Technology and the proliferation of communication tools have shrunk the world and made possible global virtual teams. This has brought many benefits but there are also many challenges to managing a virtual team.
Four Major Challenges of Managing A Virtual Team
In this post we will highlight four common issues often raised by people when discussing the challenges of managing a virtual team. Without doubt effective communication is paramount.
Communication, Communication, Communication
In the aftermath of losing the brilliant Stephen Hawking, this quote of his is both relevant to the topic and worth remembering:
“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”
Some of the benefits of being in the same office include the ability to speak to your team without necessarily having to leave your chair, or having the ability to go out for lunch or after-work drinks to help with the bonding process and camaraderie. To help counter this it is essential to have regular meetings with your team over Skype, or similar technology, either individually or, better yet, all together if logistically possible. Meeting and speaking with your fellow team members, albeit virtually, is a great way to bond, allay concerns, share knowledge and train staff.
Access To Expertise
Though a virtual team can theoretically supply you with the best the world has to offer, it can still be difficult to find specific skills or people with the requisite experience to carry out the tasks. Moreover, having the expertise you need, when you need them can be incredibly useful.
While having those expertise on hand in your office is great, having them in the same country or timezone can be just as handy, but what if those expertise are 10 hours behind? They may be asleep, just putting the kids to bed or out for dinner – in other words, not available when you need them. This isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just a fact of managing a remote team. Finding workable solutions that allow people time to have a life (what a luxury!) are essential in overcoming the challenges of managing a virtual team.
Using apps like Slack can help by creating a virtual meeting room of sorts. Communication tools like this are a much better format than email threads where it is far easier to lose track of a conversation or forget to ‘reply all’ for example.
Lack Of Training & Support
Delivering training to a disparate team clearly has its challenges. The only viable option is to deliver it online, and even doing this live and, therefore, collaboratively can be challenging depending on the timezones in which your team members are located. Training and ensuring your team has the skills it needs to carry out tasks to the best of its abilities is essential to producing top-quality work for your clients or your business.
Support is often an extension of training, as largely more support is required when people need help completing a task. The best ways to work around these issues revolve around communication and creating regular meeting times. Regular communication ensures work timelines are on track, skill shortages can be addressed and training administered.
There are a number of ways you can work around these challenges of managing a virtual team.These including using apps like GoToMeeting that are great for training webinars. This allows users to log in at specified times, or afterwards to watch a replay. Skype and Google Hangouts are two tools you could use for regular online chats, as has been mentioned, to keep in touch and have face-to-face communication individually or as a team. Without wishing to over egg the pudding, regular communication in critical.
Lack Of Trust & Transparency
Is work actually being done? Is research being carried out effectively? How will I know if writing is just being copy-pasted or not? And so it goes… These are some of the many recurring questions that people ask when faced with trust and transparency when it comes to the challenges of managing a virtual team.
It can be quite easy, for example, for people to check off work and tasks as completed if it doesn’t need to tracked or signed off upon until it’s submitted. Then, in stereotypical undergraduate mode, it can all be reeled off, last minute, resulting in errors, poor research and sub-standard work.
Staying on top of ongoing work, in a manner that’s not intrusive or inherently misstrusting of remote employees, eases concerns around trust and transparency and is ultimately good practice. When managed effectively this promotes a strong bilateral relationship.
Though difficult, and never 100% effective, the hiring process should be viewed as an early step in this process, as should a good company culture: freedom to work as you need, good remuneration, and regular and positive feedback are some examples. In short, the better people are treated the better they will treat you and therefore perform in their work.
Communicate Effectively – The Key To Managing A Virtual Team
Effective communication is the key to success when it comes to the challenges of managing a virtual team. Pretty much every other issue, including the three highlighted above, are consequences of poor communication. Nail your communication, and you’ll limit the issues.
Being able to draw upon a global talent pool located in different timezones can bring the best the world has to offer on a 24-hour work schedule. But managing a virtual team, who may speak many different languages, have different skill sets, gaps in knowledge, and training needs can bring with it communication barriers.
Understanding and embracing the diverse nature of a remote team in order to communicate effectively is paramount in dealing with the many challenges of managing a virtual team.
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