulties they’re facing and help them overcome these. Frequent interaction will motivate your virtual workers to engage with their work.
Share tips to increase productivity.
While this may seem obvious, it can easily be overlooked or forgotten.
Encourage your remote team to tidy their workspace and to ask their families/roommates not to interrupt them during work hours. Small changes like these can go a long way towards boosting your team’s overall efficiency!
Solution 2: Productivity tools
Productivity and distraction management tools help you maintain focus and avoid distractions when working remotely.
These may include:
- Noise cancellation software
- White noise generators
- Website blockers
Some great tools to check out are Krisp, Noisli, StayFocusd and Pomodoro timers.
Challenge #3: Difficult to manage employees and maintain accountability
Lack of accountability can be a major challenge while managing virtual teams.
For example, if your employees are working remotely, how will you know:
- If your virtual employees truly working?
- If they are billing you for idle hours (hours where they’re not working)?
- If they’re on distracting websites during work hours?
Not only is it hard to keep track of accountability virtually, but it can affect an employee’s performance as well.
Think about it.
Since there is no direct supervision, virtual teams may lack the motivation to be productive— especially if they’re used to constant monitoring in a traditional office. This can negatively impact their results and growth!
Solution: Monitoring And time tracking tools
Employee monitoring and time tracking tools can bridge the accountability gap for most remote teams.
These tools allow you to:
- Track what each team member is working on
- Track the time taken for each task
- Record the websites and apps used during work hours
- Analyze efficiency via time usage reports
- Identify barriers to productivity.
Luckily, Time Doctor is the perfect tool for this.
What is Time Doctor?
Time Doctor is a performance monitoring tool used by massive companies as well as startups and small businesses. It lets you monitor your virtual teams and freelancers with ease.
Let’s have a closer look at a few of Time Doctor’s best features:
- Detailed project reports: to determine how long they spend on each project
- Inactivity timer: to ensure that they don’t mark idle time as time worked
- Built-in distraction management: to deter them from accessing unproductive websites and apps during work hours.
Challenge #4: Complex task management
Traditionally, teams plan and review project progress through in-person meetings and discussions.
However, that’s not possible for virtual teams!
Since remote teams often work at different times, it can be difficult to coordinate and conduct frequent team meetings. Additionally, even with advanced video conferencing software, you may not be able to get your point across as effectively as an in-office meeting could.
Solution: Project management tools
Project management tools allow virtual teams to stay updated and collaborate with ease.
You can easily track things like:
- What each virtual employee is working on
- Work that has been done
Project management tools let you organize, plan and update everything about your tasks, projects and assignments in one place.
Some of the best task management tools for virtual teams are:
Challenge #5: Harder to maintain team relationships
Virtual workers can often miss out on an essential part of office life — socialization.
They miss out on the banter, conversations and watercooler discussions that most in-office enjoy.
Why is this bad?
As virtual team members aren’t interacting with their coworkers, it can result in a lack of team spirit. This, in turn, can create a lack of trust and hesitation to depend upon fellow coworkers.
This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of teamwork in your virtual team.
Without enough human contact, not only is collaboration affected, but members may feel demotivated – further diminishing performance.
Solution: Encourage socialization and casual interactions
Get to know your global team and let them get to know each other as well!
It’s a great idea to encourage socialization within your team to build friendly relationships.
There are a few ways you could go about this:
- Create a team-wide informal channel or chat room for general conversation.
- Designate a time-slot each week to catch up with what’s going on with everyone.
- Start regular meetings with a casual session and invite coworkers to interact with each other.
- Set up a weekly trivia contest via Water Cooler Trivia. The quizzes and results are sent directly over email or Slack. Celebrate the winner each week and use the questions to kickstart casual “water cooler” conversations.
- If your budget allows, hold an in-person team meet every year or so.
Not only does this help you build a “ team culture,” it also shows them that you care about your employees. This helps with building trust, which as Harvard Business Review points out, is essential for every virtual team.
Challenge #6: Low morale and mental health
Lack of social interaction and staying at home for long periods can impact mental health negatively.
Not only will this impact your virtual employee’s health and mood, it’ll also negatively affect collaboration and communication — the two pillars to effective remote teams!
Mental health and mood are also closely linked to productivity and performance.
It can be difficult for employees to be as efficient as they were before when they’re struggling with their emotions and feelings.
And this drop in performance may, in turn, make them feel even worse.
Solution 1: Be a supportive leader
For your virtual team to give you their best results, you need to do your bit as a virtual team leader.
Encourage your staff not to overwork themselves and keep a healthy work-life balance. Express support for their problems and allow a certain number of paid leaves each month or quarter.
Always consult your human resources department about what you can do and if there are any employee-benefit programs that could help them.
And that’s not all!
To truly show them that you have their back, check-in with team members every once in a while.
Ask them how they’re doing and if they need anything from your side. Keep an eye out for erratic behavior, such as sudden changes in communication style, work hours and or odd decision-making. These are tell-tale signs that they’re struggling with something and could use some help.
Lastly, ensure the workload is distributed as evenly as possible to ensure that nobody is forced to overwork themselves.
Solution 2: Appreciate and reward them
When your virtual workers are down, help them back up.
And when they’re doing well, show your appreciation!
Try and regularly highlight each team member’s achievements. This recognition alone can be a good motivator for them to keep working hard!
However, in case of really amazing achievements, give them a small token of appreciation like a gift card. Remember, if your employees feel like their work is valued, they’re much more likely to put in their best!
Challenge #7: Security threats
Security is always a major concern for virtual teams.
In traditional offices, everyone uses the same network, which makes verification and safeguarding easier.
However, this isn’t possible with remote workers!
Virtual employees may use unsecured or vulnerable networks. This can put your data privacy at risk!
Identity verification can be bypassed via a number of attacks, including common one such as:
- Credential stuffing
- Brute force attacks
Additionally, when your employees are working remotely, it can be hard to monitor where your information is going and whom they’re sharing it with!
Solution: Security standards and measures
You can easily protect your data against most attacks with strict security measures.
First, ensure that employees don’t use public WiFi with little to no protection, such as those at cafes and restaurants. If this isn’t possible, make it a point that they always use a VPN while using public WiFi.
Teach your remote team how to properly secure their home networks, with easy measures such as using stronger passwords.
For any SaaS tools that the virtual team uses, try to go for plans that provide enterprise-grade security features such as single-sign-on (SSO) and encryption. This makes sure that your data is still safe on third-party servers and can’t be accessed easily by outsiders.
Simple measures like these can go a long way in protecting your company, especially if your virtual team deals with confidential and sensitive data!
Managing virtual teams doesn’t have to be difficult.
Sure, there are a few challenges, but they’re super-easy to tackle!
Just implement simple solutions like the ones mentioned in this article, and it’ll take no time for your remote team to work as efficiently as an in-office team!
Liam Martin is the co-founder of Time Doctor—one of the world’s leading time tracking software for remote teams. He is also the co-organizer of Running Remote, the world’s largest remote work conference.