The shift to remote and hybrid work has led to an exponential growth of virtual teams. By 2024, an estimated 70% of workers will be based remotely at least some of the time, according to a 2019 study by Gartner. Leading productive and engaged teams in a virtual setting comes with unique challenges. Managers who understand these challenges can implement strategies to successfully guide their distributed groups.
Common Challenges of Virtual Teams
Migrating from co-located to virtual teams presents difficulties including:
Lack of in-person interactions can lead to miscommunications. Important context like body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones get lost through video calls and chat platforms. This fuels misunderstandings, confusion, and tension between team members.
Spotty internet connections, incompatible platforms, unclear online etiquette, and lack of technical support impede collaboration. Stanford research found these tech issues were remote workers’ top stressor and productivity blocker.
Lack of Engagement
Physical separation and limited social time make it easier for team members to disengage and feel isolated. This “out of sight, out of mind” mentality damages team cohesion. Motivation and morale suffer without personal connections.
Without in-person supervision, some virtual team members struggle with procrastination and productivity. The autonomy of remote work makes it easier to slack on individual contributions and delay deliverables.
Spontaneous collisions and hallway conversations allow ideas to cross-pollinate. This organic collaboration is lacking in remote settings, where siloes form and insights are not shared across the team.
Poor Work-Life Balance
With no commute providing a clear separation, work-life boundaries blur for remote staff. Long hours, constant connectivity, and pressure to be online erode personal time. This takes a toll on health and happiness.
Best Practices for Leading Virtual Teams
To overcome these obstacles, managers of virtual teams should:
Set Clear Guidelines
Define team processes, online etiquette, tech setups, communication norms, and work schedules. This eliminates ambiguity that breeds conflict.
Invest time upfront in one-on-one meetings and virtual socializing to foster interpersonal connections. This builds trust and unity.
Leave no room for interpretation about deadlines, deliverables, and individual responsibilities. Follow up in writing to confirm understanding.
Track Contributions Closely
Implement systems to monitor workloads, productivity levels, and capacity across the team. Quickly address lagging progress.
Organize activities like virtual coffee breaks, trivia, book clubs, and monthly virtual happy hours. This stimulates engagement and morale.
Show Appreciation Tangibly
Beyond verbal praise, find meaningful ways to recognize excellence like gift cards, public kudos, paid time off, and rewards programs.
Model Work-Life Boundaries
Refrain from off-hour emails or calls. Be transparent about taking vacation. This gives team members permission to unplug.
Frequently Asked Questions About Virtual Teams
How often should a virtual team meet?
Aim for at least one 30-60 minute video check-in call per week. Supplement with additional meetings as needed for brainstorming sessions and progress updates.
What technology works best for virtual teams?
How can I build culture on a virtual team?
Organize online social events, create digital spaces for informal chats, ship branded swag to members’ homes, start traditions like virtual karaoke, and recognize milestones.
How do I manage conflict in remote teams?
Address issues immediately before they escalate. Have one-on-ones to understand perspectives. Find compromises and coach team members on constructive conflict resolution tactics.
How can I gauge productivity in virtual teams?
Analyze metrics like task completion rates, online activity levels, response times, meeting contributions, goal progress, and project velocity. Distribute engagement surveys.
Leading productive and innovative virtual teams means embracing new management philosophies tailored to distributed work. Prioritizing relationships, accountability, collaboration, and work-life balance will future-proof organizations for the hybrid world.