The success behind virtual teams: The ultimate guide

May 18, 2021 - 20 min read

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Virtual teams and the future

What are the different types of virtual teams?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams?

How to create a virtual team in three easy steps

How to be the leader of a virtual team — seven tips for success

Four tips for choosing the right technology for your virtual team

Should a virtual team meet in person?

The six most common challenges for virtual teams

The three most successful virtual teams

Running successful virtual teams doesn’t have to be complicated

Virtual teams and dispersed teams became the norm in 2020. The way we work changed forever when 2020 came along and forced many of us to take part in the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment.

This past year was a giant experiment testing both communication technology and human resources. Our concept of work-life balance was also tested. 

In this guide, you will learn:

  • The most common types of virtual teams
  • The main benefits of virtual teams
  • How to resolve the most common challenges that arise from virtual team management 
  • And how to set up and lead a successful virtual team. 

Virtual teams and the future

A virtual team, or remote team, is a group of people who collaborate using virtual collaboration and communication tools. 

Members of a global virtual team are remote workers, often located in different geographical regions. 

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(Image Source)

While the trend towards virtual teamwork had already been growing in the years leading up to 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the process.

In 2021, 66% of workers in the US are working remotely at least once a week, and a virtual environment has become the new reality for many people who previously worked in a co-located team.

And the trend is here to stay — according to 451 Research, 64% of companies say the increase in remote work will be a permanent change

The fears that virtual teams would be less effective than traditional teams seem to have been unfounded, as 69% of enterprises say at least 75% of their workforce can work effectively remotely.

What’s more, 78% of employees are happy with these changes. They give them greater flexibility and they save time and money on commuting. 

And according to GitLab, 62% of respondents said they would consider leaving a co-located company for an organization with a company culture of remote work

What are the different types of virtual teams?

To build a successful virtual team, it’s essential to build trust and facilitate communication. Knowledge-sharing is also critical to building a successful virtual team. This is even more important due to the recent lack of in-person interaction. 

It’s possible to build several types of virtual teams depending on the lifespan, objectives, and roles of the virtual team members. Here are six of the most common.

1. Networked teams 

These teams comprise multifunctional members who share their expertise and knowledge on a topic or project. 

Membership is flexible. New members joining and existing members leaving when their role is complete. 

2. Parallel teams 

These are teams formed for a short period of time to achieve a specific goal. 

Their members are usually coworkers from the same organization who make recommendations for a process or system.

3. Product development teams 

These are virtual teams whose goal is to develop a new product, system, or process.

4. Service teams 

In a service team, each member of the team works independently, as they are often in different time zones. 

5. Management teams 

Members of a virtual management team discuss organizational strategy and day-to-day management issues. It's just like a co-located management team.

6. Action teams

Action teams are usually temporary teams. They're formed to resolve an immediate problem and dissolved once the issue is fixed.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams?

For those accustomed to working in co-located teams, virtual teams can take some getting used to.

Virtual teams don't allow for water-cooler conversations or spontaneous coffee breaks. They also don't allow for in-person or break-time brainstorming sessions. This means we have to adapt the way we work and collaborate with our colleagues.

But is it worth the effort of adapting our teams and systems to remote work?

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of virtual teams.

Pros of virtual teams

The image below shows the top benefits that remote employees perceive working in a virtual team.

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(Image Source)

Remote workers value their lack of commute, saving money, and the ability to take better care of their families as the top benefits of virtual teams.

Virtual employees also report reduced stress and anxiety and improved mental and physical health. This is all essential for virtual team effectiveness.

People also perceive the ability to travel, work or move as a benefit of working in a virtual team, as well as reduced office politics.

According to research by GitLab, 52% of virtual employees say they are more productive, while 48% believe they work more efficiently.

Plus, remote work provides opportunities for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, who make up 14% of the virtual workforce.

Cons of virtual teams

Like anything, virtual team management also presents some unique challenges. 

One of the biggest is the reliance on technology for virtual communication and managing work. Tech issues are inevitable but can cause delays and disruptions in a workday.

Virtual team members don’t have much opportunity to get to know one another. This can lead to miscommunication and a lack of effective collaboration.

Virtual leadership is also a challenge for managers. Especially if your virtual employees lack effective communication skills. 

 How to create a virtual team in three easy steps
 

If you’re ready to start building your virtual team, follow these three steps to start you on the path to success.

1. Start with the right people

The best way to get the right people in your virtual team is to create the team from scratch. 

You can identify suitable candidates using behavioral interviewing techniques and personality tests.

Some of the qualities to look for in virtual team members include:

If you take over a team, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the members. Then, design a training program to address any gaps.

2. Get the size right

Small teams of around three to five people are generally more efficient.

They are also easier to manage, so if you have a large team, consider dividing it into smaller sub-teams.

3. Clarify the roles and responsibilities

Make sure your virtual team members are aware of their roles and responsibilities, as well as those of their teammates.

How to be the leader of a virtual team — seven tips for success

Managing virtual teams comes with a unique set of challenges.

If you’re a virtual team leader, implement these seven tips to make sure your virtual team stays happy, efficient, and productive.

1. Ensure effective communication

Set up regular check-ins, such as a weekly virtual meeting. This will facilitate better communication among virtual team members.

2. Use the right tools

An instant messaging service such as Slack is essential for any virtual team.

Consider investing in a project management tool. It will centralize your team’s communication, documentation, and collaboration. 

3. Build trust

As a team leader, it’s essential for you to build your virtual team’s trust in you. You do this by being transparent, honest, and sincere in your communication.

It’s also important to help your team bond. This will increase trust between members and encourage effective collaboration.

4. Set goals

Help your team set goals for themselves as well as contributing to the team’s objectives. This will give them a sense of ownership in their work.

Also, make sure all team members are aware of team targets and how they’re measured.

5. Make your virtual team feel supported

Working remotely can be lonely, so it’s essential to make your virtual team feel supported.

Hold regular one-to-ones and have an open-door policy to make sure they know you’re available if they need you.

6. Give regular feedback

Giving your virtual employees regular feedback on their work can help keep their motivation levels up.

It’s also the key to detecting any potential problems before they snowball.

7. Take care of your team’s well-being

Many people are suffering both mentally and physically as a result of the pandemic, which has a negative impact on our work.

Add to that the loneliness and isolation that many experience working from home, and it could spell disaster for your virtual team members.

Prioritize your team’s well-being by organizing regular check-ins and redistributing workloads as necessary.

Four tips for choosing the right technology for your virtual team

With so many technology solutions available for virtual teams, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Follow these four tips to choose the right solution for your team.

1. Think about your team’s needs

What does your team need to perform their work effectively and efficiently? Consider polling them to find out.

2. Look for user-friendly software and integrations

When choosing a software solution, make sure it has an easy-to-use interface and integrates with the tools your team already uses.

3. Use collaboration and communication tools

Look for tools that make interactions as human as possible. For example, the ability to create virtual meeting rooms.

The image below shows the five most popular collaboration and communication tools in the US:

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(Image Source)

4. Consider project management software

Invest in software that improves workflow management and team collaboration. This will help you avoid confusion and information silos.

Should a virtual team meet in person?

Meeting in person through events, meetups, and summits allow people to get to know each other and share ideas. This can build trust among members and boost virtual team performance.

For example, at BetterUp, one of the ways we facilitate team-building is through our twice-yearly, company-wide retreat. 

It was one of the reasons Great Place to Work and FORTUNE ranked BetterUp as the eighth-best place to work for Millennials in 2019.

The six most common challenges for virtual teams

The image below shows the most common challenges remote workers faced in 2020.

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(Image Source)

Let’s take a look at some possible solutions to these challenges.

1. Collaboration with coworkers

To increase team efficiency and reduce errors, use communication and project management tools. 

Hold regular virtual meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.

2. Interruptions

To minimize interruptions, designate an area of your home to set up as your home office. Ask your family or roommates to avoid disturbing you during working hours.

You might want to find a place where you can go and work outside your home, whether it’s a coworking space or a cozy cafe.

If you’re a virtual team leader, consider providing colleagues with equipment to reduce interruptions, such as noise-canceling headphones.

3. Sticking to a routine

If you struggle with sticking to a routine while working on a virtual team, try creating a schedule around your working hours.

Aim to wake up, go to bed, and eat your meals at the same time every day, as this will help you stick to your work routine.

Managers who notice their teams struggle with time management may want to enforce set working hours.

4. Stopping at the end of the day

Decide what time you will start and end your workday. Then, make sure your colleagues are aware of your working hours, especially those in other time zones.

As a leader, you could set up an automatic notification to send to your teammates when it’s time to log off.

5. Loneliness

If you’re a virtual team leader, host virtual get-togethers and coffee breaks. This will help with colleagues and direct reports from feeling lonely.

6. Poor wi-fi connection

Virtual team managers should consider reimbursing internet costs for virtual employees. This can help boost productivity.

The three most successful virtual teams

We’ve hunted down three examples of the most successful virtual teams so you can replicate their success. Let’s take a look at how they do it.

1. Google

What they do: Google was one of the first companies to offer work-from-home options when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020. 

They will be testing hybrid models as staff begins to return to the office throughout 2021.

How they do it: With 135,000 full-time staff worldwide, Google makes staff well-being a priority.

They also set team norms and have regular team meetings and check-ins. They encourage teammates to be present and acknowledge one another’s achievements.

2. Airbnb

What they do: AirBnb also closed their offices at the start of the pandemic and are offering remote work options to all employees until August 2021.

How they do it: Airbnb provided employees $500 to invest in home office and ergonomic equipment. 

They also offered flexible work options and the opportunity to temporarily relocate with $500 of Airbnb credit. 

3. AppDynamics

What they do: AppD believes in hiring top talent, regardless of location, so employees have the option to work in one of the main offices, a satellite office, a coworking space, or from home.

How they do it: They provide remote workers with customized home office equipment. They carry out ergonomic testing to make sure employees are set up for maximum comfort and productivity.

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Running successful virtual teams doesn’t have to be complicated

Virtual teams can be a win-win for both remote workers and their employers. This is especially true if you know how to prevent or mitigate the main challenges of running them.

Building a virtual team starts with picking the right team members. Then it's all about fostering clear and open communication in an environment of trust.

If you need support boosting your virtual team’s performance, why not hire one of our expert coaches to help you?

 
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Published May 18, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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