Virtual teamwork has a lot of positive benefits. Both for the employer and the team members themselves. There are however a few drawbacks to this model. Which can easily be solved with a few project management tricks. Here we examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams.
Virtual teams and remote working has become increasingly popular. So much so, that even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, a recorded 98% of survey respondents were interested in working from home at some point in their careers.
Of course the events of the past year has drastically increased the number of businesses working remotely. As now many are considering abandoning traditional office space all together. And making a permanent move to virtual teams.
Whether or not this is a good decision for your company, depends on a lot of factors. But either way, it helps if you have all the facts before you implement this structure. Here we’ll highlight some of the drawbacks and benefits of virtual teams. And armed with this info, you make the best decision for your team.
What are Virtual Teams?
A virtual team is a group of colleagues who work together but are normally situated in different locations. As such, they therefore communicate via electronic means. The majority of remote or virtual teams tend to use digital tools. These are used for various purposes. From anything to improving communication and trust, to achieving both short-term and long-term goals.
Virtual team structures are popular for customer support jobs, IT and software development, marketing, content creation, and sales. But success isn’t predicated upon the industry.
How to Build a Successful Virtual Team
In project management, success can be measured in a number of ways. Planning metrics and KPIs such as budgets, utilization, and timeframes can all give a managers an indication of how the work is going.
Although all of this is exceedingly more difficult when your colleagues are dispersed around the country. Or even on the other side of the globe.
According to a HBR article on successful virtual teams, PMs should aim to provide the following:
- Atmosphere of trust
- Space for open dialogues
- Clear goals and guidelines
These goals coupled with the right touchpoints and tech, can help give your team the tools for success. And make them easier to manage in the long run.
Yet, before you implement this structure, it’s wise to consider out some of the advantages and disadvantages to virtual teams.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Teamwork
Benefit: Increased productivity
Many people believe that remote working leads to a lack of productivity, when in fact, it is actually the opposite.
For instance, the UK’s financial services sector has recently experienced a significant shift. It’s reported that more than ¾ of company employees have maintained or increased their productivity levels while working from home.
This is because workers tend to feel comfortable in their home and therefore get a lot more work done, especially businesses with efficient resource planning tools.
They will also spend less time getting ready and commuting, which means they can start work earlier than usual. Workers in virtual teams are also less likely to get distracted from office conversations which typically slow down the task at hand.
Drawback: Management mistrust
Working remotely can cause management mistrust, as a third of managers prefer to physically oversee their employees during work hours. This is an obstacle that both manager and employees must work through by building trust on both sides.
Staff members may have an issue with the change in management style when working from home. They may feel like they are not being supported as much as they were in the office, resulting in miscommunication, distrust and low output.
How to prevent this drawback:
Transparency and open communication can help build trust. When your team can see how what they do impacts their colleagues, it not only brings accountability, but a more open environment. Team members feel less like cogs in a huge organization, and more like part of a team. Planning and scheduling with a Gantt chart or even with simpler Kanban boards can illustrate all the work tasks your staff needs to accomplish.
Benefit: High-quality talent
Hiring the right people for your team can be difficult.
But one other advantage of hiring virtual team members is that it offers flexibility in terms of recruitment. As you can have your pick of candidates from all over the world, rather than just your immediate area. This will ensure that you hire the best team who have the skills and knowledge to improve your business as a whole.
Having access to global prospects will also help you retain your high-quality talent. For instance, if your employee wishes to relocate, they can remain with the company through remote working. This means you will spend less time looking for new team members and can instead develop and grow on a long-term basis. Win-win!
All-in-all, this team structure will help you save a significant amount on recruitment costs. With the average price of around £3000 for each new hire.
Drawback: Lack of collaboration
By nature, members of a virtual team tend to be skilled at one or two specific tasks that they spend most of their day focusing on. Usually this leads to independent working, with each employee working on their own projects.
However, without collaboration, the work may not be the highest quality it could be without the assistance of a fresh pair of eyes. The lack of communication also leads to fewer collaborations, which means any business ideas or plans may not be as effective compared to contributions from multiple team members.
How to prevent this drawback:
Resource management strategies can help you build a better team. By focusing on people’s specific skills you can staff projects and tasks with the right mix.
In Ganttic, you can add resource data fields to your plans. In these, you can indicate any kind of specific info about your team. This may include someone’s native language, time zone, preferred work hours, or specialization. Anything! Then you can filter and group via this data. That way you’ll always choose the right person for the right task.
Another advantage of working remotely is that you can also make eco-friendly changes, as no office space means there will be less energy wasted in the form of heating and cooling.
In the US alone, 54% of workers telecommute on a daily basis. And now, more recently, 48% work from home at least once a week. This combination has resulted in a notable reduction in commuting by car, train or bus. Even in such a short time, this small difference has automatically reduce each individual workers’ carbon footprint.
Drawback: Staff conflicts
One problem that you may find with virtual teams is that it can cause conflict between workers. Especially if the team members are from different countries and backgrounds where values differ.
Communicating digitally can complicate the work dynamic. This is due to the lack of face-to-face communication and non-verbal cues, which could lead to something being wrongly misconstrued as negative.
How to prevent this drawback:
Issues can arise due to scheduling mismanagement. Engaging in resource management can put an end to unnecessary conflicts, however. If everyone can see that a certain person is assigned a task, that holds them accountable. So there’s no finger-pointing at a project’s 11th hour.
Resource management software can also prevent simple scheduling issues such as overbooking, underutilization, or over utilization.
Benefit: Flexible schedules
Flexibility at work is one of the main priorities, as 76% of workers admit they would be willing to remain with their existing employer if they were allowed to work flexible hours. While 40% state flexibility as one of the greatest benefits of remote working.
A flexible schedule is not only beneficial to employees who enjoy a better work-life but also offers various advantages to business owners. This is because a happy workforce naturally leads to an increase in productivity and better results overall.
Another downside of remote working is that it can cause staff to feel isolated. In fact, Buffer’s 2020 State or Remote Work report found that 20% out of 3500 remote workers admitted to struggling with the feeling of loneliness. This can significantly affect workers who thrive in a typical work environment with in-person communication.
Staff in remote teams tend to communicate less, especially in a casual manner, as digital communication typically revolves around work, which means workers may not get to know each other on a personal level. To combat this, many companies have incorporated team bonding into their work schedule, which involves activities such as a zoom quiz or virtual yoga.
How to prevent this drawback:
Just because you’re dispersed doesn’t mean you can’t feel like a singular team. A great time to schedule some team activities is right after finishing a big project milestone. That way everyone can bond over their accomplishments. And feel refreshed for the next project phase.
Drawback: Technology issues
The success of a virtual team is based on how well they communicate, which means technology must be a priority. Riverbed’s survey found that 39% of businesses stated how unreliable Wi-Fi for employees working from home is a major barrier, while 40% noticed increases in technical disruptions.
The lack of knowledge regarding technology is also an issue, especially for workers who previously relied on in-house IT experts. If employees are not familiar with certain digital tools, then they may fall behind, and productivity will begin to drop. Therefore, it is important that in-depth training is provided to all employees to ensure they are comfortable with all aspects of their remote work.
How to prevent this drawback:
If tech is an issue, look for ways to build a better workflow. Apps such as Zapier or a software’s API can help connect all your work tools. Alert your team with a Slack notification or even SMS when there’s been an update to the plans. That way you can cover your bases, even if the Wi-FI coverage is spotty.
Benefit: Significant savings
One of the many benefits of virtual teams is the savings that can be made. According to global statistics, six out of ten employees benefit from a significant reduction in their outgoings as a result of remote working. This is due to a reduction in commuting and eating out during work.
In the UK, 46% of businesses have saved a substantial amount on office space by employing remote teams instead. By cutting real estate costs, companies can invest in more important initiatives to help the business grow and thrive.
Now you understand the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams; it’s time to decide whether this structure of working is right for you or if you prefer a traditional office setting. If you choose to introduce working from home within your business plan, it is vital that you understand how to manage virtual project teams effectively to improve productivity and achieve your proposed business goals.
But you also don’t have to do it alone. Resource planning tools such as Ganttic is used by thousands of successful project managers around the world. And is the tool of choice for managers in industries such as design, engineering, science, and manufacturing.
Book a free, personalized demo to learn more. Or check out some of these great features.
Heather Barrigan is a Political Correspondent at ImmiNews, specializing in outreach and the creation of engaging and informative immigration-related content.