The appeal and advantages of virtual teams are easy to see. Employees get the freedom and flexibility to work from wherever they want and create their own work schedule. Organizations get to save on infrastructure costs, improve productivity, and hire candidates from a global talent pool, with no location limitations.
But to create a successful virtual team and leverage its benefits, organizations need to navigate through the numerous collaboration challenges. Without nailing collaboration, you will end up with a disjointed team with high individual productivity which never leads to any visible results.
It takes the right team members, the right leadership, the right technology, and the right collaboration practices to make a successful virtual team.
Challenges faced during virtual collaboration
Time zone differences
When you have team members working from different countries around the world, time zone differences can inevitably lead to availability issues. Scheduling a group meeting where all the team members are available can become a nightmare. It also becomes difficult to accommodate any urgent changes or requests.
How to deal with it: While moving to remote work can seem rocky and overwhelming at first, planning ahead of the time zone differences can help immensely. You can analyze the working hours of all the team members to find overlapping timings where everyone is available and schedule team meetings accordingly. You can also make sure to move 12-24 hours ahead of every deadline so that you always have a lead time.
When you are working from an office, all you have to do is wave at your colleagues or walk over to their desk to get their attention. But virtual team members can’t do the same.
When you are working remotely, even the smallest of disruptions can ruin your concentration and productivity.
If managers don’t understand the importance of giving remote employees the space they need to get their work done, it can eventually lead to severe productivity and efficiency issues.
How to deal with it: Instead of expecting team members to respond immediately, keep communication asynchronous so that employees can respond to messages whenever they are available. You can also block time for deep work and inform the other team members when you don’t want to do disturbed.
Working from home can feel isolating, no matter how many team members you have. Moreover, when you only see your team members as pictures on your screen, it can be difficult to form a rapport and work together as a team in an effective manner.
How to deal with it: Encourage employees to switch on their video for team meetings and also organize virtual team building activities from time to time to improve collaboration and team bonding.
Furthermore, you should remember that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is a real thing–it’s common for people to feel anxious, tired, or even lonely after a long video call. So, while it’s good to encourage video calls for weekly or monthly team meetings, don’t enforce them for every meeting or discussion.
Also, video calls are not a permanent replacement for face-to-face interactions. Organize routine seminars, team retreats, or in-office meetings regularly so that employees can socialize and improve team collaboration.
Problems in building trust
Over 52 percent of employees feel like their team is less trustful of them and leaves them out of big decisions when they work from home.
It’s obvious for trust issues to arise in remote teams, mainly because you can’t even see what your colleagues are up to, Moreover, in some cases remote team members have never even met each other face to face which subconsciously affects how much trust they have between them.
How to deal with it: To build trust within the team, encourage open communication, promote transparency, and avoid micromanagement. You can also organize routine team meetups where the team members can come together and build a social bond.
Tips to help virtual teams collaborate successfully
Train for collaboration
While some skills like leadership and positivity are more nature than nurture, collaboration is not one of them. To build a successful virtual team, employees need to be trained to develop collaboration as a skill and make the most of it.
After all, you can encourage employees to collaborate and cooperate, and they might even want to do that, but if they don’t know how to work well together with their coworkers, it will lead to no results at all.
For instance, the employee training at PricewaterhouseCoopers includes modules about teamwork, communicating with other coworkers, networking, emotional intelligence, and holding difficult conversations.
Fewer team members
With the introduction of new technologies, team sizes have also grown rapidly. In fact, many complex teams now have more than 100 members. However, research indicates that as the team size increases beyond 20 members, the collaboration tends to start decreasing.
The most successful virtual teams are relatively smaller in size. In fact, only 24 percent of the top-performing teams have 13 or more members, the rest have a team size smaller than 13. That’s because when there are too many members in a virtual team, it is easy for some members to avoid accountability by fading in the background. Scheduling meetings and optimizing communication also become a big challenge as the virtual team size increases.
Optimizing cross-functional team collaboration
Many low performing virtual teams are actually cross-functional teams where team members are taken from different departments or teams of the organization. While cross-functional team collaboration is important for companies and it can even lead to great results, 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.
Successful virtual teams are able to overcome the unique challenges of cross-functional team collaborations in a remote environment and encourage members from different departments or teams to work together in an effective manner.
Productive virtual meetings
Effective communication is paramount for the success of virtual teams. In fact, 60 percent of high-performing teams meet at least once a week. With a majority of the workforce now working remotely, virtual meetings have become more common than ever. Over 80 percent of employees use video calling for 1:1 meetings and 45 percent of teams use video calling either daily or weekly.
But just conducting meetings through video conferencing tools is not enough. Every time you organize a meeting without a clear agenda, you chip away from the productivity of your team members. Successful virtual teams organize productive virtual meetings with a clear agenda and a speculated time duration so that everyone can make the most of it.
It’s the tools that make virtual teams successful
Successful teams need the right virtual collaboration tools which can help streamline the whole process and make it easier for employees to work together. Just like you set up designated desks, computers, meeting rooms, and break rooms in a physical office, you also need a virtual space that replicates the physical workplace.
A digital workplace offers a centralized platform where employees can access all the project details, task information, work resources, and communication. It gives team members access to all tools they need to work together through a single platform which minimizes disruptions and improves virtual team collaboration.