5 challenges of managing virtual teams and how to overcome them

Written by 
John Allen
November 6, 2020
A remote worker using MURAL
5 challenges of managing virtual teams and how to overcome them
Written by 
John Allen
November 6, 2020

Managing a team isn’t a simple job even at the best of times. In a virtual office, it can prove even more challenging.

Since the pandemic, many teams have remained virtual — benefits of working remotely, including dropping what may have been a long commute, have saved time and money for employees and business alike. . In addition, video calls allow teams the freedom of staying in the comfort of their own homes, resulting in a more relaxed workplace environment, which can be a positive motivation to get into a productive workflow.

However, if you are virtually leading a team, it does not come without its challenges. For example, miscommunication and time zone differences can become significant issues, considering the lack of in-person interaction  (and the greater familiarity that can come more easily with that) and the difficulties that asynchronous collaboration can present. . Nonetheless, it has never been more important to improve our virtual collaboration skills and foster connection across distributed teams.

How we keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and even health professionals is changing. Now, it’s dominated by video conferencing, virtual phone services, and digital communication tools.

The virtual workplace is the new normal.

With so many benefits to hiring remote workers, it’s easy to see why.

Benefits Of Remote Work

Remote working has perks for both employees and companies. To name a few: 

  • The ability to work from anywhere in the world
  • Improved employee retention rates (source)
  • Lower/no rent to pay on office space
  • Improved work-life balance
  • Less commuting

5 Challenges of virtual teams

It's not always smooth sailing, however.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the main challenges of managing virtual teams and provide practical solutions for overcoming them. 

Source: FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics

1. Communication among remote teams

Communication for remote teams can be a problem, but it doesn’t need to be.

Teams are often dispersed around a country or the globe, and it’s unlikely that you’ll have many (if any) opportunities to meet face to face with your team. In-person meetings can be a drag for many reasons, but without them, our work environment interactions are greatly reduced. So what effects does poor communication have on team morale and productivity?

Poor communication can result in:

  • Higher stress levels
  • Conflicts and issues
  • Missed deadlines
  • Unsatisfied customers

The main reasons for poor communication among remote teams are time zone discrepancies, cultural differences, and a lack of visual cues and gestures. Despite these difficulties, virtual teams must remain connected through established methods of communication.

So what’s the solution?

If you’re a team leader, it’s a good idea to lay down some guidelines Some ideas include:

  • Hold virtual meetings and collaboration sessions to get work done and solve challenges as a team.
  • Outline the standard use of applications, including guidelines of how to communicate (eg. use an instant chat tool for more urgent matters as opposed to email) and times that everyone should be online. 
  • Communicate goals and expectations clearly.
  • Create an open and honest work environment by appointing meeting facilitators to encourage open dialogue and guide the team through difficult problems.

There are plenty of tools on the market to make connecting and collaborating with your team a breeze. When it comes to planning your virtual office, you’ll need to incorporate tools for:

  • Video calling (RingCentral, Zoom)
  • Messaging (RingCentral, Slack)
  • Visual Collaboration (MURAL) 
  • Time tracking 

AI tools can make a huge difference in your “virtual office”. AI tools yield undeniable results and can improve customer service, data analysis, and reporting, enhance cybersecurity, and automate various time-consuming processes.

2. Remote project and task management

Planning and monitoring your team’s projects and tasks become more difficult when they’re not in the office with you.

For example, imagine you’re managing development team and you’re developing exciting new software that could see huge results for your business. Your remote team might be equipped with all the latest tech tools they need, but if they’re not staying on top of their assigned tasks it will all unravel pretty quickly. This results in bad customer experience, and snide reviews and angry phone calls are the last things you need right now.

Luckily, there’s an array of project management tools out there to make this a breeze. Examples include Asana, Jira, Wrike, and more. This kind of tool allows you to organize projects and collaborate with a remote team.

Comprehensive project management tools allow you to assign tasks to individual team members, split them into subtasks, and set priorities. This ensures tasks are completed on time, and there’s no confusion about who should be doing what. 

Related: 10 virtual meeting tools for team collaboration

3. Nurturing remote team relationships

Building team relationships when you’re working remotely isn’t the easiest task. You can’t just pop down to the pub for after-work drinks, or watch everyone embarrass themselves at the annual holiday party. So, you’re going to have to get creative.

If you try to foster an open and honest virtual workplace environment, your team will perform better and enjoy their jobs much more.

A good idea is to hold weekly/biweekly/monthly virtual get-togethers, where you don’t have to talk about work. During meetings, you can get people warmed up with ice breakers and energizers to make virtual meetings a little less awkward. You can also create a dedicated channel on your chat tool for general and informal chats — a virtual water cooler of sorts.

Push to hold virtual hangouts and other online activities to create team bonds. There, your remote team can bond, have a few drinks, and get to know one another outside of work (think: summit meeting, convention, or dress-up party).

If your organization usually holds workshops throughout the year, you can take these online by planning a virtual retreat that includes virtual meetings, talks, and games to enable your team to get to know each other and build relationships. 

4. Lack of focus and productivity

Sure, working remotely has its benefits.

You can work from the comfort of your own home and roll out of bed and into the office! No more valuable hours wasted on public transport, no awkward encounters by the coffee machine, and no uncomfortable office wear! Just pajamas, the couch, and a fridge full of snacks.

Add some screaming kids to the mix and it’s a different story.

To work remotely, you need to know how to work independently.

Teach your team good independent work skills. Reinforce work targets  and ensure that goals and expectations are communicated. You’re not in the office anymore, but standards must remain the same.

If you’re an expert at working independently, you can share some tips with your team to set them on the right path.  Productivity tools like noise cancellation software, timers, and website blockers are great ways to increase focus and stay on track. Implementing these tools and setting guidelines for how to use them can be a great asset to your team’s remote work playbook.

5. Accountability

Holding people accountable is a lot more difficult when they’re not right in front of you. How do you know if your team is working, or if they’re getting distracted by social media or other websites?

If your team is working on implementing a successful digital strategy for your biggest client yet, each task must be completed on time and to the expected standard. With team members spread out all over the world, it’s a daunting task. So where do you start?

Be a remote team leader

In our current world, remote work is a form of resilience and a testament to our ability to continue creating, learning, and building successful businesses.

Remote work is here to stay, but it doesn't come without it's challenges:

  1. Maintaining communication among remote teams
  2. Remote project and task management
  3. Nurturing remote team relationships
  4. Lack of focus and productivity
  5. Accountability

Now we know that there are a few problems that can arise from a virtual work environment. Don’t fret, though; they’re easy to overcome. When managing a remote team, you need to be a leader they can trust.

Communication is key, always. Develop good project management skills, and use tools that will make your team’s life easier (not more complicated!). Encourage interaction among team members, and make sure everyone is accountable for their actions.

If you can facilitate a positive virtual work environment based on trust and openness, your remote team will deliver the results you need.

More resources on how remote leaders can support their teams:

About the authors

About the authors

John Allen

John Allen

John has over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs. He has written for websites such as WebsitePulse and Recruitee.

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