The Challenges and Benefits of Having a Team Working Virtually

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Working virtually is a a mutually beneficial option for both employer and employee.

It can be cost-effective, save time, and has been shown to raise productivity as well as retention rates. As a strategy, there are undeniable benefits for the company.

Of 2,000 telecommuters surveyed by Cisco:

  • 75 percent of respondents said their work was more timely when telecommuting.
  • 83 percent said their ability to communicate with co-workers was the same or better than in the office.
  • 67 percent claimed that the overall quality of their work improved.
  • 91 percent said telecommuting was important to their overall job satisfaction.

So why are some companies like Yahoo and Best Buy cutting or eliminating their remote working options? Obviously virtual work isn’t all sugar and spice.

If a company intends to reap the many benefits of teleworking, they have to do it the right way. Virtual teams require strong management and the right kind of support. How does a leader do that?

Create a team dynamic

When traditional teams work together, each teammate is aware of not only their own role, but how that role fits into the larger scheme of everyone around them. Team members are made fully aware of the functions of their co-workers. This should be no different in a virtual team.

By not communicating each role and their relevancy to each other, the leader leaves the employees in blinders. This inhibits cohesiveness and the obstructs the building of a goal-oriented atmosphere.

By facilitating engagement between teammates, the company’s goals are further advanced. Companies do this in different ways. Many use Gallup’s Strengthfinders to highlight strengths within the organization. Other leaders purposefully create teams with different strengths and working styles to encourage growth.

Clearly communicate and define expectations

Structure is a huge factor in the success of any virtual team. Each member should have clearly defined goals that relate to them on both the individual level as well as the team level.

Employees are most effective when they are given direction and are made fully aware of what is expected of them. This also enforces accountability. Assignments are needed, but strategy meetings on a weekly or bi-weekly basis are vital. If at all possible, these meetings should be face-to-face (Skype counts!).

If that isn’t a possibility, an appointed leader should oversee them, directing the flow of the conversation and assisting with staying on task and keeping to the agenda. of course, communication is facilitated by camaraderie, so let a little bit of conversation happen organically.

Establishing a set of rules that the team has agreed upon is also important. Any team has written and unwritten rules that they work by, but there are special considerations when working in a virtual team.

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For instance, it is very tempting to hold non-traditional hours when working remotely. Taking a long lunch, and working until 8 pm doesn’t work for everyone. Work during set hours that everyone agrees to and allow the team to mention when they are available on a consistent basis.

Set them up for success

Giving employees the right tools to successfully operate in a virtual team is simply part of laying the groundwork. However, many employees aren’t as familiar as you think with this set up. So provide guidelines:

  • Employees should dedicate a quiet, relaxed and distraction free space to their work.
  • Telecommuting isn’t an alternative to childcare.
  • A workspace should be used for work and not as a secondary den.

One of the reasons telecommuting works is because of advances in technology. Provide a checklist of the things each employee must have to ensure they are prepared. Work with the employee to provide things like a dedicated phone line, webcams, tele-conferencing, cloud-based storage, and reliable internet service.

Create standard methods of communication

The project manager is in charge of leading the tone and timing of communications. Working remotely can sometimes cause employees to feel isolated.

This is best combated with good and constant communication. Because your team can’t pop into each other’s offices, have set intervals at which the employees check their email so things don’t go unnoticed, or the delay in communication doesn’t impede the work of others.

When communications can happen via the phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, Gchat, Yammer, and Skype, the team needs to have a standard method of communication. Which technology are they using for teleconferencing, which is the standard for memos, which will they use for everyday communications? This should be defined and adhered to so nothing crucial gets lost in the flotsam of every day business.

Respect differences and create cohesion

Virtual teams are often from different parts of the country, or even the world. At the core of managing a virtual team is respect and consideration for differences. These can either be cultural differences, or more literally time differences.

Be sure to keep communications open so that compromise can happen quickly and naturally. By implementing the above solutions, particularly those that center around solid communication strategies, leaders can create a work environment that spans the country, or the globe.

Raymond Lee launched Careerminds in 2008, a virtual outplacement company. He brings over 18 years HR leadership, virtual career consulting, and outplacement experience to Careerminds. Raymond pioneered the concept of virtual outplacement after experiencing years of traditional outplacement in a variety of HR roles. Contact him at