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Mar 8, 2024

10 Virtual Teams Challenges & How To Handle Them In 2024

Your own coffee cup, comfortable armchair, and snacks whenever you want.

No Janet chatting with the rest of your coworkers about her upcoming baby shower while you are trying to draft one of the most important emails of the month.

Sounds amazing, until your dog pees all over the kitchen floor, your mother calls you midway through the work day since to her, “you’re home anyway”, and Janet refuses to reply unless it concerns her damn baby shower.

Remote work is “pleasure spiked with pain”, as RHCP would put it, but it doesn’t have to be.

One can retain their fuzzy socks and exotic view with a bit of managerial prowess, creativity, and a lot of transparency and trust. 

What is a Virtual Team?

Virtual teams are essentially remote teams connected by the means of the Internet - sounds pretty self-explanatory.

While before the pandemic, their popularity was slowly rising in a number of “cool” companies, this trend was blown up when early 2020 joined the market forces group chat.

This (albeit slightly forced) boom in their popularity gave rise to virtual workspaces being used in lieu of physical offices, virtual team-building activities replacing Taco Tuesdays, and many new challenges for the employees, employers, and companies alike to deal with. 

For example, you no longer need to gather your team in an office room for a meeting. Nowadays, you have an array of cutting-edge daily standup tools to handle your team meeting needs accordingly.


Popularity of the Virtual Team Working Model

Although not perfect, there is a definitive reason virtual teams were on the rise before the pandemic, and remain in place after the (hopefully) worst of it is over. A number of points of view to consider:

  1. The company’s perspective - only having to purchase a number of desks and chairs, as well as not having to rent and heat up 100m2 worth of office space every day is economically sound (CTrip reported saving $2000 per employee on office space).

    While virtual teams come with certain increased costs (such as the software and tools used), these are in no way comparable to the price of running a physical office - definitely a win for the company and its shareholders.

    Additionally, reduced fixed costs allow businesses to employ more people, resulting in larger teams and thus increased productivity - the dream of any CEO.

  2. Lead management’s perspective - when looking at the impact remote teams bear on employers, managers, team leaders, and other glorified entities, one can easily see the benefits as well - while brick-and-mortar establishments limit the selection of potential employees to a relatively narrow geographical location, hybrid and virtual teams provide employment opportunities to talented people from all across the globe, promoting diversity, creativity and innovation.

    This is potentially one of the reasons why employees have been found to be 13.5% more efficient when working from home in comparison to their office-based counterparts (or maybe that is because of smaller queuing times around the printer, I’m not sure). 

  3. Remote employees’ perspective - employees also get to enjoy the perks of a remote working environment - virtual meetings allow for flexibility in terms of traveling, plus, obviously, the option of playing Olivia Rodrigo while filling in the weekly report is a sure-fire way to enjoy one’s job a whole lot more.

    The comfort of one’s own home, the reduced (read “eliminated”) time spent behind the steering wheel in traffic jams, and, did I mention, the limited presence of Janet (!!!) are the chief reasons why many of us continuously lobby to retain our privilege of home office long past the armageddon of 2020. 

Since there are reasons to love virtual teams all across the company, it is no wonder that the goal of many innovative businesses is to slowly transfer to a hybrid, if not fully remote modus operandi.

Although this transition takes a relatively short time to put in practice de jure, de facto changes in company culture may take months - it is, therefore, integral to foster team cohesion via experienced leadership to make everything run as smoothly as possible. 


How to Create Cohesion in Virtual Teams

One of the core issues faced by virtual teams is that working online rarely ‘Smells Like Team Spirit’ (ba-dum-tss, I apologize). This is understandable - with everyone locked up in their own domestic bubble, remote employee culture often resembles individual work rather than collaboration, somewhat diminishing the benefits brought on by large and diverse teams virtual workplaces allow.

Retaining feelings of closeness and belonging is difficult in a regular job, but obviously even more so when your team cannot complain about their shared weather experience at 8AM around the coffeemaker.

This is an issue faced by all remote employees - being misunderstood, unrecognized, and isolated rarely helps employee happiness.

What a bummer - these problems cannot be slapped a band-aid on, one can’t resolve the lack of virtual team camaraderie via a videoconference workshop. More is needed - team building activities, ice breakers, designated time for “just chatting”, sharing of personal and career-related victories and frustrations all help.

Many improvements to interpersonal relationships which occur naturally for in-person workers need to be meticulously planned, deliberately scheduled, and truly thought-through in the online work mode, putting even more emphasis on effective leadership. 

Leadership Role in Virtual Teams

Since fostering team spirit in remote teams doesn’t always come naturally, the responsibility oftentimes lies on the shoulders of the team leaders to ensure the smooth running of a virtual office. In reality, leading a remote team is very similar to leading an on-place co-located one, just with added emphasis on literally every soft skill in the game, as well as on management skills. In terms of management, it is the usual suspect reducing employee happiness in the majority of cases - unnecessary video calls with buffering audio, for starters.

Not calling meetings if not absolutely necessary and communicating concisely and clearly is important in a regular office - no one wants to be stuck in the conference room right before the lunch break - but becomes even more annoying when the issue could have been solved by an email.

This is not my personal opinion only, even Forbes places considerable emphasis on setting an agenda and managing expectations, practices arguably important in any sort of working environment.

Added to that is setting clear expectations, communicating openly about the feasibility of set deadlines, and asking for feedback on what needs to be improved - all of that promotes the development of a comprehensive employee experience, and should not be considered a sort of “service to employees”, but rather a necessary part of effective leadership benefiting both sides - the team members and the leader - alike. 

Aside from the practical side of things, emotional intelligence when dealing with individual employee needs is super important as well. Remote employees get to enjoy reduced traffic jams and printer queues, but they have to face unreliable Internet connection or electricity, screaming family members, neighbors drilling through the walls, or coffee shop hustle and bustle (and if one is lucky enough, a combination of those, too).

That’s why communication skills and empathy are indispensable. More often than not, there is something blocking people from doing their best rather than people just slacking off - acknowledging that and adopting a problem-solving approach focused on employee recognition is essential to ascertain efficiency (wow what a sentence am I right).

But really - no one wants to be the burden of the team, be it for social or economic repercussions thereof, so if an employee seems to be doing worse than usual, being an understanding figure is the best call.

Maybe they are missing tools, be it hardware, software, or skills, maybe they struggle with digital communication, resolving whichever is vital for the team to function properly. This and many more things need to be taken into consideration by remote team leaders.


What Are The Top 10 Challenges Faced by Virtual Teams?

1. Setting Clear Expectations

“Yeah, well, George, I didn’t know you wanted me to actually connect to the call! And besides, it’s 5AM here, why should I be expected to communicate at that hour?”

No, George didn’t really expect you to connect to the call, but for Pete’s sake, delivering the report with a one-day delay should also not be the norm, and texting you isn’t really working with your constant traveling, is it?

In the virtual set-up, different team members will work with various levels of commitment and vigor. While in an office, “social facilitation” does the job - looking at other team members working will help the rest emulate the “appropriate” level of engagement based on the Rice University research - this must be consciously taken care of in teams working remotely.

Communication is key. Sharing the daily workload, weekly plans, and reflections on their completion help keep the beneficial effects of social facilitation present even over geographical distance.

A way to do this is either via video calls or via an AI task management feature called asynchronous Rhythms - each day presents a different set of questions to each of the team members related to their professional and personal needs and victories, thus allowing the team to remain in touch with one another and draw inspiration from the commitment of their coworkers.

2. Tracking Progress

When on your way to the bathroom in an office, you can easily just ask people in their small neat little cubicles how their part of the project is coming along. But, once online, tracking project progress means either texting a group chat and expecting 10 different micro-reports, or texting each and every member of the team individually, reducing the effectiveness of project management.

Yes, you can ask everyone to keep their tasks in a mega-spreadsheet, but that is hardly user-friendly… We have a solution for that - a transparent, dynamic task list.

Within individual teams, one can see tasks of individual people alongside their priorities, deadlines, and the extent of progress, tasks can be assigned by anyone to anyone, seen by everyone, and their status updated readily - this makes project management easier, cleaner, and less dependent on whether you remember all those updates by the end of your bathroom break.

3. Housekeeping

Looking for documents is annoying. Did I put that invoice in the “admin” drawer or the “finance” drawer? Neither, I apparently left it in the copy machine, though I could have sworn…

Yeah, now imagine there are 5 different offices, and 7 different cabinets, each with 500 drawers, some of which are legible by others, while different ones are locked away from you as well - a good-enough parallel for working in a virtual set-up without a team collaboration software.

Having tidy document storage and an easily accessible knowledge-base is essential for any modern company, and yes, now that you are asking, Ayanza has that as well - neat storage of all the data a company might ever need, making onboarding, evaluating, and presenting results easier. 

4. Focusing on The Bigger Picture

When working from home and experiencing geographical distance from other team members, it becomes easy to forget what the partial tasks one is doing are useful for. Not immediately seeing the fruit of one’s work can be demotivating and reduce future productivity.

That’s why having the company vision in mind is incredibly important, according to Forbes’ book author Doug Meyer-Cuno. Again, a whole lot easier to do when your company’s vision shines from the office wall, but this feat is not impossible to complete in a virtual set-up, either.

Ayanza is focused on keeping teams in touch with their values, goals, and vision, thus ensuring the motivation remains strong - you can even adopt a recurring weekly meeting in Ayanza to ensure everybody is on the same page when it comes to this!

5. Measuring the Success

Even in the in-person setup, it is daily difficult to recognize whether the business is on track. It usually entails purchasing an external service, be it software or human, painstakingly entering all the data you deem useful while accidentally forgetting the real stuff - expensive and unreliable, as nuances get lost and measurements inaccurate.

Oftentimes, the managers develop their own metric, Russian engineering; a mechanism of how to determine whether the “5-year-plan” was fulfilled. The second approach is great, it takes all the nuances into consideration, but it rarely reads true - lacking the technical skills tends to end up biting the managers. The combination is an ideal solution - having a computer program that is agile enough to meet the needs of individual teams and companies, but also functional enough to measure the real success.

You can find this combination in Ayanza - try to set up company-wide OKRs, a methodology that has been helping the top companies hit their targets for decades. Simply choose the most important objectives each quarter so you have your target in sight, and track your progress toward them with ease in Ayanza. In addition, you can use daily Kanban boards to visualize current tasks and potential obstacles and take the required steps to resolve the situation.

6. Absence of Personal Connections

Remember how when you were 10 and it was your birthday, you were expecting at least one person at school to know today was the day? And how when no one eventually did, you went home crying? No? Just me? Well, never mind, be it 10 or 50, everyone deserves to be awkwardly sung “happy birthday” by their acquaintances.

This can only be done when you know your colleagues and, to a degree, live your life (at least metaphorically) alongside them. For teams that start off as fully virtual, getting to know each other tends to be tough without pre-planned activities and virtual team-building tools put forward by the team leaders.

When not enough emphasis is put on developing personal connections, feelings of isolation may develop in employees and bosses alike, aggravating every possible issue in the book - no one wants to go out of their way to help their coworker when they barely remember their existence.

Staying in touch with the small daily victories and fallbacks is done in Ayanza through our daily stories, allowing the teams to know what the lives of others are like in real-time. 

7. Misunderstandings

Even before the pandemic struck, one of the biggest issues connected to virtual teams was the inability of individual members to resolve conflicts between one another, primarily because they get stuck in the misunderstanding loop. This is a huge issue, so much so that it presented the second most common challenge according to a Culture Wizard survey.

Picture this: you accidentally press “send” on an email before managing to write “Thank you, have a nice day”. Now you sound like a rude brat with your request for spreadsheets from the previous quartal. Pete reads it and sends you a passive-aggressive reply, but being in a hurry, he leaves the Caps Lock on, so now, he is yelling at you.

You read the email, but get carried away by errands and life, and you only remember its existence at 8 PM after watching the news that pissed you off even more (some stupid political stuff was going on again).

By then you find another email, now with regular capitalization, pointing out your lack of engagement. Angry beyond belief, you “yell” back, and on the morning company call, snarky remarks are exchanged, body language exaggerated, and multiple uninvolved eyebrows raised.

Don’t jump to conclusions! Double-check, be respectful, and trust your teammates - they rarely mean harm!

8. Lacking Human Emotion

Emails, even when carefully drafted and proofread, suck. All the college professors that taught everyone the formula starting with “Dear” and ending with “Kind Regards” should be met with my involuntary regurgitative reaction to reading these words to recognize the mayhem they have introduced.

About 70% - 90% of communication depends on its non-verbal aspects, which “best wishes” will always fail to deliver. Informal communication helps carry so much more than official one - facial expressions can get conveyed through emojis, excessive use of “???” represent anything between confusion and disbelief, and “...” is still under investigation to determine its meaning.

Ayanza supports the use of all of these in the daily stories, so the best of the in-person environment gets across without having to set up virtual meetings or catching up in person. 

9. Informal Hangouts

After a tough day in an office (or after a particularly successful one), recreational alcohol consumption is fairly common. Getting a bunch of beers in your local pub before heading home alongside your colleagues helps strengthen the team spirit and the personal connections among the team members.

Additionally, when the team leader or the manager is also present, they tend to lose the authoritative facade they might have to keep up in the workplace and allow their employees to trust them with issues in the future.

This can be brought to virtual team setup as well - with the right team collaboration software, what is used as a workspace during the day can be turned into a virtual team building tool at night - or even during the day. Wednesdays are the team building days for us - the Wednesday weekly staff meeting presents an option to connect with your coworkers and your emotions, and the flexible use of team space that supports adding a meme folder all help.

10. All In One Place

So, all of the above-mentioned challenges are a lot. Like, a lot a lot, overwhelming, maybe. Solutions to them are not impossible to attain, but require a lot of small amendments on many different levels.

It is necessary to find a way how to optimize these changes, and figure out a tool to help address as many of them as possible. 

Ayanza has everything in one place. Our project management tool solves communication, collaboration, and virtual team-building challenges. It lets you track project progress, establish a positive remote employee culture, and ensure employee happiness in disparate and co-located teams.


The Best Bonding Activities for Virtual Teams

All of the team-building activities, be it virtual or in-person, seem childish at first. Led by icebreakers in the form of “Show and Tell”, “2 Truths 1 Lie” or even “Never Have I Ever”, these online-friendly games tend to bring the participants into their youth, which sometimes comes with a considerable “I’m too cool for this”.

The truth is, no one is too cool for figuring out their list of survival tools they would bring on an island, the same way no one is ever really too old for an escape room.

Much like with the outdoor team building activities, awkwardness first needs to be broken, and there is a considerable threat that employees will bond over their shared embarrassment from partaking in the activity rather than over the activity itself, but for those cases, the mission failed successfully.

Online games and virtual activities are used in the workplace to foster connections among participants - it doesn’t matter whether the result came from a meticulously planned online scavenger hunt or from a round of “Who’s More Likely To”, as long as people end up closer to each other, all is good.


There are a bunch of issues intrinsically present in a virtual workplace setup, spanning from management related through team related to even mental health challenges. Fortunately for the concept, though, there are even more benefits to the online teams’ existence, and Ayanza helps its customers bridge the issues in an affordable and comfortable manner. 


How do you engage a virtual team?

Engagement in a virtual team is assured by retaining informal communication and promoting team building via exercises and activities. This can be done using games in combination with virtual collaboration software presenting a space for chatting, meme-sharing, and living alongside each other when it comes to team members. Keeping the vision of the company in mind is also important, again, attainable by online interphase putting the vision in the forefront of every task. Lastly, taking your coworkers at their best and trusting their intentions to be good is essential to reduce the largest of the virtual team challenges - misunderstandings.

What is the challenge of being a virtual team leader?

In order to retain the productivity of a business, the core is to be able to measure where the company is lagging behind. Once determined, setting clear expectations for your employees and colleagues is essential, in addition to outlining the way how to fulfill the tasks at hand. Tracking progress helps you evaluate how the partial tasks end up being completed. Lastly, the most important thing - keeping the vision of the company in mind is a part of the leader’s responsibility, which can be achieved in various ways - the more, the merrier. 

Is a virtual team the same as a remote team?

According to the website Management Issues, remote teams tend to be unified under the same boss regardless of the geographical location of the individual team members, while virtual teams may have different managers to report to. Theoretically, virtual teams may have their workers all in one location notwithstanding the fact they do not meet, while “remote” implies distance from the headquarters or each other.