Common Challenges of a Virtual Team

Alyssa Gregory

I work virtually; it’s a primary part of my business model. This arrangement suits my work process (and personality) perfectly. Not to say I don’t enjoy meeting clients and colleagues face-to-face, of course. In fact, when I’ve had an opportunity to meet a colleague in person, it has always made the working relationship better. It’s just not logistically realistic in every situation.

I love most things about the virtual team atmosphere – no travel, ramped up productivity, no geographic boundaries, a focus on collaboration, enhanced creativity, autonomy. But as much as I love working virtually, it’s certainly not without its challenges.

Whether I’m working with clients or divvying up tasks among my own team members, there are moments when I wish I could jump into my laptop and pop out in front of a colleague for a much needed face-to-face. Some things are just harder virtually. Or, more accurately, some things just need to be done differently when you work with a team spread out around the world.

I am a member of several virtual teams – leader of a few – and in my experience, there are a number of common stumbling blocks. These obstacles can stop the forward progress of any virtual team, and it can be hard to get back into the groove. Some of the biggest challenges of virtual teams that I’ve seen include:

  • Misunderstanding from poor communication
  • Incompatible communication preferences
  • Differences in work ethic
  • Lack of clarity and direction
  • Frequent second-guessing
  • Deficient sense of ownership and commitment
  • Inability to ask the right questions
  • Difficulty with delegation
  • Hidden incompetence
  • Mismatched skills/needs
  • Distrust and suspicion
  • Diminished productivity
  • Lack of empathy and personal connection

That’s quite a list, isn’t it! Not all of these challenges come into play for all virtual teams, but if even just one hits the team in a significant way, it can be detrimental.

Look at poor communication, for example. The inability to communicate effectively can make it impossible to accomplish anything when you work virtually. Or take communication preferences. If one person is a phone-only communicator and one is an email-only communicator, then it can be nearly impossible to work together unless someone is willing to change.

Despite the challenges, however, I have been a part of many successful virtual teams, and when you get the right mix of ingredients, the potential is unlimited. Building a productive and efficient virtual team requires foresight, planning, dedication and hard work. But it’s possible.

Stay tuned for my next post, outlining the 10 most important actions to take when creating a virtual team that thrives.

Thumbnail credit: leocub