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In recent years, virtual teams - those made up out of people located in different physical locations - are starting to gain popularity. Everyone from small startups to huge corporations has some sort of a distributed team. 

Such an increase in the popularity of virtual teams brings a lot of questions, namely - how are companies able to manage virtual teams and what are some of the common challenges they face? In this article, we’ll be exploring the 5 most common challenges and how we, as a remote-friendly company, we're able to face and overcome them.

Challenge #1: Communication

All virtual teams are communicating most, if not all the time, in a rather unique way. The lack of face-to-face interaction means that visual cues and body language, which are very important channels of non-verbal communications, are lost when communication is virtual.

Proper communication is very important, especially when working remotely, as the successful delivery of  all projects relies on it. Having effective and efficient conversions is key to the success of any team, let alone a remote one.

To overcome this challenge, start using video conferencing whenever possible. Seeing your colleagues while you talk to them is a great way to preserve at least some nonverbal communication.

Challenge #2: Language and Culture Barriers

Having workers from different cultural backgrounds can offer a company a broader range of perspectives. A diverse workforce can also be more difficult to manage at first due to the language and cultural differences that exist. These differences often influence how employees interact with each other. Ethnicity or nationality are a common example of cultural differences in the workplace especially when communication or the way business is conducted are different. 

For example, while it's completely normal for the office workplace in the US to be business casual, in Japan, some companies insist on a formal dress code. Additionally, in Japan most don't call their work colleagues by their first name at work, which is quite common in the US. So you should communicate clearly what is expected from each team member when it comes to behavior specific to a certain culture. Establish a sort of a code and stick to it.

You need to ensure that everyone can get their point across, that your team can brainstorm ideas and make decisions together. At the same time, you need to make sure everyone is comfortable with each other, that everyone clearly understands one another, and that misinterpretations are happening as rarely as possible.

A great way to overcome culture and language barriers in a work environment is to encourage everyone to nurture positive and friendly relationships with one another. Nurture an open-minded culture that celebrates differences.

Challenge #3: Trust Issues

How trust functions in a virtual team is a common question many people considering remote work have. Building trust within a virtual team is a long process, but one that needs to happen as studies like this one from Harvard have shown that employees in high-trust organizations, ones with more collaboration, empathy, recognition and personal growth for everyone, experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, and 50% higher productivity.

To overcome trust issues that may occur in your company, try to connect with everyone, as social interactions are a powerful way to create trust. By intentionally creating opportunities to interact with your colleagues, you are easily able to get to know each other. Being open and transparent about everything that’s happening in your company can also help make your employees more trustful.

Challenge #4: Performance

Working remotely can sometimes feel like a battle with all the distractions around us which is why it requires discipline, better organization, and planning to stay on task and actually deliver the work. 

To ensure your virtual teams are actually doing the work you’re paying them to do, consider investing in software that can help you track computer activity remotely. Many companies are using employee computer monitoring software to see exactly how their employees are spending their work time and how productive they are.

By following lawful and ethical employee monitoring policies and practices, you ensure you're not only following the law but that you're also showing your employees that you're protecting their data and privacy.

Challenge #5: Lack of Structure

Fostering a sense of routine and community with remote employees that lack interaction with their managers and colleagues can be hard. That’s why it’s important for managers to provide their virtual teams with as much structure as possible because it helps remote employees feel that their individual efforts contribute to the company's overall goals.

To do this, managers of virtual teams should focus on implementing a formal structure. The best way to do that is to introduce organizational policies and procedures, scheduled meetings, and organizational charts. These processes are usually implemented to help employees feel more connected to the rest of their teammates if they know that they are a part of a group that's working towards achieving a common goal using the same processes and procedures.

Final Takeaways

With such an increase in the popularity of remote teams in recent years, many business owners are wondering how to manage them and how to overcome some of the most common challenges virtual teams face. 

By properly communicating, nurturing a positive, open-minded, and friendly relationship with everyone; by working on being more open and transparent about everything that's happening in the company, while at the same time ensuring proper structure and that everyone is doing their job, you ensure that your company will successfully overcome some of the challenges virtual teams bring.

This article was originally written on August 19, 2019 by Aleksa Misic. It was updated on April 7, 2020 by Vojin Deronjic.

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