1. Why are Virtual Teams Not Suitable for all Situations?You may think a virtual team is just another team. But there are differences that affect their ability to play to their strengths. Picture a sales representative in a discovery call or taking a lead through a product demo. Just when they’re getting to the good bit, the line cuts or the prospect complains of hearing background noises and echoes. Not the impression you were hoping your client-facing team would make, right? Put simply, virtual teams aren’t the best choice if the line of work requires a high-level of organization and coordination. There are many reasons why virtual teams fail in these situations. One, members in virtual teams aren’t all in the same place or time zone. Depending on which part of the world they’re living in, it can take time for someone to get back to you on an update. Such delays become a bottleneck if someone needs to sign off on a critical action or decision. Two, some members can experience frequent power cuts and technical glitches which are annoying enough as it is. But it's a bigger problem when it gets in the way of the business trying to be responsive, visible and supportive. Three, communication, both verbal and written, can be misconstrued if it's not contextualized, relevant and standardized. Let’s go into virtual team failures a bit more by understanding the downsides to a virtual-only workforce.
2. Cons of a Virtual Workforce
2.1 Harder to huddleThe downside to having employees in different locations as opposed to everyone in the same place, is that you no longer have direct visibility into happenings. In a collocated workspace, you can go up to the person’s desk, get everyone together for a team huddle or ask for an update through a hallway conversation. But the same is hard to replicate online because everyone needn’t be available or free when you need them. You’d have to work out a time that suits members before scheduling meetings. For this, it's important to train everyone (including yourself) to be adept at audio and video conferencing platforms.
2.2 Harder to engage consistentlyConsistency is key when it comes to keeping remote workers connected, engaged and communicative. It's easier said than done though, because in reality, work takes precedence and most conversations center around giving or receiving updates. Everyone’s familiar with the phrase, All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And that’s what the team will be heading for if companies aren’t intentional about engaging their employees after they’re onboarded. The other challenge to engagement is that employees are now a one-person army. Besides being accountable for output, they have to troubleshoot issues, set up their tech with remote assistance, help each other out and revert to mails. After all this, they’re also expected to have the stamina to attend back-to-back meetings as and when the occasion calls for it. This is one of the biggest reasons why why virtual teams fail.
2.3 Establishing a supportive networkIt's harder to get everyone to follow a culture structured around trust, support and encouragement when the team isn’t in contact with each other on a daily basis. You may unintentionally forget a coworker’s birthday or work anniversary, or be unable to organize fun Fridays that everyone can join in on. As a result, everyone defaults to a state where it's all about work. Without mini breaks to recharge, productivity tanks because employees lose focus. You will have to be creative in building a symbiotic network with the right incentives.
2.4 Less cohesiveIt is not possible to call a meeting of the entire organization to deal with a crisis. And yet, you cannot move forward without averting a situation that adversely impacts everyone. For example, tech issues such as server downtime can take up the better part of your work hours and prevent you from completing what you needed to do.
2.5 Reputation risksPotential customers are less likely to trust a fully virtual office and may not consider your firm to be a “real” business unless you are intentional about building trust from a distance.
2.6 Legal complicationsIf your remote team comprises people working out of different countries, you’d have to learn about employment laws, hiring practices, tax rules etc for different locations. A centralized HR platform can help you out to a great extent by providing information before, during and after an employee is hired remotely.
2.7 Security issuesUnless you use remote employee monitoring software, you won’t know if your employees are accessing sites or apps that are a security threat to your business. Such a tool can verify websites, block harmful apps, track activities, maintain logs and monitor productivity. You will, of course, need to get your employees’ consent and make them aware of what will and won’t be monitored.
3. What are the challenges of managing virtual teams?
3.1 Lack of Direction Or Ambiguity in StructureAmbiguity arises for one of three reasons
- Expectations conveyed change later.
- Priorities are unexpectedly pushed up or moved back.
- Concerned staff are left out of decisions regarding their work, resulting in a breakdown in the chain of communication.