The internet is one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 20th century. It is safe to say that the internet is also the mother of the tech revolution in the 21st century. Gone are those days when businesses could only hire people from localities. They can now recruit cross-border or even cross-continent talent and collaborate virtually.
In fact, many businesses have a negligible or no physical presence—they work remotely in the form of virtual teams. Virtual teams are not a specificity of remote or virtual businesses. Enterprises, corporations, and large-scale organizations also operate with a mixed or hybrid working culture where remote teams usually consist of team members from different geographical regions.
The question stands;
- What are virtual teams, and why are they beneficial for the global business fraternity?
- Are there any disadvantages of virtual teams?
You can find all the answers in the text to follow and some practical examples of virtual teams.
What are Virtual Teams?
A virtual team, in the simplest of words, is a group of people remotely collaborating in a professional capacity. The members of virtual teams are usually from different cities, states, or even different countries or continents.
The only mode of communication between virtual teams is through electronic channels. Common communication modes include email, social media, and virtual collaboration software like Google Meet, Google Workspace, Asaana, Ring Central, Basecamp, etc.
These platforms help virtual teams in
- Sending/receiving data
- Arrange virtual audio/video meetings
- Set, assign, and track milestones and tasks, etc.
It is also important to note that remote teams usually don’t work in a typical 9-5 work window. That’s mainly because of team members from different time zones. For example, a team member from South Asia will find it extremely hard to collaborate with team members from North America due to a massive time zone difference. However, they may follow mutually decided work hours.
Types of Virtual Teams
Virtual teams have various forms, including
Networked teams consist of team members from different departments, usually on a temporary basis. The core objective of team members is to share their expertise and insights on the problem or matter at hand. The entrance and exit of team members depend on the scope of the project. A member may leave the team if they are no longer needed.
Parallel teams usually work as temporary teams to address an important problem or improve a system or work efficiency. Such types of teams usually consist of executive or senior-level employees from different sections or departments of an organization. The teams are disbanded as soon as the objectives are achieved.
Product Development Teams
As the term suggests, the product development teams consist of specialists or experts from various parts of the globe to give their insights on
- Development of a new project or service
- Improvement in an organizational process, or
- Improvement of an existing product or service
These teams are more helpful if the product targets a global audience. That is because insights from experts in different geographical zones help the producer cover as many aspects as possible.
Production teams (also known as functional teams) form to manage the routine tasks related to the production process. The team members have defined roles and responsibilities and operate from dispersed locations. They may collaborate to share ideas and insights or address medium-level irregularities occurring in the production process.
Service teams mostly have geographically dispersed members. Each member is responsible for their part, which is either continuation of work from another member or is connected to it in any way.
This work structure is common in independent customer care companies. However, the internal customer care departments may follow this structure as well.
Management teams are a formulation of managerial-level employees from different outlets, branches, or offices of the same organization. They share insights, advice, and opinions related to senior-level decision-making.
Action teams are temporary units formed to solve a specific matter, usually in a given time period. The team disbands once it achieves its objective(s).
Advantages of Virtual Teams
Virtual teams bring so much to the table for any organization. The following are some key benefits of having a virtual team;
- Cost Effectiveness. Cost-effectiveness is the biggest advantage of hiring virtual teams. For example, you don’t need a physical working space for which you may have to pay rent or utility bills. You can also minimize the paper and printing costs. Similarly, you can hire remote workers from Asian or African countries at relatively lower wages.
- Explore Global Talent. Hiring virtual teams, including members from different locations, allow you to leverage a multi-dimensional workforce. Every member can contribute through different experiences and insights related to different markets. For example, a team member from India will have a better knowledge of Indian markets and will help the company in developing a product that also resonates with the Indian audience.
- Flexibility. Virtual team members can exercise flexibility in their working hours. It allows them to choose their most productive hours for work and address their personal affairs in a better manner. In simple words, they can bring more balance to their domestic and personal life. In fact, studies reveal that flexible workers work 1.4 days more in a month than orthodox office workers.
- More Work Time. Virtual teams for project management ensure a 24-hour work cycle. For example, a team member from South Asia will work in a totally different time zone, and the other member from Canada will continue that work as per their own time zone. The time difference between the two zones is 8-12 hours. In other words, the collective team working hours will be 18-24 hours.
- Increased Productivity. Remote or virtual teams can focus more on their tasks rather than wasting time on internal organizational politics. Virtual teams are usually paid for the number of hours they work or a lump sum amount for every project. Their main focus is to get the job done as soon as possible and move to another job.
Disadvantages of Virtual Teams
Virtual teams have their perks, but it is also important to consider their shortcomings and challenges.
Less Cohesion. Imagine two team members are from different continents, such as North America and Asia, with a massive time difference. If one member signs off and the other has to continue the work from where the previous one left off, there will be a communication gap; there is a 10-12 hours difference between both time zones.
Reputation Risk. Many clients or customers don’t prefer working with companies that have no or minimal physical existence. A company following remote work culture may find it difficult to convince customers.
Compliance and Security Issues. Companies dealing with sensitive data may find it challenging to ensure regulatory compliance or face security risks. It is difficult to control the flow of information with virtual team members working from different countries.
Examples of Virtual Teams
Twitter is one of the biggest examples of remote working, even after the covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic restrictions, businesses were forced to work remotely, and everything came to normalcy after the restrictions were lifted.
However, Twitter gave its employees complete freedom whether they wanted to work from home or come back to offices. It allowed Twitter to explore a diverse and highly talented workforce from across the globe. The employees were also able to exercise more autonomy and freedom.
IBM is another advocate and one of the Pioneers of remote working. As experimentation in 1979, the company hired five remote employees and asked them to telecommute. In 2009, 40% of IBM’s workforce of 386,000 employees were telecommuting. This represented thousands of remote workers.
Although the CEO of the company promoted an office-based working culture in 2017, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the company back to remote collaboration. IBM now follows a hybrid work culture.
Best Practices for Virtual Teams
Hiring virtual teams has its benefits but effectively managing them is another challenge. Here are some highly recommended practices for virtual teams.
- Choose the right remote work platforms with all the necessary tools required for virtual collaboration. For example, virtual data rooms or data room software allows you to create, store, and share documents, send and receive messages, arrange virtual meetings, manage and assign tasks, etc.
- Help your newly hired employees with the onboarding process. You can help them complete the login process, share guides related to your virtual collaboration platform, and help them meet their colleagues virtually.
- Create a friendly yet productive work culture. Articulate your company’s vision, mission, and corporate values. Appreciate your workers for their contributions and ideas and promote unity between employees.
- Arrange regular video or audio meetings to help your employees socialize virtually. Most importantly, try to come up with innovative ways of strengthening communication between your virtual workforce.
- Set realistic and vivid goals for every team member. Make sure they know what is expected of them and provide them with the necessary resources to achieve those goals.