Virtual Teams Best Practices

Aditi Singh
• March 12, 2024

(5 min read)

Navigating a seamless remote work culture and managing virtual teams are more challenging than most of us would want to believe. While on the one hand there aren’t too many tried-and-tested success stories to guide us, there are also variables involved in this set up that are specific to each company.

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This being the case, the only sure shot way for organizations to maximize productivity and ensure seamless operations is to rely on best practices. Following these will help you overcome the obvious hurdles along the way, and empower your virtual teams to function with minimal friction. 

In this blog, we discuss in detail some of the most common challenges you can expect in a virtual team set up and how to overcome them effectively, how to communicate in a virtual team, and of course, a comprehensive list of virtual teams best practices. 

Challenges Associated with Virtual Teams

Like with every organization, remote ones face their own set of challenges too. Some minor ones can be easily overcome by following simple tactics, and some others need to be carefully tackled with a long-term strategy. 

Here are some of the most common challenges you are likely to encounter, in your virtual team and simple ways you can overcome them. 

1. Communication Barrier:

In a remote culture, a lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to miscommunications between virtual team members. Add to it other factors like cultural backgrounds, tech issues, and the difference in time zones – there’s meant to be some friction in the way communication flows between peers. This is just as natural in a virtual team as it would be in a traditional team. 

To understand how to effectively overcome communication barriers, read on. We’ve covered it elaborately in subsequent sections of this article. 

 2. Team Building:

Building and maintaining a bond between virtual team members is very important to ensure a friction-free work atmosphere. Create opportunities to encourage informal interaction between employees to build a connection and trust between them. There are hundreds of online games and virtual get togethers that help bridge the gap that’s created by the remote work setup. 

Read More: Virtual Icebreaker Ideas, 5 Minutes Games, and Virtual team-building activities

3. Technology Issues:

Remote teams face a lot of technology-related issues, and understandably so. It is almost impossible to ensure an absolute glitch-free work experience for virtual employees given that they are spread across the globe. These issues could be as trivial as a temporary lapse in internet connectivity or as severe as software glitches or server breakdowns. Regardless of how critical they are, it is important to address these issues seriously so they don’t escalate into major challenges. 

4. Time Zone Difference:

Managing employees from different time zones can be as challenging as it sounds and can cause delays in project completion. Even setting up a time for virtual meetings between employees and employers in different time zones can be challenging. Depending on your organization’s culture, needs, the continents you operate from and other restrictions, it is ideal to establish clear rules around time-zone related issues. This way, nothing becomes a bigger issue than it should. 

5. Isolation and Motivation:

It can be a daunting task to never get to meet one’s colleagues in person, or to have to work without really getting to know your teammates beyond work hours. This has been spoken about over the last few years, as remote work gained more adoption. One of the simplest and easiest ways to combat isolation and motivation in virtual teams is to engage in frequent virtual get togethers with remote team members. This can involve indulging in an online game night, a virtual karaoke competition, or any other fun activity that allows colleagues to feel a sense of camaraderie and friendship. 

6. Cultural Differences:

In today’s global workplaces, people from around the world collaborate on projects, working together day in and day out. In such a set up, cultural differences can tend to manifest in minor misunderstandings and miscommunications. It is important to speak about this openly, and establish certain professional guidelines to ensure seamless continuity of work.Cultural differences between employees can also be ironed out through activities where teammates get to know each other and connect on a personal level. 

7. Security Concerns:

In a virtual work setting, there are cyber security risks, including data breaches and unauthorized access. Without proper information security protocols in place, remote teams run the risk of falling prey to different cyber crimes. Ensuring that all employees receive a thorough cyber security training during onboarding and scheduling these sessions regularly can help minimize the risk. 

9. Work-Life Balance: 

In the traditional office setup, employees have the luxury of enjoying personal time after office hours. But in remote cultures, the line may get blurry because of the flexible time hours. If the workload is high, the working hours can be prolonged. This can be reflected in the mental as well as physical well being of the employees. It is important to set boundaries between work and personal life.

10. Training and Onboarding:

In the digital realm, everything from hiring to onboarding, training to full time work – everything is done virtually, which can be really challenging for companies. Unless tracked and planned to perfection, it is possible that employees spend months without receiving any kind of training or skill development. Also, training and onboarding employees on the tech stack they use regularly is crucial to productivity and quality of work.

Best Practices In Virtual Teams

Here are a few best practices essential for virtual teams.

1. Effective Communication:

The virtual teams often face challenges in communication due to physical barriers and geographical dispersion. Forming effective strategies to eliminate this barrier is necessary for maximizing virtual team productivity.

2. Productivity and Goal Attainment:

The first step towards boosting virtual team productivity and helping them achieve their goals is to define their roles clearly. Every member of a virtual team needs to have specific KRAs (Key Result Area or Key Responsibility Area). Defining ownership helps virtual workers understand what they are working on and towards. 

Then, empower them with the right set of tools needed to perform their tasks and regular training to upskill themselves. It is also crucial to define each of their goals based on the company’s overall goals. Track their progress periodically, so that corrective measures can be taken proactively, if need be. 

3. Adaptability and Flexibility:

In a remote culture, employees follow flexible work hours to complete their tasks and meet their deadlines. When the goal is not to spend 9-10 hours at work, but to deliver high-quality work consistently, flexibility and adaptability work wonders for virtual teams. Also, to attract global talent, companies need to allow a certain level of flexibility. This is because it isn’t healthy workplace practice to expect people living in different timezones to work in tandem, in the long-run.  

4. Technology Optimization:

Since remote companies are heavily dependent on technology to carry out their operations end-to-end, investing in state-of-the-art tech solutions to carry out operations is crucial. From data security and privacy applications, to payment tools, virtual conferencing tools, CRMs, and everything else in between, technology needs to be prioritized. 

It is also advisable to offer regular training to remote employees to make them self-sufficient, in case of any crisis. 

5. Employee Well-Being:

The rules of a traditional company do not apply in the case of a remote one, when it comes to employee engagement and wellbeing. In a remote setup, employees need to be more mindful of sticking to their work hours. This is because it is possible for them to spend longer hours finishing up tasks, which could seriously impact their work-life balance. 

In order to maximize employee delight and loyalty, it is therefore paramount to ensure that your employees’ well being is prioritized. Recognize a job well done and reward team members who have delivered consistently great work. This way, they know they are valued and cared for. 

6. Risk Mitigation and Security:

There are several potential cybercrime risks associated with a remote work culture. To get ahead of this issue, it is important to invest in reliable infosec tools to protect your data and privacy. Companies must provide frequent training sessions and set clear guidelines to avoid any kind of cyber risk and establish secure connections within the communication channels between employees, coworkers, and employers. 

7. Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusivity:

In today’s world, specifically in remote cultures, it is important to remember that  employees belong to different cultures, from various parts of the world. Companies must grab the opportunity of embracing differences and celebrating the uniqueness of each culture. It is important to provide every employee a sense of belonging. By organizing cultural sensitivity and inclusivity training, remote teams can eliminate misunderstandings and build trust within their teams. 

8. Learning and Development:

Ongoing training opportunities as well as knowledge sharing are important for the growth of the employees, as well as for the company’s growth. Learning and Development is a crucial aspect  of eerie businesses, regardless of whether they practice remote work culture or not. Organizing relevant training sessions and upskilling employees pays off in many ways – helps remote team members stay on top of industry trends and market standards, it keeps them motivated as it helps advance their career, increases productivity and saves time that they might otherwise spend trying to figure out an issue, it allows the company to ensure high-quality output, and so much more. Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing can also be powerful when utilized properly. 

9. Performance Management And Accountability:

It is good business practice for remote companies to implement clear objectives and goals for every employee. This allows the employees to focus on their goals and stay on track while simplifying performance assessment for the employer. It is important that remote teams enjoy a certain degree of ownership, which is only possible when they know what they are responsible for. Acknowledging team members who perform consistently well, and providing additional resources to those who need a little bit of support can go a long way in ensuring a healthy and sustainable remote work culture. 

How to Communicate Effectively in Virtual Teams

One way to ensure seamless operations in a remote setup is to establish clear communication guidelines. A system that is rooted in transparency and open communication is efficient and saves everyone involved a lot of time. 

Here are some tips on how to ensure effective communication in a virtual team:

1. Verbal Communication

The primary form of communication in most social contexts, verbal communication can be a powerful tool. Here are some important aspects to look into: 

– Clarity and Brevity:

In a professional setting, because the stakes are high, being clear and concise in communication is absolutely vital. Being ambiguous or vague in one’s communication can sometimes lead to disasters. Similarly, being verbose or indirect with words can also lead to confusion and chaos – neither of which is required in a remote setting. 

– Tone and Intonation:

Because language is subjective to one’s cultural background and fluency levels, it is important to understand how to present one’s views in a professional tone. These can be acquired over time to prevent misunderstandings within teams, based on one’s tone or intonation. In verbal communication, tone determines the message, regardless of the words you are saying. Remember the classic argument of “It’s not what you said, but HOW you said it” – It is the tone that’s being discussed. 

2. Nonverbal Communication: 

In nonverbal communication, we express ourselves through body language, gestures, and facial expressions. These are subconscious cues that most of us pick up on, intuitively and this can be a huge factor in building or breaking relationships. Here are some things to consider: 

– Body Language:

This is an important pillar in nonverbal communication.. If the body language of a person is not open and friendly, it may push other people away.There are tips for using body language in various settings, whether formal, informal, or even an extremely important official meeting. This includes a lot of things like one’s stance, how they maintain eye contact, the placement of their hands during a conversation, are they aggressive with their body language or defensive, and so much more!

– Facial Expression and Gestures:

Facial expressions and gestures are very subtle, but they can mean something very important; hence, understanding these expressions and gestures is significantly important. A raised eyebrow can mean so many things, but depending on the context, it is fairly simple to decode the expression. Same goes with hand gestures too. Although there is an element of culture involved, there are also universal expressions and gestures. It pays to be mindful of these while communicating in a professional setup. 

– Postures and Proximity:

The way we behave with the person with whom we are communicating tells them a lot about us. The way we are interacting with them changes based on the relationship with the person; our postures and proximity change, and observing appropriate proximity and respecting boundaries is also crucial in professional setup. 

– Active Listening

In any form of communication, whether verbal or nonverbal, not listening actively can lead to miscommunication. It is good practice to listen to the other person intently, and respond once they have made their point. This also helps the other person feel respected and cared for. 

– Empathy and Understanding:

Empathy is one of the key components of active listening. Having empathy for the person you’re in conversation with helps you better understand them and establish a sense of mutual respect. In remote work setups, it is even more important to be empathetic because teammates don’t have the luxury of sharing meaningful conversations in person. 

Communication in times of crisis or conflict

Communication plays a significant role in overcoming conflicts and successfully navigating through crises. There is a greater need for empathy and active listening in such scenarios, where it may be tempting to dismiss or disagree with the other person’s point of view.  

It is also important to be open to feedback and criticism, especially in the face of a conflict, because oftentimes we struggle to be impartial in such situations. Welcome feedback from team mates or other people involved in the conflict, to find a solution. Being adamant is not an effective communication technique, especially in a professional setup. 

Conclusion

In virtual teams, maintaining amicable and respectful professional relationships is as important as it is challenging. Implementing these virtual team best practices can take away a lot of the complications that may arise, and create a work environment that builds team spirit and rapport. While remote teams, over the last few years, have proven to be just as prolific and efficient as office-going employees, addressing these challenges proactively can go a long way in creating a sustainable work culture.

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