As managers are deciding whether to opt for a fully-distributed workforce in the future or implement the hybrid office model, we’re once again weighing the pros and cons of virtual teams. This time, with more proof towards each direction than ever before.
Employee productivity as well as potential remote work challenges heavily rely on the nature of one’s activity. A McKinsey analysis has found out that there’s no productivity loss with tasks like continuous learning, interacting with computers, and client/team communication as opposed to physical duties like operating machinery or providing emergency assistance.
What does this mean to your business?
The future success of a remote team depends on what kind of tasks your employees need to execute on a regular basis.
Let’s get a detailed look at every one of the advantages and disadvantages of managing virtual teams.
Benefits of virtual teams
The worldwide digital work “experiment” has already demonstrated the long-term effectiveness that several benefits of remote teams offer.
Increased employee happiness and satisfaction
Remote employees report a 57% happiness level as compared to their in-office counterparts [50%]. 77% of those who have tried working from home also note that the possibility of continuing this style of work [and implicitly of life] will keep them happy. Their influence is so strong that 27% of workers are willing to accept a 10%-20% pay cut just to keep working from home.
Working remotely provides every individual with a series of extra advantages they didn’t fully get when working from the office. Among these, higher flexibility, better work-life balance, and reduced costs—all elements that heavily impact employee job satisfaction.
This is enough proof to show us that employee happiness and a remote work option are now connected forever. In fact, it’s only the outlook of a poor financial situation that’s likely to keep employees within the same company even when the employer doesn’t allow remote work.
Simply put, sticking to the remote work format is what employees now demand. No longer an extra perk, refusing to allow distributed work can get your employee turnover rates to soar while potential candidates will be kept away from your organization.
Higher productivity levels
The issue of productivity when working away from the office has been contested for far too long with no solid proof towards remote employees being less productive or creative.
Yet, the majority of studies show how remote workers are actually more productive when working from home. 78% of employees agree that flexible work arrangements make them more productive. Even after the pandemic, a whopping 75% of team members said they are at the same or higher productivity level.
But what are the reasons behind these huge numbers clearly giving remote work a head start?
Leaders first need to understand how diverse their team members are.
Simply not having to commute to and from the office keeps some of us more focused. Letting individuals create their own schedules also allows them to work during their peak performance hours and take breaks as needed to refresh and keep healthy. For others, the familiar home environment boosts concentration in the absence of external distractions.
What can managers do to help their virtual teams stay productive?
- Set manageable and realistic deadlines
- Let your employees take regular breaks
- Frequently talk to your team and gather their feedback
- Show appreciation on a daily basis
- Know which tasks are best suited for one team member or another and assign duties to the right person
- Use one-on-one meetings to discover sensitive issues that might affect your team members and go unnoticed
Extending the talent pool
Building a remote team automatically extends the candidate pool from hundreds of potential prospects locally to millions worldwide.
The hybrid work model also lets you work with top talent no matter where they are in the world. You can still engage with these team members remotely or call them up for regular workations. This way, they’ll get to interact with their colleagues face-to-face and form new bonds.
Consequently, you’ll remove any possibilities for unconscious biases and maintain a balanced diversity within the team—a factor that’s of top importance when appealing to new generations. You’ll also be able to work with experienced professionals without going through extra training processes. Startups who are looking to launch a solid product within a short timeline will most likely benefit from this.
Having employees from different countries also improves the cultural diversity levels in your organization, offering an objective outlook at how your product works and what people will think of it. These new hires will bring new ideas and innovation to your team while helping you tap into new markets.
This takes us to the next benefit of having a virtual team…
Tapping into new markets and better customer service coverage
Working with a global team provides a better understanding of the needs and mentalities of different consumers. There’s a zero chance for your company to succeed in a new country if you’re not working with “locals” and professionals who can help you stay relatable and avoid huge blunders.
Check out this CNBC short on why Walmart failed in Japan to understand why being approachable wins customers in new markets rather than just relying on your brand name.
Your customers also benefit from your team working remotely. Having employees spread across multiple time zones aids the customer support workflow as you’ll meet the needs of all clients worldwide. Language and even work conduct particularities will be a thing of the past.
Reducing costs [and getting Earth’s balance back]
The most obvious pro of a virtual team remains the huge costs you can save on. With just 2 1/2 days/week, companies can save as much as $11,000 for every single employee. Costs get deducted from real estate, transportation stipends, office snacks, absenteeism, utilities, and other diverse operations needed to run an office and its workforce.
The contribution to reducing your company’s carbon footprint by adopting the fully-remote work style. The Buffer team balanced out the carbon emissions that daily commute, office spaces, data centers, and work travel require to conclude that remote work is significantly better for our environment. Less paper usage, lower power consumption, and even better air quality all add up to support this idea.
Alternatively, you can reinvest the money you’d otherwise spend on acquiring and maintaining the office into training opportunities for your employee or other benefits you couldn’t afford up to this point. Anyone would choose company trips, childcare benefits, and technology stipends over simply going to the office at any time.
Cons of virtual teams
Working remotely does still impose a couple of challenges that are making leaders reluctant to adopt this work model over the next few years. Let’s see how you can tackle the cons of virtual work without derailing your and your team’s day-to-day workflows.
More effort needed to maintain trust between employers and leadership
Trust is far and beyond the biggest concern managers of virtual teams have. It’s simply too difficult to rely on a new hire you’ve never met to complete their work at full creative capacity and keep all of your data secured. For those employers who can’t overcome their fears, a fully-virtual team will never be a reality.
While these worries are natural, there’s a couple of things leaders can do to improve the employer-employee trust relationships within their organization.
Remember the one-on-one meetings and frequent feedback I already mentioned as a solution to keeping employees productive? Well, the same tips apply for building and maintaining trust.
Creating a lasting relationship with your employees is really what any business owner should strive for. In truth, solid bonds help you retain employees and keep them happy no matter what the economy or global situation might look like.
Above all, you and your employees should share the same vision of what trust feels like. Do you expect honesty at all times? Are both parties willing to work towards strengthening the partnership? Team building activities are a good idea to help individuals disconnect from work and focus on the relations they can create at work—a well-grounded first step towards an enduring remote team culture [more on this later in the article].
Going back to the pros for a second, remote work does provide every individual with the opportunity to work independently and stay accountable for their own work. This reduces the manager’s need to keep checking on employees and the status of their work, leaving team members with more room to come up with their own unique solutions and ideas.
The ever more difficult Hawthorne effect
On a similar trust-based note, the Hawthorne effect is more difficult to manage when you don’t have your team members in close sight.
I can best describe the Hawthorne effect as the phenomenon that happens when people behave and speak differently just because they know they’re being watched. The effects occur in little things like postponing work on a task because no one is watching or more unfortunate situations like refusing to interact with their colleagues or skipping meals they’d otherwise have together with the rest of the team.
Remotely, it’s near impossible to monitor your team without leaving the impression that you’re looking to control them. However, just the above examples can tell you why you must leverage the Hawthorne effect for the health of your employees too—not just to keep them motivated at work.
So how will managers deal with this without being intrusive or restraining?
- Be prepared to reward individuals for overcoming their fears, scoring new achievements, or just doing a great job
- Run performance reviews regularly while giving employees enough time to prepare
- Don’t be afraid to encourage your team to track the time they spend on tasks
- Go over their timesheets to discover both where they’re slacking and where they could take a couple of extra breaks to relax more
- Pair the right employees in teams based on experience and even personality so they can motivate one another instead of doing work out of mere pressure
Productivity disruptors and security issues
The occasional family emergency or dog requiring a walk are the positive disruptors. Things get less easy to understand when employees start slacking just to watch their favorite TV show or spend the day playing CS:GO. Leveraging the Hawthorne effect should work in most of these cases.
For other distractions, there’s bound to be a go-to solution to turn to and magically keep diversions at bay.
Team members feeling like they’re spending too much time on social media? Suggest a website-blocking app. Having their minds wander all of the time? Have them take more breaks so they can regain their concentration. Surrounding noises turning your conversations into a hot mess? Use Krisp to remove background chattering, buzzing, and barking in real time.
Employee wellbeing can suffer in the absence of a backup worker mental health strategy
4 in 5 employees are having difficulties disconnecting from their duties after the workday is done. This, along with loneliness and sleep loss, is prompting people to take mental health days off even if they’re just going to stay at home. Promoting such vacations is indeed a good first step in supporting your team as they handle stress, personal issues, or motivation loss.
You can also help your team deal with loneliness and isolation by implementing a solid employee engagement program, team building activities, a flexible work schedule, water cooler opportunities, etc. Hold weekly group therapy sessions or workout classes that will teach team members to cope with potential troubles in the ways that work best for them. A professional mental health coach or trainer can host these as well.
A team culture that’s harder to build and maintain
Companies like Buffer, Meet Edgar, MailerLite, Help Scout, or Automattic have already become leading remote culture builders. For them, virtual teams clearly work wonders.
Now imagine a world without remote companies. No more workations, no more unique experiences and customs to define your culture…
Problem is that it can take years to build and keep your team culture spirit. It all starts with the company’s willingness to establish and communicate a set of remote work values. Your employers then have to resonate with these. The recruitment and onboarding intervals also provide a chance to spot culture fit ahead of time.
Expose your team to your values and get them to bring their own beliefs and practice on board through regular non-work meetings. Fun events let people discover more about each other and hang out instead of just collaborating. All this contributes to increased trust and new “rituals” specific to your team only—having lunch together via video call or going on virtual trips together every month sure sounds like a lot of fun!
Ready to change the way your virtual teams work and interact? List down your priorities and consider the above pros and cons of virtual teams and their solutions for a better remote work experience.