Creative Niche Blog

In theory a virtual team allows flexibility. In practice, not so much.

Today, more and more companies are saying good-bye to their cubicles and opting for a remote team. This can be a great way to avoid expensive office rents, cut down on commuting, and give your staff the work perk of flexibility. Who wouldn’t love to answer emails in pajamas on Monday morning?

In theory, a virtual team allows employers more flexibility and employees more freedom. In practice, things aren’t always so straight forward.

Leading a remote team can pose many challenges. Failure often occurs when teams try to apply the same rules and practices for virtual work as they do with in-office management. It’s an entirely new way of managing and communicating. Without everyone under one roof, can you really have a collaborative and supportive corporate culture?

Here are five common reasons remote teams fail, and how you can avoid them.

1. Things get lost in translation.

Communication is key in any workspace — even more so when all interactions happen through chats, emails, and calls. Without non-verbal cues, it can be easy for a team member to misinterpret a Slack message or misunderstand the context of an email.

In order to foster open and effective communication, lead by example. Check-in with your team regularly and keep them updated with ongoing and upcoming projects. Remove all ambiguity and be explicit with communication, your team will follow suit.

With remote teams, never underestimate the power of picking up the phone. It’s a lost art that we all need to find again. A quick phone call can save hours of emailing, time you can’t get back. Plus it will clear up any uncertainty and align your staff with voice-on-voice contact.

2. There’s a lack of clarity.

A lack of clear accountabilities can have a huge impact on a remote team. It’s vital for staff members to clearly understand their individual role and the roles of the rest of your employees.

In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to use project management software like Asana to keep everyone on track and in the know. This should ensure that no one gets confused about their ongoing responsibilities and deliverables.   

3. There’s a lack of engagement.

With little to no face-to-face communication, it can be difficult to measure the level of engagement of individual team members. People can easily become bored or distracted when working remotely.

Working from home five days a week can lead to a drop in participation, to avoid this consider leveraging tools like video conferencing and Google Docs. This will help break down barriers and better open up the lines of communication.

4. You’re recruiting the wrong people.

Not everyone is cut out to work remotely. Potential employees may seem great during an in-person interview, but lack the skills required to work remotely. A virtual workforce is only successful if all team members work seamlessly together.

Interview people through different mediums to asses how they perform. Look for people who are great collaborators, listeners, and communicators. A great interview question that I like to ask is “how do you prioritize tasks?” or “how would you manage a project with a lot of steps and a lot of people?”.

5. You have weak training techniques.

If you’ve ever built a team, you know the importance of training and on-boarding. This is even more important if your staff is going to be working remotely. Without clear training and the proper explanation of processes, work output will be inconsistent at best.

Make sure team members have easy access to training material and ample opportunity to ask questions. Carefully walk them through your methods and team processes to avoid any misunderstandings through video conferencing.

Check-ins become crucial for any type of new hire, especially if they work from home. Asking a question or getting feedback takes much longer compared to in an office when you can just quickly inquire to the person next to you or zip down to your manager’s office.