Challenges of Virtual Offices and How To Manage Virtual Teams
"One day, offices will be a thing of the past”,
Richard Branson, Entrepreneur and Founder of Virgin Airlines
Today’s offices go beyond the boundaries of physical offices. We are on the fourth industrial revolution and the business world is constantly being disrupted by digital transformation. For businesses to thrive in this ever-changing environment, many are currently setting up or have set up virtual teams for different aspects of their businesses.
What are virtual teams? Virtual teams consist of working professionals who operate remotely from home or other locations full- or part-time.
With all the benefits going around about the strengths of remote working, the challenges associated with virtual teams include
- How do we build an effective virtual team?
- How should we manage teams that are not physically in the same timezone or geographic location?
- How do we make sure that teams are independently accountable for their tasks? How do we maintain work standards while remote working?
#1 Ensure you have the right mix of skills and abilities on your team.
While anyone can work in virtual teams, it is vital that they possess (or at least, are inclined to possess) these traits and attitudes, in order for a business' virtual work environment to flourish.
Virtual teams require team members who are self-motivated and possess self-discipline since everyone is required to stick to their schedules and ask for help when the need arises.
It is ideal that team members are proactive in building good working relationships with others despite working remotely from wherever they are.
Besides hiring those who work resiliently alone, it is also vital that the team member is able to virtually collaborate with each other despite the difference in timezones. Thus, it is vital that potential hires are open to learning and are adaptive in ensuring they are competent in new technology tools (think Zoom, Microsoft Teams).
Ideally keep your virtual team small, preferably less than 10 people. A study from UCLA shows that smaller teams are more productive. The larger team, the more challenging it is to maintain communication, which may ultimately result in confusion and frustration among team members.
#2 Utilise tech tools to enhance virtual team performance.
To optimise how your team performance, utilise tech tools to enhance your virtual office experience.
To assess what your team needs and the capabilities your ideal tech tools would need to have, ask yourself in terms of these four factors: communication, database storage, content creation and costs.
- How do I want to conduct internal meetings with my team and external meetings with clients?
- How do I want to communicate with my team in real-time? Can my new tool mass communicate within other teams working remotely online?
- How do I ensure all teams receive vital company information?
- How much storage capacity is required?
- What security features will you need to protect the files?
- Is storing information in your database simple?
- Will the database enable teams to find information and support efficiently?
- What type of content would you like to share with your team? Do you want to show videos, text, or a combination of both?
- Do you require an engaging format so that your members are using them often?
- Will the tool allow you to build different engaging formats to display database knowledge? Quizzes? Or formats in the form of chatbots?
- What is the budget for all technology including purchase, maintenance and storage?
- What are the costs to individuals and your organisation?
With so many online tools available these days, it's easy to get overwhelmed. By penning down what's really need, it'll definitely help you remain objective while searching for the best fit for your team and organisation. If you're looking for a chatbot that possesses the versatility to play different roles in your team, check us out here.
#3 Clearly establish standards to manage teams remotely
The next thing to consider is to establish clear work standards to manage the team remotely and ensure that they know their responsibilities.
For instance, Human Resource executive Meg should be aware that she is required to be seen as online during work hours and she is aware of her daily tasks. She is also aware, through your clear work protocols, that she is not required to reply to emails during the weekend.
Here are some other ideas on what to establish for your team's work protocols:
- Ground rules for meetings and other interactions.
- How to effectively disseminate future meetings and team deliverables.
- How information will be conveyed to all team members who are not present during meetings. Like all work, ensure protocols are in place when members have missed deadlines, unsatisfactory work performance or conflict with others.
- The frequency in which you communicate with your team. Maintain frequent status check-ins with individual team members and reach out to them to avoid loose ends and ensure that they have the resources to avoid potential problems.
#4 Seek feedback from your team
Once you have decided on the technological tools and clear standard protocols for your virtual office, make sure to seek feedback from your team on a regular basis.
An organisation cannot operate efficiently without its trusted employees. Thus, it is vital that the new implementations ensure that employees are able to work more efficiently, but at the same time challenges employees to get better at their skills.
By taking team feedback seriously, you gain buy-in from all members of them. Doing so will ensure that everyone in the team will be accountable for their work and eases the time it takes members to assimilate to their new implementations.
#4 Keep employees motivated and engaged.
How do you keep your employees motivated and engaged despite the distance? In physical offices, the sense of connectedness develops naturally – over lunch, in the elevator, pantry or in pre-meeting chatter. But virtual teams lack these experiences, hence there is a need to make a concerted effort to build rapport and trust among team members.
One way to do this is to hold video tours. Get new members on the team to show one another around their workspaces. This practice allows colleagues to form a mental image of one another when they are communicating later by email or phone. Invite your team members to give a quick update of themselves at the beginning of the team meeting.
Small talk is a way for team members to get to know one another. Post bio and pictures of team members and incorporate them in meetings. In addition, recognise and praise collaborative behaviour when you see it.
If several team members have worked together to solve a problem, send an email to the entire team to express your appreciation or call them out during the team meeting. Encourage people to acknowledge one another’s work.
Sharing genuine praise and showing appreciation for work well done keeps employees engaged and happy even if they are separated miles apart.
So, what do you think?
Regardless of whether you are an experienced team leader or new to the role, coordinating the work of people in multiple locations will stretch your skills. Let us know if you've used these ideas!