Virtual teams provide a substantial percentage of the workforce in IT companies currently and are fast becoming an integral part of the global business landscape. Like any emerging business model, virtual teams pose several challenges to hiring companies calling for a shift in management strategies.
Clear communication is essential during business transactions and it’s one way to build strong client relationships. However, this can also pose challenges in the management of offshore virtual teams with different cultural and language orientation unless communication guidelines are set beforehand to address the disparity.
Here are the seven biggest challenges the virtual teams are facing now.
1. Language and Cross-Cultural Differences
Remote teams are sourced from different corners of the world and bring with them their cultural backgrounds and orientation. People’s cultural perspectives greatly influence their work styles and ethics.
This can create misunderstandings or conflicts when working together in a multicultural setup, such as an offshore virtual team that has to collaborate with the in-house group.
Hierarchy in team operations can also run into headwinds due to different understandings of authority across cultures leading to possible resentment and adversely affecting productivity.
Women still face obstacles while leading teams. Men from some cultures may resent taking instructions from female team leaders or managers. Besides, then there is the language problem. English may be a common business language, but different cultures use it differently.
How to Deal With Cross-Culture Issues?
To manage your multicultural virtual team effectively, invest in some cross-cultural training after recruitment. Let everyone understand the other’s cultural traits even if superficially to allow for team bonding.
Training will also help team leaders manage individual members with respect while accommodating cultural differences. Set guidelines to manage performance expectations, communication channels, and a clear conflict resolution mechanism to promote a team spirit.
Create an internal communication site or a chat channel on which team members can post their opinions or questions. The more diverse they are, the better they will perform if properly bonded
2. Irrelevant Tools and Technology Gaps
A large number of remote workers bring onto the system equally many new tools pose the challenge of data protection to the internal IT team. At times obsolete and virtual workers without IT approval may use potentially harmful tools on the system as all they care about is having their work done.
The use of multiple tools and apps without internal control may overwhelm any IT company, with some going unnoticed and posing a threat to sensitive data. This may not be deliberate, but a consequence of technology gaps across the world.
How to Approach Tools and Technologies?
To counter this potential threat and, at the same time, facilitate your remote workers, put in place guidelines on the use of tools and apps on the company system. Possibly allow the senior team members to approve any tool or app a remote worker may choose to use before doing so.
This way, your company can map out a tight security system and one they can control fully through centralized access and identity management for better security.
You might also want to invest in tools and hardware and supply these to your virtual teams for consistency in the system structure. Through a loan arrangement with workers, the company can provide the right tools at a low cost.
3. Different Time Zones and Response Times
Working across time zones greatly hampers constant collaboration that is necessary when working as a team on one project. The virtual team could be separated from the head office by as many as seven hours, meaning that there will be times when one group is working and the other in bed.
This complicates consultation meetings necessary for progress assessment and direction. Real-time communication that is vital to project management cannot be effective and critical messages are received several hours later with the possibility of being overlooked.
Handling the Time Zone Issue
As small business marketing trends lean towards web-based presence, it is important to learn how to handle time zones at all times. To keep efficient workflows between your remote team and home office, you must adjust business hours and, if possible, introduce a shift arrangement.
Find a convenient time of day that all teams must converge online for a joint real-time engagement. Communicate schedules and deadlines to all team members and provide open channels they can use for clarifications or submissions.
With such a structure, every worker will play his or her part in a good time regardless of his or her time zone. It is also important to have at least one person online 24/7 at the home office to provide support when needed.
4. Lack of Trust
Distrust is harmful in any work environment, whether virtual or in a physical setting. It sets workers against each other instead of working together for the common goal. In a virtual setting, this can arise from misconceptions about those you cannot see physically and who you might judge in your opinion as inferior.
This might be a consequence of cultural differences or simply thinking that you could have done a better job than the outsider could. The project owner may also develop distrust, especially when spending money on a workforce he or she has no hands-on control.
How to Create Trust
Trust in business cannot be overemphasized and can help improve team productivity besides holding together virtual teams. As a project owner, plan visits to interact with your outsourced teams to clear any feelings of distrust.
These visits are equally critical when your project is web development as one-on-one discussions can help your team understand the concept and expectations better. You will also assess project expenditure firsthand and lay any fears of misuse aside.
Set a clear mission statement, establish transparent task management tools, and encourage collaboration towards a common goal. This will earn you trust from millennials who form the bulk of the IT workforce.
5. Low Productivity
Virtual teams working from remote locations tend to relax or simply put off tasks for lack of supervision. The liberal environment might lead to laziness and poor use of time without guided planning. Workers may also overreach project requirements or stray into tasks not assigned to them and, in the process, suffer burnout and frustrations.
All these affect productivity negatively in terms of missed deadlines and incomplete tasks. Lack of onsite oversight is a challenge to productivity if remote workers are not properly guided.
Tips to Support Productivity
To improve productivity in virtual teams, ensure tasks are clearly defined with set goals, timelines and expectations. As much as you show respect for their privacy, demand regular check-ins to assess progress and accountability.
For payments based on billable hours, you might want to use time tracking tools to keep tabs on your remote teams. Time tracking will also help you establish deadlines for similar tasks in the future. For improved efficiency, ask workers to observe regular hours within their time zones to avoid burnout.
Scheduled group check-ins will not only help in providing overall progress status but also encourage those lagging to catch up. This keeps every member aware of his or her role and clearly defines what is expected of him or her.
6. Budget Constraints
Budget is a serious constraint when outsourcing your software development projects. When dealing with your home office, things are easy to handle. Whatever hardware, software, or tools you purchase remains the property of the company to be used at the office.
When employees leave, incoming ones can use the same equipment without the need for new supplies. Virtual teams have one constant asset that companies seek and that is talent. However, these workers may lack vital tools to execute the project and it falls on the owner to kit them for efficiency. This can be a challenge to both and a way out is necessary.
Balancing Constraints and Opportunities
If you are dealing with individual tech talents, you may have to go the extra mile and buy necessary equipment for them on mutually agreeable terms. You could include a loan clause in their contract to facilitate the purchase of these tools at more favorable repayment terms.
With this arrangement, you can influence the specs of whatever they buy for compatibility with your system. Alternatively, if this proves expensive, you can outsource from tech service companies that recruit and facilitate these workers in tech hubs. This also comes with the advantage of management services that can set you free to concentrate on other aspects of your business.
7. Distraction Challenges
Independent virtual teams working from multiple places face the challenge of distractions that interfere with performance. Friends stopping over for a chat, or to take you out can disrupt your work schedule.
Family within the home or noises from outside can be a continuous distraction and this can affect your thought process affecting your creativity. To create a good website, software, or any IT related products takes time and concentration and requires a conducive environment.
Assist Employees in Dealing With Their Environment
You may want to find out if the intended workplace for your tech talent is conducive for efficient, timely, and quality work. Have a discussion with a prospective remote worker to agree on the standards you expect and guidelines for the project.
If he or she expresses concern over the suitability of their work environment, discuss to see how best to assist for the sake of efficiency.
Impress upon the tech talent that despite working remotely, he or she must take the project seriously observing discipline as though in an office setup. The standards you set must be designed to enforce discipline while on the project.
Remote work is not a casual freewheeling form of work, as many may assume but a serious high talent profession. It carries with it great responsibility and stress in equal measure. Time management and self-discipline are very important for one aspiring to work in virtual teams and determine your success or failure.
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