Since the covid pandemic and with so many people working from home, the virtual teams model has become very popular. All employees can work at home and additionally have the opportunity to manage their own time and complete their tasks within their own working environment. But virtual teams work a little differently and face different obstacles. Today, we’re taking a look at the challenges.
One of the problems that can sabotage an entire virtual team’s endeavor right from the start is the technical requirements. Employees may not have the hardware or software necessary to communicate effectively. At best, it can be a poor internet connection making a conversation seem like nothing but a string of incoherent words, or it may not even be available in the first place. That’s why it’s crucial to carefully plan which tool to use for virtual communication and what are the requirements. On the one hand, the ability to work is essential, but the security of corporate and personal data within the home office must also be guaranteed. And then, employees must also have the tools available to work productively. For example, many workgroups use Teamplace to share and edit files and not just since covid.
Another significant factor that can sabotage the success of any virtual team is the employees themselves. Sure, working from home can be enjoyable, but some employees find it challenging to stay motivated and concentrated. There is also a lack of personal conversations among colleagues, like those found in hallways and kitchens. The team spirit and the feeling of togetherness can also suffer under virtual teams. Team spirit can at least be fostered through phases of virtual collaboration, in which each employee is heard and can share possible suggestions and experiences. If employees’ motivation and concentration wane, short breaks or virtual conversations with superiors and colleagues can help. It is essential to set common goals and to acknowledge successes achieved. Extra events such as yoga classes, virtual wine tastings, and regular employee surveys also contribute.
Conflicts may also arise that need to be resolved somewhat differently via virtual networks than in on-site teams. Analyzing the conflicts and holding discussions helps. If you can’t solve a conflict on your own, bring external help on board if necessary.
As already mentioned, employees in a home office can organize their time independently. However, if there is a lack of organization, this can have a massive impact on productivity. If there is a lack of common rules, structures, and time approaches, tasks that should be completed in parallel will likely no longer be completed on time. Plans will become unclear. You should always specify clear timeframes for home office and virtual team employees. You can monitor these timeframes through online meetings, for example. Supervisors should always be present, even if only to the extent necessary. Employees should always be able to turn to supervisors and colleagues to clarify unanswered questions or resolve unclear situations, as is normally the case. If this is not the case, employees quickly feel left alone and lose motivation.
What is the best way to lead teams, and does virtual leadership require a new understanding of roles? Researchers led by psychologist Julia Hoch at California State University addressed this question. They compared three different types of leadership:
1. Classic leadership (in which the bosses tried to motivate their employees or build a trusting relationship with them through meaningful communication),
2. Structural leadership (in which the bosses made it clear what rewards were expected for what performance. They also emailed and spoke clearly)
3. Shared leadership (in which responsibility was placed on several shoulders. Many in the team were able to participate in decision-making).
According to this study, the team’s results, measured by work quantity, quality, schedule, and budget targets, were better with the 2nd method than with the 1st method of traditional leadership. In the comparison teams that did not work virtually, the 1st method was more successful. And method 3 of shared leadership was successful for both virtual and non-virtual teams.
The conclusion of the study is that virtual teams need leaders to provide clear structures and goals, but who also provide leadership to the team. It is also important that you compose a team according to individual competencies.
Since virtual teams are used not only within the borders of a country but can span the globe, there is also potential for conflict. Especially when different cultures meet in a virtual setting, with customs and rhetorical characteristics and body language that are unfamiliar to each other, misunderstandings or conflicts can quickly arise. It is therefore advisable to find out about the culture in question and its peculiarities in advance.
In general, you need to overcome all the challenges associated with virtual teams. However, you might not perceive these hurdles initially and, if left ignored, will ultimately be the real reason for a virtual team’s failure. But if you try things out, learn from the experiences of your own and other teams, consult specialist literature or even a consultancy, then virtual teams do have their strengths. If something goes wrong, you just have to analyze it, and do something differently.