The Challenges of Managing a Virtual Team


The concept of working with a virtual team is becoming more popular nowadays. Both employers and employees are getting hooked by the idea of a remote work setup, giving each party a good chance to have a better work-life balance. 

We aren't here to pamper you with all the good stuff though. No matter how convenient it seems to work with a virtual team, there are not-so-savoury surprises you’ll need to know.

Today, I’ll touch on the major hurdles of working with a remote team. To help you plough through, we'll give you actionable solutions you can use right away!

Let’s get down to business, shall we?

Distance can be a Bummer

As with any long-distance relationship, working with a remote team requires more nurturing than you would normally do for an employee by your side. While technology can bridge several gaps, there are some aspects that it can’t effectively address. While it isn’t necessarily harder, it does take some active participation and planning to get things to work.

And just to keep it real, it won’t be fun at first. You’ll be working with an unfamiliar group of people who are oceans away from you! Sooner or later you’ll encounter some choppy waters. 

Here are a few obstacles that you may have to sail through:

Different Time Zones 

Depending on where you outsource, you may encounter the very real dilemma of different time zones. Since you and your staff reside in different locations, project collaboration can be a challenge as face-time with staff can be limited. How will you manage a team working on alternating schedules?

SOLUTION:

Invest in collaborative software or what we usually call the ERM (Employee Relationship Management) system. We highly recommend our clients to use Asana for their virtual team, also another widely used option is Basecamp. With an ERM system, you and your team will be in the loop for changes and accomplished tasks or project milestones within the business, even if you occasionally miss a catchup meeting or two.

Miscommunication

We can all agree that teamwork is key for creating a remarkable product (or service) that sells. 

Just look at the market success of the iPod against Rio. Behind iPod’s slick interface design, is a group of people working side by side as a team. The iPod was such a hit, that I bet you’ve never even heard of its predecessor, Rio.

Without a good level of interaction and rapport, you and your virtual team have a slimmer chance of coming up with monumental breakthroughs. Add to that, the occasional miscommunication bug might visit you more often, due to limited ways of communication, lack of body language cues (hand gestures, facial expressions etc.) and even misinterpretation! 

Imagine saying something in jest, then be taken seriously by your staff. I bet it’s even worse if it was the other way around.  

Striking a balance between clear communications, while cultivating a culture of openness can be difficult. But, if you aren’t able to overcome this communication dilemma, consider it as a kiss of death for your virtual team.

SOLUTION:

Never underestimate the power of video calls and a routine, set up a schedule for video conferences and stick to them. If you aren’t used to a 2-way video call, you can always opt to have the regular phone call. However, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to speak with your team on a more personal level, and you won’t be able to gauge certain reactions without getting a glimpse of your team’s body language. 

That said, your other means of communications should also be strong. Keep at least two (2) instant messaging apps at your disposal, email on the regular and use an ERM system or business intranet. 

To further avoid misunderstandings, always back-up verbal instructions with documentation. Anything that has been said that needs to get done should be quoted through another channel such as email or chat. 

I do things this way because I like to keep my routine meetings as casual as possible and circle back to instant messaging for any important stuff. Truthfully, the best way to improve communication between yourself and your team is practice. 

Virtual Work can be very Draining  

The average person spends about a third of their lives working. With this much time spent in the workplace, people eventually develop friendships and even relationships inside their organizations - all normal characteristics of social beings. 

While some remote workers are digital nomads, the rest are largely just regular joe’s who enjoy the convenience of virtual work. Nonetheless, there is still a need for social interaction in the workplace, especially if they’ve been with a client for a long time. In fact, most employees stay with a company longer if they enjoy working with their colleagues, this also applies to a remote team member. 

Some days are just harder than others. So while your remote staff might not say anything, or they might not even recognize it, it does take a toll on their mental and emotional health.

SOLUTION:

The long term solution here is promoting a better work culture. We all know “work-life balance” gets thrown around a lot, much like produce after its sell-by date. However, it isn’t always endorsed by business owners. Not to mention that work-life balance is only a single facet of a company’s culture. 

Since you’re working with a remote team, there are some perks from your organization that aren’t quite transferable. So start small; get to know the people who work for you, ask about their families, hobbies and what they’re passionate about. 

If you have a full-on team in one location, encourage them to communicate with each other. If you want to take a step up, offer to sponsor team building activities, family trips, or maybe, offer to pay for some emergency leaves. Your team members will be happy knowing that they work for a boss who listens and cares. 

For example, most of the remote staff we work with today are located at our BPO in Clark, Philippines, just like most countries in Asia, they place a huge significance on family values. So for our team in the Philippines, we tend to be more accommodating (within reason, of course) in allowing time-off for family reasons and holidays.

If you’re also working with an offshore team, you can go even further by visiting their country. Make it a working holiday. Who knows, your visit might actually give you an exhilarating adventure of a lifetime!

Trust Issues  

Trust is a tricky topic; it takes a lot of time to build, but a single misstep can cause it to crumble in an instant. It’s hard enough trusting people who you know, not to mention people you’ve never even met in person. 

Be that as it may, trust is important in any type of relationship. In an employer-employee setup, trust can help develop great ideas, improve collaboration and produce exceptional work. So if you can’t trust your remote staff to do good by you, what’s the point in hiring them at all? You’re just setting yourself up to lose sleep by worrying about your staff. 

SOLUTION:  

To give you a good headstart, we suggest you establish core values for your business. 

How do you do business with your customer/clients (external)? 

What’s the work culture within the workplace (internal)? 

What are your business profit goals (financial)?

Having core values will set the foundation of your trust between a professional boss-employee relationship, and will lay the groundwork of your expectations from each other, and help manage conflicts as they arise. At the very least, this will carve out mutual understanding and respect for all parties involved. 

As for the question: “How can I trust a complete stranger with sensitive information? There really isn’t an easy answer. Time will be one of your best gauges for honesty, but it isn’t foolproof. If we’re talking about money, depending on the circumstances, anyone can get tempted. 

So when hiring, take into consideration the personal values of each applicant and trust your gut.

Cultural Differences

The remote workforce continues to grow as more young professionals hang up their corporate suits, in exchange for a more relaxed way of working. Virtual workers now come from all walks of life and around the globe. So the likelihood of hiring a virtual team member from a completely different culture is high.

The cultural beliefs, traditions, and habits will be different from one another. And while most of these are not worth weighing in on, some areas could still affect your business. 

Here are the major hurdles of working with a team with a diverse culture:

Conflicting Work Habits 

Spain has a Siesta, where stores and business close between the hours of 2 pm to 5 pm for nap times or long lunches. In Japan, working hours beyond your shift is regarded as dedication. And in Brazil, it is not uncommon for people to come in late to meetings. 

Teamwork is easy when you have the same ideals, habits and work ethic, but that’s hardly the case, especially with an international team. And while you’d like to be respectful, the work habits I’ve mentioned earlier aren’t really commonly practised and have a direct effect on how your business (and team) operates.

SOLUTION:  

Jump at it when you see these situations occurring. When hiring, specify your work rules and guidelines to the candidates. 

If a current staff member goes against your rules, pull them to the side and reprimand. If these actions are left unchecked, they can persist and will set a bad precedent to other staff.


Conflicting Values and Beliefs

Unlike work habit conflicts, values and beliefs are subjects you wouldn't want to touch on at all. There are no sides here, no guns to pull, no need to go gung-ho. You don't want to end up having a debate with your staff, do you?

SOLUTION:  

Do not engage! Turn around, don’t argue and if warranted, cut the conversation short - especially if this is happening on a group call or chat. Getting involved will only spell trouble for everyone in the long run. Although a lively, impassioned debate is healthy once in a while, you might hit a raw nerve with new staff. 

We also recommend doing a quick read on the religious and political climate, as well as the cultural beliefs of the countries where you’ll be hiring virtual team members. This way, you'll know what are the topics to avoid when talking to your staff.

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Planning and preparation are key when working with a virtual team. Keep all the factors discussed in this post, and you’ll have less trouble in facing the shortcomings of remote work setup.

You can also seek help to BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) companies to help you build your virtual team. With established infrastructure, HR & administrative services and a business-grade internet connection, you’ll worry less about managing your virtual team. 

Want to build your awesome remote team soon? We offer a wide range of services to help you start. From recruitment to actual business operation. Want to know more? Contact us now!

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