Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch

Challenges facing VRW teams

There are some common challenge areas when working with virtual/remote teams:

  • Time – working with and supporting the different time zones and priorities that team members may have to deal with, as well as the deadlines required to be met whilst delivering success; making use of time zones when scheduling work and deadlines
  • Team formation and maintenance – choosing, creating, developing and maintaining an effective team that can work together and deliver success
  • Stakeholder management – supporting the organisation in achieving its strategic objectives whilst ensuring positive relationships are maintained and the expectations of stakeholders are met
  • Technology selection – which technology to select and utilise, to enable the team to work efficiently and effectively
  • Clarity and sustainability of goals, roles and tasks – ensuring that all team members understand, agree and continue to focus on the aims of the team creation and continuity and ‘reason for being’, whilst also ensuring the required end result or results are met.

Challenges for managers

The questions typically asked by managers of remote teams can be grouped around a series of generic challenges. It is important to be aware of these challenges, while at the same time recognising that there are no single right answers to any of these questions. You will need to find your own answers – ones that suit your own team – and there are many other topics in this resource that can help you do that.

Challenge 1

When team members don’t meet face to face, informal relationship building takes longer:

  • How can I promote informal relationships to increase productivity?
  • How can I increase interaction and empathy between team members?
  • How can I develop trust and teamwork?
  • How can I promote self-coordination of activity?
  • How can I address cultural differences in remote teams without getting everybody together?

Challenge 2

Managing team interaction/effective communication without face-to-face contact:

  • When should the team meet face to face, no matter what?
  • How do you get everyone to participate in meetings?
  • How do you know that everyone is receiving/understanding the same message?
  • How do you know people’s true positions on the issues discussed when you can’t see their body language?
  • How do you know when people are not engaged?
  • How do you minimise emails within the virtual team in favour of voice or face-to-face contact?
  • When some team members are co-located and others remote, how do you keep remote members informed and up-to-speed with developments?

Challenge 3

Managing performance without face-to-face contact:

  • How do you make sure that team members understand direction and your expectations?
  • How do you give and receive feedback?
  • What is the best way to do performance reviews?
  • How do you recognise and address performance problems?
  • How do you recognise/reward good performance?
  • How do you build confidence in what is being reported?
  • How do you manage conflict in a remote team?

Challenge 4

Team members located in different time zones:

  • How do you manage communications across different time zones?
  • How do you manage team members’ work/life balance?
  • How do you manage ‘fairness’ among the team members, when shifting the time difference load?
  • How can you leverage the benefits you can get from the time difference?

Challenge 5

Effective use of remote team technology:

  • What tools are available and recommended?
  • How do you manage effective discussion over the phone/video conference?
  • What AV aids can help you to visualise content points during meetings?
  • How do you deal with team members who don’t have access to the same technology as the other participants?
  • How do you deal with inevitable meeting technology failures?
  • What do you recommend when there is no budget and only low-tech remote-ware available?