Employers have been recognising the benefits of home working and how it can positively impact their business. It provides employees with the flexibility and freedom to maintain a work-life balance while remaining as productive as possible. Although it was necessary to work from home for a large portion of the past couple of years, people are still utilising it today because we came to realise how possible it is. For many, remote working has not put any more unnecessary strain on them, nor has it negatively impacted the work being done.

However, it must be known that there continue to be certain obstacles when it comes to integrating the company online. There are many platforms being used across the world that allows us to stay in touch and communicate almost as normal during the workday. But the challenges of virtual teams become clear when you’re working remotely for extended periods. Especially as it is still quite a new experience for everyone. The important thing to remember is – there are ways we can overcome the obstacles, and it will benefit employees, clients and employers alike to work through them.

What do we mean by virtual teams?

It doesn’t matter if you have a vast corporation with people dotted around the world or a small and close-knit team that prefer remote work. Virtual teams just refer to the fact that you’re not all in one place, so you have to utilise technology to communicate. Sometimes it is not possible to accommodate everyone in the office, so you might have split rotas of working from home.

The key challenges of virtual teams often become apparent when there are larger projects underway or new staff that need training and induction. As technology progresses though, we are very capable of developing with it. We remain versatile and open to learning new ways of doing things, so any difficulties are usually short-lived. Let’s have a look at some challenges we may face, and how we can overcome them.

Challenge #1 – Time Zones

As we mentioned previously, some businesses may have employees or offices all over the world. They are operating from different locations and at different times – but they still need to communicate with each other to keep everything running smoothly. The first problem will be deciding which time zone to follow when it comes to booking meetings. Do you alternate between them so it is fair? Do you book meetings that will be out of hours for everyone? It’s a tricky thing to coordinate.

You also have the issue of employees who are or are not willing to work out of hours. Unless they are contracted for a certain amount of overtime,  it is understandable why they may not want to join a meeting at 9 pm on a Tuesday… It can also become counterproductive as the point of remote working is to promote that balance and freedom outside of work. So how do we attempt to overcome this? We understand it’s one of the more difficult challenges of virtual teams to approach, but there are things you can consider.

Possible solutions –

  • Rota system: It can be stressful if the same people are always having to accommodate out of hours working to be in line with another time zone. It often gets left to the ‘head office’ to arrange, so can usually work around their schedule. Instead of this, try making a point to schedule each meeting in accordance with a different time zone. This way, each office has set overtime every now and the, and it is not landing upon the same people each time.
  • Schedule fewer, longer meetings: Many people find it hard to attend so many meetings because they feel it breaks their days and weeks up too much. This can often leave employees feeling more drained and with less time to work efficiently on projects. Booking longer meetings less frequently could work better for some teams.
  • Alternatively, schedule shorter ones more frequently: This is why it’s important to communicate in the first place. Ask your teams what they would prefer. If longer meetings are going to be too draining, they may prefer short and productive ones scheduled more regularly. Talk to your employees or create a way for them to vote on what they’d prefer.

Challenge #2 – Morale & work ethic

Some of the challenges of virtual teams go unnoticed until it is too late. Employers have started to worry more about company morale because we’re seeing less interaction with colleagues and less opportunity to confer with each other. The contact time we have lost from remote working means we are no longer bouncing ideas off one another. Some employees thrive off of the social community within work, so not having that can easily lead to decreased morale and general productivity.

The moment we start to see morale drop, we know there is a lack of communication. Something is off and it needs to be addressed by the entire team. If we don’t, we could see people’s quality of work drop or stress levels rise – leading to more burnouts and lower staff retention. This is why catching it at the right moment is so important. But what can you do to tackle the problem before it gets too far down the line?

Possible solutions –

  • Hire the right people: It sounds silly, but this can make such an impact on the work that gets done when you’re not in the office. From the get-go, you’re going to need people that are willing and capable to work to their own initiative. There isn’t the opportunity for as clear and frequent communication as there would be otherwise. So ask the right questions in interviews and be picky with who you bring on board. The right people can boost the mood of a whole team!
  • Celebrate small wins: This is key for keeping morale high. It can be anything from bonuses to finishing early after a project is completed. But make sure the people involved know you appreciate the work they are putting in. If they don’t, they are going to feel lost and underappreciated. As the manager or employer, it’s up to you to build a culture you’d like to work for. Make a point of celebrating your staff and they’ll have a reason to keep working hard.

remote working UK

Challenge #3 – Communicating ideas

Probably one of the biggest challenges of virtual teams for anyone is how to communicate effectively. At first, it can be extremely hard to manage and pose difficulties when sharing new ideas or trying to get everyone on the same page. Employees are the backbone of every business, so it is important they are all being heard and having the chance to share thoughts or new directions for the company to take. After all, they are the ones keeping it running, so they will have a different insight into the workings of their role than you do.

It’s all well and good setting up meeting after meeting, but sometimes not everyone is required to be there. This is when people begin to feel left out or unhelpful because they’re sat silently for an hour while two people host a conversation. If you find this happening often, it can seem like a waste of time for those people. They could be getting on with the job that actually has major benefits on the business and themselves. So how do we tackle this?

Possible solutions –

  • Smaller meetings: If you come across an issue or someone has a new idea to implement, you’ll often find it will only take a handful of people to address it. Of course, for company-wide decisions, you’ll need to include everyone. But those are usually few and far between. So make a point to only include people in meetings that are absolutely necessary for the topic you are covering.
  • Create a forum: Or something similar. Employees may appreciate a place they can go to ask questions or throw ideas out in the open. The people they need may not always be available, but this gives them the opportunity to communicate with other departments or offices entirely. Should they need an answer, but not know who to go to, it gives everyone a chance to try and help. This also allows employees to take accountability and make the most of the people they are working with.

Challenge #4 – Productivity

When you’re not around your employees, it can be hard to keep track of how they’re doing and what their workload looks like. Many people will stay quiet if they feel their workload is getting too much because they don’t want to be seen as incapable. However, this can lead to burnout and decreased productivity because there is no balance. If they don’t feel like they can complete the work – they might just give up altogether. Creating a snowball effect like this will lead to backlogs of overdue projects and unfinished work. Whereas working to solve this problem could give you much more efficient teams.

An issue with remote work that a lot of people will be quick to mention, is the change in the support network. It’s so different from being in an office because usually, you have a whole hoard of people you can talk to. This boosts productivity because you’re engaging with new ideas and different aspects of the business. Whereas at home, people are solely focused on the task at hand and can lose touch with the bigger picture. Here’s what we suggest you think about to address productivity.

Possible solutions:

  • Foster a culture of accountability: This is the first step to ensuring your employees are working efficiently and productively. Set an example to them that you can take responsibility for your actions and mistakes, and they are sure to follow. The more this happens in your business, the easier it will become to address problems in the future. It also means they are more able to work to their own initiative, not relying on other people to complete work. This is key when it comes to remote working.
  • Ensure support systems are in place: From the day you hire an employee, it is vital they know who to go to for help and advice. Not only should a manager or supervisor be there, but it also helps to make a point of introducing the team. This way they have inter-department interactions should they need something from outside their own role. By doing this, you’re working through the inevitable mind block people get most days. They will know how to approach it so they can continue working efficiently.

Tackle the challenges of virtual teams

We’ve covered the main problems many people face when it comes to remote working. But we know you will come across others. A lot of solutions really just involve a clear line of communication. So if you can set everybody up with a support network, and a place to go if they need anything – you’re on your way to solving most of the problems already. The freedom it gives people truly makes the process worthwhile. You’ll see the benefits if you tackle this new way of working head-on.

Still unsure of how to manage virtual teams? Speak to one of our dedicated Azimuth experts today by contacting us at enquiries@azimuth.eu.com or call +44 (0)1483 24 33 81. We’ll be more than happy to discuss how we can help you and with over 20 years of experience across a range of industries, we have the innovative, proven tools that can help you unlock the true potential of yourself – and your business. What are you waiting for?

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