Article | November 23, 2020
To trace the history of remote work, you have to go back all the way to the beginning of civilization. Luckily, The Human Resources Report has an easy timeline for it. But as far as remote or virtual teams are concerned, they started showing up only after the widespread sale of PCs and the advent of the internet. As lucrative as the concept is, virtual teams have found widespread acceptance only in the 2010s. Organizations are finally opening up to the benefits of virtual teams and the effect of remote work on employee satisfaction.
However, along with the benefits, the challenges have also entered companies. Each company or team is unique and so are their challenges but there are some common virtual team challenges that are uniform. Following are eight most common virtual team challenges, and a quick solution from the experts.
Communication Styles and Efficiency
Communication is the pillar for any success. Whether the team is virtual or in office, communication is vital to uphold its functioning. In office, there are different forms of communication at play. Colleagues often share updates verbally, give opinions, and even infer information from body language. But none of this is possible with virtual teams so formal methods of communication become more important.
The most common challenge that virtual teams face is that everyone has a distinct style of communication. Some people may be thorough and detailed, while others communicate in a crisp manner. Some prefer calls, while others prefer emails. In any case, when multiple people use various channels, it can become arduous to track communication and encourage accountability.
Another common virtual team challenge is that some people just aren’t effective at communicating their requirements. So they might not offer as much information as is required to function in a virtual team. This can lead to misinterpretations, or missed updates.
What Can You Do?
When your team members have various communication styles and methods, the easiest way to solve that is to establish a communication protocol. Make sure all official communication is conducted over one or maximum two channels and these channels should record all communication for future reference. These channels could be anything like Slack, emails, or project management tools. But establishing an official channel helps get rid of ambiguity.
In case of inept communication skills from your team members, it is easy to place blame or approach it in a manner that will lead to conflict. But it is important to remember that it is neither productive nor helpful to do so. The easiest way to deal with this virtual team challenge is to outline a protocol for communication. When do updates need to be sent out, to whom, on what intervals, and in what format? Answering these questions will add transparency to your process and give everyone a direction to follow.
Lack of Accountability
Accountability is a tricky issue in any environment but with virtual teams, it can become a serious problem if not addressed quickly. As there is no physical supervision for virtual teams, it becomes difficult to calculate productivity and efficiency. Employers are often plagued by these questions:
Are the employees really working during work hours?
Are they being productive?
Is everyone on the team putting in the same amount of effort?
And while these questions are common, it is important to find the real cause behind them.
Employees, too, can become distrustful of their team members and wonder if they are getting the short end of the stick. All of this stems from a lack of trust within the team.
What Can You Do?
While there are several solutions to this virtual team challenge such as using time tracking software to detect your employees’ activity during work hours, this kind of solutions will only water the seeds of distrust.
The best way to go about this is to change the way you gauge employee productivity and switch the KPIs to be more result oriented. This way, it wouldn’t matter if your employees are working eight hours or 12, because the results will be the key in this scenario.
Additionally, transparent and effective communication is an absolute requirement to ensure that the entire team is on the same page and no one feels alienated or exploited.
Office spaces are designed to enhance focus and reduce distractions. Everything, from seating space to colors, is designed with a particular objective in mind. Therefore, it becomes easy to just take a seat at your desk and start working when in office. However, that is not the case with remote work. As most people in virtual teams work from home, the environment is full of distractions. Everything, from the noise in the neighbors’ house to the children in yours, can hamper your focus and prove to be a challenge for virtual teams.
Diminished focus is a common challenge among virtual teams and even though remote work is known to enhance productivity, if the focus is diminished, your employees could feel burnt out quickly.
What Can You Do?
Encourage your team members to practice the following routinely and rigorously:
Have a separate work corner in your house
Keep the working space free of clutter
Discuss childcare with family members to ensure that you get a few distraction-free hours
From your end, you can offer them financial support to add remote work infrastructure to their house. And incentivize good performance. Communicate with your team frequently to check if they are facing any issues.
Maintaining Office Culture
From an employee’s perspective, working virtually can be great. No commute, flexible hours, and working from the convenience of your home are great perks. But many remote workers experience feelings of isolation after a few months of remote work. The primary reason for this virtual team challenge is that there is no ‘socialization’ in remote teams. Teammates don’t really meet each other and they miss out on the human connectivity that an office offers.
This is where the office culture can prove to be a big support. Office culture is an ambiguous term but it envelops the entirety of the office experience. But how do you shape an office culture without an office?
What Can You Do?
Office culture isn’t just the birthdays and the fun Fridays. It goes beyond that, it involves interpersonal interactions, sharing with your colleagues, discussing your weekends, and being social. This can be achieved by engaging employees virtually. You can do that by maintaining inter-department groups, encouraging conversations, and adding rituals like sharing weekend stories on Monday. You can also reward socializing. It may seem silly at first, but small rituals can add up and create a community.
Physical office spaces share the same network, IP address, and vetted devices. But in the case of a virtual team, none of this is possible. Virtual teams often use their personal devices for work too. In this case, security becomes a major issue.
Many organizations don’t allow personal devices inside work premises for data security, but you cannot monitor where and how your data is shared in case of virtual teams. This can lead to phishing or data breaches within your organization. Security threats are the biggest of virtual team challenges that most companies face.
What Can You Do?
The good news is that data security has evolved with the times and it is possible to ensure data security even remotely. For that you can undertake the following measures:
Set up a security protocol
Train your team members on the basics of data security and best practices
Use tools with strong security measures
Ensure that your employees don’t use public networks for work
Frequently update your security measures and passwords
Lack of Order
People are hardwired to look for structure or order in everything, be it in caves, modern homes, or in offices. They respond well to order and thrive under established structures. Governments and religions are the biggest testament to this. But what happens when there is no order?
In an office environment, there is at least an understood order of things. But virtual teams require a clear defined structure in order to perform. A lack of hierarchies and structure can often lead to miscommunication and errors.
Many virtual teams struggle to perform simply because there is no set protocol on how to conduct a task.
What Can You Do?
Documentation of hierarchies and protocols makes it easy to communicate with your team. Create detailed and relevant protocols for each process and share them with your team members. Constantly review your protocols for any gaps and keep updating them.
Any virtual team challenges can be taken care of but only if they have the virtual teams have a right direction.
Lack of Right Tools
Many organizations prefer to use free tools for their processes. While there is nothing wrong with maintaining your budget, it is important to know which tools are necessary for success and growth.
For example, you may use a free project management tool for your processes, and it might fulfill your administrative requirements. But free tools are often low on security measures, and it can put all your data at risk. Similarly, specialized tools such as the ones used for design, proofreading, or market analysis can make a big difference in your productivity and output. This is a specific virtual team challenge as physical teams can still voice their concerns as a team and make changes but virtual teams are often left to their own devices, without the right tools to perform.
What Can You Do?
Look at these tools as an investment rather than an expense. Create quarterly allowances for new tools and ensure that the existing ones are still useful and maintained well. Do an ROI analysis before investing, if a tool can bring in more money than you spend on it, it is well worth the expense.
Meetings are one of the pesky virtual team challenges. Many companies hire from across the globe, and team members work from different time zones. Even if your team is within a single time zone, availability of all members is a common challenge while scheduling meetings.
What Can You Do?
Clarify that as virtual teams get extra perks, they must also compromise on some factors. Timelines need to be adjusted and meetings should be prioritized for everyone to be on the same page. Meetings are crucial for the functioning of a process, they help everyone get crucial updates and bring everyone on the team in agreement.
For meetings where participation isn’t crucial, some people may be excused and you can share the recording of the meeting with them.
There are several virtual team challenges, individually, as well as on a team level. But it is important to stay in constant touch, share frequent updates, and check in with each other so that there is nothing lost in translation. This guide to work from home policy may offer additional assistance with the same. After all, an effective team is not the perfect one, but the one that’s willing to adapt.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the biggest challenge when working in a virtual organization?
The biggest virtual team challenge is communication. However, it is easily preventable. If communication protocols and channels are clear, virtual organizations thrive.
How do you overcome the challenges of virtual teams?
A good remote work policy can help you overcome most of the virtual team challenges. It is best to be prepared for all kinds of challenges rather than deal with them as they arise.
"name": "What is the biggest challenge when working in a virtual organization?",
"text": "The biggest virtual team challenge is communication. However, it is easily preventable. If communication protocols and channels are clear, virtual organizations thrive."
"name": "How do you overcome the challenges of virtual teams?",
"text": "A good remote work policy can help you overcome most of the virtual team challenges. It is best to be prepared for all kinds of challenges rather than deal with them as they arise."
Article | February 11, 2020
2020 may be the year of compliance, but this doesn’t mean you should forget about investing in employees’ professional growth and leadership development. Ditch the boring team-building activities your employees despise, and achieve better results with technology and games! Here are five reasons why using games for leadership training may be a game-changer: With the youngest Millennials are now in their twenties and Gen Z starting to enter the workforce, businesses need to upgrade their processes and programs to meet the expectations of these younger employees.
Article | November 2, 2020
The modern workforce has traditionally been location specific. But with the advent of telecommuting technology, the world saw a rise in remote or virtual teams being employed. By the end of 2019, 4.7 million people in the U.S. were already working remotely. And since the pandemic hit, over 88% of businesses across the world moved to a remote mode.
You are now looking at a world where working out of the office is no longer the norm, and hence a work from home policy is required. Businesses are now forgoing geographical barriers and hiring the most eligible candidates to ensure a well-rounded team. There are several benefits of working from home, but it has its own set of challenges. One of the most comprehensive ways to deal with the challenges of a virtual team is a flexible work from home policy. Given the state of affairs, chances are that you too are struggling with your employees working from home.
How do you ensure that the remote workforce is not only productive, but also motivated and on the same page? The easiest way is to draft an effective work from home policy.
How to Implement a Work from home Policy
As an employer, your employees will likely look to you for opportunities to connect remotely, regularly, and efficiently. These opportunities need to come through your work from home policy that will help develop the company’s remote work culture. Take a look at these effective practices, policies, and guidelines within your work from home policy to ensure that the switching gears of the new age workforce don’t affect your business.
Rethink Your Policies
First, decide whether you even need a work from home policy. A year ago, organizations had the liberty to decide whether they wanted to offer remote work at all. But with the pandemic forcing the world to adapt, everyone is working from home now irrespective of preferences. So an effective work from home policy becomes a requirement in this situation.
There are several ways to design your work from home policy. But what comes down to the essence of remote work is trust. You must be willing to extend trust to your employees and their motivation and this trust should be the foundation of your work from home policy. There is no other way to approach this situation. If there is no trust involved, the policy will only serve as a piece of paper.
Your work from home policy is no different than any other policy. It should reflect how you want to present yourself or your organization. And while it may be a difficult process to transition into the remote mode, remember that it is equally difficult for your employees who have to get used to a considerable amount of new processes, guidelines, and a brand new work from home policy. Similarly, it is important to extend your work from home policy to include recruitment efforts as well. Here is a guide for digital hiring that will give you insights into remote hiring procedures and best practices and help you draft an effective work from home policy.
Update Your Metrics
Your work from home policy is your roadmap to remote work. In the office, you may judge an employee’s productivity based on whether they are punctual or how they interact with their colleagues. Or you might have a detailed policy about how the employee is performing. But when there are compelling reasons to work from home, most of these metrics become obsolete. Therefore, your work from home policy needs to consider what metrics are relevant.
Multiple studies have corroborated that employees are more productive when working remotely. But your work from home policy still needs to define how their performance is measured. Update the metrics in your policy to evaluate their output rather than work hours or punctuality. Consider changing your priorities to cold hard results over performative productivity. Here are some examples of the metrics you can employ in your work from home policy:
Leads per rep
Average deal cost
At the end of the day, it boils down to the relationship you share with your employees., If it’s robust, productivity will flourish even in the most trying times.
Reset Your Communication Channels
Communication can make or break any process even in the most regular setups but when your entire workforce needs to work from home, communication becomes all the more important. Motivating your employees becomes pertinent at this juncture. There are several ways to keep everyone on the same page effectively, but for that, you will have to rethink your channels and integrate them with your work from home policy. In-person calls and meetings are not an option anymore, so you will have to figure out what works best for your team. Are they comfortable with Zoom meetings or do they prefer Slack calls instead? Is your team active on the internal channels, and is the communication clear? How do you assign tasks? Is there a clear line of accountability? All of these questions need to be answered through your work from home policy.
There are several apps and software that will help you stay on track like Slack, Xebrio, and Basecamp. These tools make life easier for virtual teams and are a bonus to an in-house one. In any case, your communication channels are an integral part of your work from home policy. You can also check out how executives from other organizations are dealing with a remote workforce.
Invest in Data Security
Working from home comes with challenges, and one of the key challenges for you as an employer would be your data security. If you haven’t already, consider data security to be the core of your work from home policy. As your employees will be working from home, they will be handling your data individually in several locations, some on their personal devices. This could lead to catastrophic issues if any of their devices are compromised or there is a lapse in following procedures. Data security is one of the key components of an effective work from home policy, no matter the nature of work involved.
Most companies today work solely on the basis of their data. And it is extremely important to ensure that the data is safe and free from any tampering. To make sure of this, you need to take a few key measures and document them within your work from home policy.
Get your employees accustomed to basic data security practices
Provide them with access to VPN
Equip all the devices in use with up-to-date data protection
Run an audit for security and password
Make it mandatory to backup all work on the organization’s server
Consider switching to and encouraging your employees to use cloud services
Consider using an MDM/EMM solution
There are many ways to ensure data security but these should give you a fair idea of what to include in your work from home policy.
Offer Equipment and Tech Support
Devices and software break down often, and they will continue to do so in remote mode too. In order to help your employees work from home effectively, it is important to provide them with all sorts of support necessary and make sure the provision is a part of your work from home policy. Have a dedicated person or team, depending on the size of your company, to coordinate tech support. Let your employees know the procedure to follow in case of breakdown and have a protocol in place for any contingencies in your work from home policy. It is better to be prepared and not need it, than to be unprepared and require it. And your work from home policy is the document that helps you prepare thoroughly.
Conduct Frequent Team-building in Events
Your employees’ morale is at an all-time low. The pandemic has wreaked havoc with personal lives, social lives, and professional lives. On top of that, remote work tends to increase feelings of isolation and alienation within people. With no in-person interaction with their team members or colleagues, there is no sense of connectedness within your team. Your work from home policy is where you can fix that.
A great way to remedy that is to include non-work related activities in your work from home policy and conduct them frequently within office hours. Team-building events or fun activities go a long way in encouraging your team to feel comfortable and rejuvenated. And now that everyone is in the comfort of their home, you can get creative with the kinds of activities you plan. Ensuring that this effort is undertaken for remote employees, it is important to add these minor details into your work from home policy. In order to get a head start on your work from home policy, you can download Human Resources Report’s work from home policy template.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to trust. You need to trust your team, and they need to trust you. Only then can a team survive virtual collaboration, even with a brilliant work from home policy in place.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you write a work from home policy?
List the positions eligible for work from home
Provide detailed description of timings, KPIs, additional instructions, etc
Set up technology and support requirements
Follow Deck 7’s BDA guide
Why is a work from home policy important?
A work from home policy offers added flexibility to the job profile and is one of the highest-rated perks among millennials. It also outlines the exact expectations from remote workers and sets the tone for further interaction. A work from home policy boosts productivity, lowers costs, and helps you leverage a global workforce.
Are employees who work from home more productive?
Studies have shown that working from home marks an increase in the productivity levels of the employees. This could be due to the reason that employees feel more accountable for their work.
What should be included in a remote work policy?
The key elements of you remote work policy should be:
The purpose or objective of the WFH policy
Eligibility of the employees for WFH policy
Duration of WFH for employees
Work timings and shifts
KPIs for remote employees
Security and confidentiality
Article | August 10, 2020
With the requirement for many of us to work from home it seems that life as we know it has morphed into one long, never-ending Zoom-Skype-WebEx-Hangout-Meet video fest. During the last few months I’ve attended great virtual meetings and, unfortunately, quite a few that, well to be honest, sucked. Personally, I’ve gone from zero to hero[ine] regarding Zoom functionality, with multiscreen displays, two camera angles, shared whiteboards, breakout rooms, etc. You name it, my team and I are exploiting technology to ensure our events are interactive, fun, and more importantly impactful.