The virtual workplace is on the rise. More and more people are wanting to work from home, and employers are recognising the amazing benefits of hiring remote workers. However, it cannot be denied that there are some challenges when managing virtual teams.
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Abrupt changes are prone to having teething problems, and a shift from in-office to virtual teams is no exception. However, there are plenty of ways that you can make the challenges of managing virtual teams not seem as difficult!
The first step is recognising the challenges, and working out how to manage a virtual team. That’s why we’ve put together this blog post to help you understand some of the issues that you may face with a remote team.
1. Remote Meetings
Remote meetings may seem strange at first, but they are actually rather easy to execute. First, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right technology for remote meetings. The best device to use is an interactive whiteboard, which can be connected to people’s personal devices.
From here, they can join in with remote meetings by video and voice, see what is shared on the display, and contribute themselves.
2. Time Zones
If you are employing staff internationally and thus managing global teams you’ll need to consider the time zones in which people operate. Depending on your business style, this might not be a huge issue - if you don’t need to have regular meetings and can catch up by messaging, you might be able to get away with hiring people from all over the globe.
However, if you do need meetings on a regular basis, you’ll have to consider the geographical locations of your staff, as well as their willingness to have meetings outside of office hours. If you’re based in New York, having staff from all over the Americas won’t be a problem, and London could be done at a push - but you’d struggle to have meetings with people based in Australia and Asia.
This is an important workplace challenge to consider initially, before you begin the hiring process for your remote team. If you are just moving an in-office team to remote work, this obviously won’t be so much of a problem, but do make sure that your expectations for meetings are laid out so your staff members can bear this in mind if they decide to travel while they work.
3. Work Ethic
Some employers worry that the morale of their staff will be reduced when they are outside of the office. This isn’t necessarily true; in fact, many employees feel a sense of gratitude when being able to work remotely and are more inclined to work harder, but some employees will definitely struggle with motivation.
To combat this, it’s important to know you’re hiring the right kind of employee. If they’re already working at your company, ask yourself questions like ‘do they get their work done with little assistance when in office?’ or ‘do they have a positive attitude towards work?’
If you are hiring someone for the first time, ask them if they have experience of remote work, and for references. If they don’t, don’t write them off initially - they may be a good worker and just be starting remote work - but ask for more evidence about their ability to work independently.
4. Tracking People
As a boss, you’ll probably want to have some idea of what your employees are doing! Luckily, there are some great virtual team managing tools on the market, including plenty of software you can take advantage of to track employees’ productivity.
You might find it difficult at first to communicate your ideas properly, especially if you are used to always having your staff in office with you. Meetings are a great way to do this, as well as having special contracts for your staff to sign, which lay out your expectations for communication.
If you make your staff aware from the beginning that virtual team communication is key, and be sure to check in regularly, you’ll easily create an open workspace where employees can express themselves. Make sure that your staff members know that you care and are available for them to voice any concerns or difficulties, and always approach conversations optimistically.
6. Cultural Differences
Again, if you are hiring staff from all over the globe, you may have to deal with cultural differences. For example, some cultures are known for being on time all the time, and others are prone to being a bit late, even for the working day!
It is crucial to predict these issues that may occur and make staff aware of their expectations before they begin employment with your company. For things like tardiness, you might want to consider what is the norm in the country that the business is registered in, and go with that.
However, for religions or cultural beliefs, it’s important to have some leeway - global team management is about compromise. When hiring from the global talent pool, you’ll have to consider different religious and national holidays, as well as certain things that might upset or offend some people due to their beliefs.
It’s a good idea to sit down with each employee and talk to them about what days off they expect, as well as any allowances that they might want due to their religion or culture. Then see how you can accommodate this; for example, you might request that days off for a particular holiday are covered by staff members of a different faith.
7. Employees Hardware and Software
Generally, remote workers are expected to provide their own devices to work on. However, an issue that you may face when employing a remote team is the functionality of their device. Most devices can be streamlined and work together, but sometimes laptops and computers can break, internet can go down, and older devices might not work with newer models.
As an employer, you might need to do one of two things. One is to provide technology for all of your employees, as well as check-ups to make sure that they don’t have any issues. This of course is costly for the employer.
Another option is to insist that your staff members have certain technology before building your remote team. The disadvantages of this is that well-qualified staff may not be willing to pay for new devices if needed, so you may lose staff members or their morale because of this!
If possible, you could also meet them in the middle, saying that they can use their existing devices and that you will pay for the software needed, including premium virus scanning software, and computer health checks. Or you could put a percentage of money towards people’s devices, particularly for those on a lower income.
8. Keeping organised
Being organised is key when working with a remote team. You’ll want to make sure that every task is mapped out, properly assigned, and has all notes added.
The best way to do this is to use a software like Trello. Trello is a project management software that has boards for teams, and that teams can use to track their progress. All members of the team can log in and see how people are getting along.
Be sure that each staff member knows how important keeping organised in a remote team is!
9. Lack of Trust
Trust is incredibly important when managing remote teams. If you can’t trust your employees, you’re in trouble! This partially comes down to hiring the right team - you want to make sure that you have faith in the people who work for you - and also having an open line of communication at all times.
Trust takes time, as well, so don’t worry too much if you find yourself questioning people at first. As long as your employees continue to turn in great pieces of work, you’ll find your belief in them builds over time, and you might then find yourself willing to delegate greater responsibility.
10. Physical distance
Physical distance with your employees can be difficult. While the remote workplace is very much the workplace of the future, never seeing or even meeting your employees can damage trust and strain relationships.
The solution to this is simple - organise a meetup. While this is obviously a lot easier if your team are based in the same country, consider putting budget aside to have an annual or bi-annual summit for all of your remote workers in other countries as well.
At the summit, you can have any important meetings, do some team-building activities and socialise. One of the main problems that remote workers face is the loss of community, so if you foster this within your workplace, you will probably find that your staff members are a lot happier and willing to work hard, even if they are a long way away!
There are quite a few potential problems that could arise when managing virtual teams for the first time. However, all of these challenges can be easily overcome!
When managing a remote team, communication is key throughout. Make sure that your staff know what you expect of them, and check with them what they expect of you. Be aware of what they want to get out of the job and any needs that they have.
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It’s also vital to use the right software for remote teams and hardware that can link to everyone’s devices, like interactive whiteboards for remote meetings.