As the economy keeps evolving over the years, many entrepreneurs have recognized the idea that the term ‘office’ may no longer be your typical physical ground where you normally work 8 long hours dressed in a corporate suit. In the next 10 years or so, employees may find themselves logging into their computers in their pajamas and conducting meetings with people they barely even met in the real world.
As a matter of fact, lots of professionals are starting to find comfort in the virtual setup. Not only do they get to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working at home, they also get to savor the unabated flavor of being productive at their own pace, avoiding traffic, saving time, and earning more. Without any question, outsourcing and virtual staffing have now become our usual everyday terms.
Since its phenomenal birth – when it was first coined in 1996 – the term ‘virtual assistants‘ has emerged like mushrooms in the wild, growing and developing into multiple types until it has pointed its mark on the online scene. Virtual teams have gone forth to perform collaborative projects, nailing productivity despite questions of time and space. Thanks to modern technology, managing virtual projects through virtual teams is now possible.
The rundown of both getting an offshore team and being a part of it flows in an endless stream of benefits. However, it is undeniable that virtual teams do face adversities that hinder them from successfully completing their projects.
Here are some of the toughest challenges these teams face and the best ways to overcome them.
1. Lack of face-to-face communication.
Let’s face it. No matter how advanced our technology is, it isn’t enough to compensate the lifelong advantage of facing somebody physically. Remember the emotions you want your colleagues to make sense of? That’s just not possible through Skype. Maybe yes – thanks to smileys and emoticons; but then, our inability to interpret nonverbal cue – which is very essential to understanding – makes it difficult to perform well within the virtual team. Not only does it lead to misinterpretation, it also leaves us feeling isolated most of the time. Try working virtually for a few days without any human contact and it will literally drive you nuts.
The effect of isolation and the lack of social interaction may be more serious than you think. Most members of the team may feel inadequate and demotivated to work at their best, therefore, making them less effective. They may not even see how their contribution fits into the bigger picture so they miss out what it’s like to do teamwork. Friendship at work – which is also a great motivator – is rarely present in virtual teams.
How do you overcome it?
Communication. Whether you are working offline or online, persistent communication never fails. Increase the frequency of your interactions everyday and try to set team goals where the members get to work together. A social interaction calendar may even help. Setting up a meeting just to catch up with everyone’s lives is a plus. In the field of work, it is best to allow your members to share their own ideas. This will help them to be more innovative when it comes to decision making. Everyone should keep each other updated so every team member knows what the others are up to and how their work is contributing to the overall success of the project.
2. Difficulty in establishing trust in virtual teams
Sometimes, this problem stems out from the lack of collaboration between team members. When you don’t hear from your teammates in a particular period of time, it breeds doubt and eventually, distrust. Is the person working or just munching on his cupcake by the kitchen table? Is he even awake for the most part of the day? This may be more challenging for members who work on different time zones and group cooperation becomes laborious, if not impossible.
So how do you establish trust within the team?
Set the foundation. Build rapport first. Make everyone feel comfortable in his own skin. You won’t be able to establish trust from your members if you don’t trust them in the first place. Trust but set limits. Keep the channels open and make everyone aware of each other’s progress. A weekly report and a constant feedback will help the team understand what’s going on. Be supportive. Instead of avoiding conflicts, manage them. Oftentimes, conflicts kept at bay tend to tend to ooze out sometime during the project, and the damage may even be more severe.
3. Lack of direction and priorities
To entrench a specific goal is easy. To maintain it and keep everyone focused on that goal is the hardest part. When your virtual staff is composed of professionals who are geographically dispersed, time zone stricken, and have varying abilities and priorities, keeping everyone on the same boat is easier said than done. A virtual team may work well together but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to generate good results. If they don’t or if they start to level off, it is clearly because of a lack of direction.
What is the best way to bring the team back on track?
Evaluate the team’s productivity level and determine the barriers to their performance peak. Do not stop at setting up the goal. Remind the team of what your team goals are every so often and make them accountable for each of their roles. Make sure everyone in the team understands the process and that no one is left out. Provide constant feedback and identify roles as clearly as possible.
When we speak of challenges, virtual teams are no exception. As much as we want to wipe them out entirely so we can preserve zero tolerance to failure, we can only minimize their effects. There are many things that could derail a team’s productivity level but it is never an excuse to fail your online projects. With the right mix of determination and focus, a remote team can turn these challenges into opportunities for growth.