Virtualization has become the new normal in the digital age of data-driven organizations. Although people still go to work, that picture greatly differs from what it used to be. These days, you have entire offices working remotely, collaborating from different parts of the world, ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible.
And the best thing about it – it works, oh yes, it definitely works. Virtual teams enable companies to include groups of people from different locations in online collaboration workplaces. Business teams can operate from fully remote virtual offices that are accessible 24/7.
Regardless of location, remote workers will always have access to other teammates, effective communication, data, tools, etc. Some businesses combine virtual and in-office modus operandi to create so-called hybrid teams, also called distributed, dispersed, or remote teams.
With all this in mind, let’s define virtual teams, how the remote operating model affects emotional intelligence and psychological safety, the challenges virtual workers face, examples, and more.
What is a virtual team?
A virtual team is essentially a team of remote workers who operate in an online or digital environment. Virtual teams use web connections, internet-enabled devices, collaboration, and virtual meeting software tools to maintain effective electronic communication via online meetings.
The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing gave rise to virtual offices and remote employees, ushering in a new era of digital business and innovative organizational dynamics. According to the latest FinancesOnline statistics, 80% of business organizations practice virtual business models worldwide.
However, the virtuality of team members isn’t without its downsides. In fact, it offers an almost equal number of challenges and benefits due to geographic dispersion and a different organizational context.
The biggest challenge is to manage virtual teams, organize remote workers, maintain communication, and create meaningful bonds between employees and hierarchical leadership, but we’ll get to that later.
A virtual team's workplace
Remote teams operate out of virtual offices, using technologies and tools to maintain contact and ensure effective communication and real-time collaboration.
Elements influencing the structure of remote teams
Industry and market
Remote workers can work from anywhere and everywhere, be it public spaces or coworking spaces. Parks, libraries, coffee shops, and internet cafes are all good starting points for working remotely.
As long as there’s a stable internet connection, you’re good to go. However, virtual teams operate with company assets and sensitive information, such as trade secrets, finance details, medical records, employee personal information, customer data, etc.
Because of that, they are subject to certain limitations in terms of work-from-home and remote work policies. In addition, the last thing virtual workers need is a data breach and loss of sensitive information that could put them and their company in jeopardy.
That’s why remote offices practice strict compliance policies and use employee monitoring software solutions, including private spaces and secure internet connections.
There’s simply too much at stake to leave any vulnerabilities seeping through the cracks in your cybersecurity firewalls. Social media managers can work anywhere with wifi, but finance experts and medical workers need a more hack-proof solution.
Collaboration between virtual teams
Virtual team performance depends on collaboration between remote teammates. That goes for virtual team effectiveness as well. If product development teams and service teams can’t collaborate effectively, nothing good will come out of it.
Typically, remote offices utilize virtual meeting software and remote work platforms to ensure successful and elaborative collaboration. They also use Slack and Zoom apps to cooperate and communicate more effectively.
Depending on the industry and business model, some remote offices use instant messaging options and hold frequent online meetings via a preferred online meeting app. The frequency of these meetings and the quality of virtual collaboration depends on the company’s core values, culture, and business niche.
However, there are certain situations when remote workers should meet, whether online or offline. We’ll quickly reflect upon the vital touchpoints.
Virtual teams need long-term relationships to grow and evolve together. Whether you need to introduce a new teammate, discuss future expectations for upcoming projects, or set mutual objectives, online and offline meetings play a critical role in maintaining effective online communication.
They help promote healthy connections and inspire employees to develop trust and profound bonds that propel them toward accomplishing mutual goals. In addition, managers can feel their team’s pulse and assess work dynamics to identify bottlenecks and find effective ways to overcome them.
Introducing new teammates to a virtual team typically leaves new candidates with little to no time to pick up the pace and digest everything they are supposed to do and the expectations they must meet.
More often than not, the onboarding practices involve conference introduction calls or short confirmation emails. You should try something else to make new team members feel as welcome as possible.
More importantly, you can show an employee-centric initiative by investing time and effort into making proper introductions. Empower the rest of your team to connect with newcomers via videoconferencing and assign an experienced employee to new candidates as a mentor to show them the ropes and get them up and running asap.
Leadership ensures structural support, human resource solutions, and virtual team creativity. That is why virtual team leaders need to lead by example if they want to motivate their teammates to give their 101%.
However, they will hardly accomplish this objective by having weekly conference calls and sending cold emails. If you want to gain momentum among your team members and express the true leader’s spirit, you need to give everything you have.
That should help to avoid misunderstandings and make every person in your team feel important, respected, and valued for their contribution. According to Ritesh Idnani, CEO and founder of Seamless Health, you should organize in-person meetings every quarter to get everyone together and allow each virtual worker in your workforce to feel the best impact of team empowerment.
Here’s what Idnani said: “When someone new joins your team, they need some time to adjust to the ongoing practices and digest all the essentials and need-to-know information about the job, company, etc. We usually give them around two weeks to adapt.
After that, I sit down with the new candidate and ask them to tell me everything they learned along the way. That’s how team managers gather vital insights on potential strengths and weaknesses of remote workers and virtual teams.”
Aside from personal interviews, you can also consider organizing virtual team-building activities to get your remote workers together and celebrate past accomplishments while looking forward to new achievements.
Types of virtual teams
Let’s delve deeper into the most common types of virtual teams.
Networked (cross-functional) teams
Also called cross-functional teams, networked teams unify teammates from different departments, even offices.
A virtual teammate can join or leave the remote team, depending on the team’s objectives and project needs.
Parallel teams are temporary solutions for accomplishing short-term goals. They typically operate as committees and gather employees from across different company verticals.
Business organizations usually form such committees to enhance processes, estimate deadlines, remove system issues, etc.
Service teams gather teammates across different time zones. Each teammate is independent, always available, and on the clock.
Service teams are typically customer-facing, making this type of workforce ideal for the customer support and contact center industry.
On the other hand, the service team model is an excellent solution for all internal support teams and companies that need 24/7 service for customers and employees.
Production development teams
The production development team model allows remote workers worldwide to collaborate on projects, hone innovative services, invent new products, and brainstorm unique ideas.
Production development teams are typically international teams catering to the needs of global audiences. Companies form international virtual teams when they plan expansion into international waters.
Functional or production teams
Production or functional teams rely on geographic dispersion to complete routine tasks. This team model is popular across completely remote business organizations. Each member of a production team is in charge of specific duties and has unique responsibilities.
Functional teams play a specific role within a company. Since production team members operate independently, they use virtual meetings to collaborate, review results and share concepts.
Management teams gather managers and team leaders from different locations and business branches.
They invest mutual efforts to improve decision-making, share the latest insights and updates, provide valuable advice, and show support.
Action teams share some similarities with task forces, such as the operating model. Action teammates gather when they have a specific objective to accomplish within a deadline. Once they meet the goal, action teams disband and get back to their daily chores.
Offshore ISD teams
Many companies outsource services and certain processes overseas to save effort and resources. That’s where offshore teams come into the picture.
When business leaders decide to outsource their needs, they form offshore teams and cooperate with them virtually to maintain communication with the home site.
Contractor / freelance teams
Hiring freelancers and part-time workers is a common practice in the modern-day digital business landscape. Freelancing allows companies to complete specific projects within a predetermined timeline or season.
Since freelancers and part-timers aren’t official employees, there’s no need to include them in the employment benefits. They don’t even need to be in the same area.
As long as they maintain effective communication and collaboration with the rest of the company via remote platforms, things will run smoothly.
Software teams gather software development experts who work together to develop a new piece of software or build a software-enabled product.
These teams gather tech-savvy teammates who are typically cross-functional and self-organizing to achieve the highest level of individual efficiency, structure, and optimization.
Examples of virtual teams
Let’s briefly review some of the best examples of virtual teams.
IBM pretty much pioneered remote work – in 2009, almost 40% of IBM’s workforce was collaborating virtually.
Although the company introduced some remote work restrictions in 2017, it had to embrace virtual teamwork to stay ahead of the competition.
Currently, the company operates using a hybrid business model that combines online and offline workforce efforts.
Buffer is a marketing and social media business organization that hosts an army of virtual employees and remote workers.
Buffer’s virtual teammates can access various perks, such as retreat treatments, employee incentives, virtual all-hands meetings, training, mentorship programs, etc.
Basecamp was one of the first companies to adopt an entirely virtual office concept. It operates using a software platform that enables asynchronous flexible remote workflows for all remote teammates.
The company gathers remote workers worldwide and brings them all together for in-person retreats and virtual conferences.
Start a virtual team for these reasons
The rise of the digital global economy sets the foundation for the growing adoption of virtual teams. As they become more accepted worldwide, more companies jump on the remote work bandwagon, making virtual collaboration increasingly more common.
A recent study indicated that 70% of employees collaborate virtually at least once a week, while 53% work remotely for half the week. Here are good reasons to consider starting a virtual team.
Virtual teams are as flexible as you need them to be. You can select when and where they work, give them tasks to complete, and focus on more important things.
You won’t need to bother with time-consuming status reports or micromanagement. Your remote workers will do the hard work and get back to you when their job is done.
Remote work ensues lower operational costs. Since your remote workers can work from anywhere with an internet connection, you don’t need to pay for company office space, utility bills, and equipment.
Since remote workers don’t need to travel or commute to the office, they can be more productive than regular, in-house employees.
Remote workers show better personal flexibility and increased responsibility when it comes to providing results.
Since virtual teams gather remote workers worldwide and from different time zones, you can create a 24/7 available workforce that can operate on a 24-hour schedule.
Access to a wider pool of talent
Remote work removes all geographical limitations and gives you access to a global talent pool. You can hire virtual workers anywhere.
Challenges of virtual teams
While virtual teams provide numerous advantages, they also pose a few challenges. Here are the biggest virtual team challenges to keep in mind:
Aligning mutual goals and setting expectations
Gaps in communication
Feelings of isolation and loneliness
Lack of proper management and authority
Benefits of virtual teams
Although things may not be all peachy with remote work and virtual teams, there are some perks to collaborating virtually.
Tap into a global pool of talent
Virtual teams gather people from different countries, time zones, and regions. This diversity brings a whole new perspective on the matter of things.
Instead of solving problems locally, you can now look at your projects through an international prism and receive professional opinions from around the world on how to approach the task at hand.
Remote workforces and virtual offices are more affordable than managing in-house employees. You’ll save on overhead as there’s no need to pay for expensive office equipment, rent office space, and take care of utility bills.
Remote workers are more productive than in-house employees. In fact, based on Stanford research, it turned out that remote workers working from home showed signs of increased efficiency and productivity by almost 13%.
Since virtual workers can telecommute, they can use their time more effectively. On the other hand, virtual offices have fewer disruptions and distractions. Virtual meetings aren’t that exhaustive, and remote workers can decide when and where they will work.
All these perks make virtual teams more efficient, productive, and flexible than a traditional workforce.
Best practices for virtual teams
Let’s discuss the best practices for creating and managing virtual teams.
How to create a virtual team
The first step to creating a virtual team is to find the right people for the job. Therefore, you’ll need people with unique skill sets. Your remote workers should all share some fine qualities, such as:
High emotional intelligence
Managing under pressure
The sense of independence
Coping with stress
Sense of cultural diversity
Once you assemble your team, work on virtual onboarding to make the right first impression. Take time to answer teammates’ questions and ensure they have all the must-know info, including access to training materials, essential programs, etc.
You can organize a virtual tour for your workers and create an organizational chart to make things as transparent as possible. The best practice is to provide reference materials such as a company Wiki or newsfeed, DropBox library, access to Google Docs, video tutorials, AI-enabled tools for better collaboration, and FAQs.
In addition, set clear expectations so that everyone on your team knows their role. Since virtual teams follow directions, ensure your managers provide clear initial instructions that employees can easily follow through.
How to manage virtual teams
How you manage your virtual teammates determines your productivity and efficiency. You should organize regular meetings to maintain constant contact with your virtual workers, ensure they follow instructions and give them some closure since meetings are the only face-to-face time remote workers talk to other teammates.
Regular meetings can help virtual workers to connect and create a mutual bond that gives them a sense of familiarity. Communication is vital to providing proper team management, especially if your virtual team is working on a tight schedule or a complex project.
So, providing your team with communication tools across multiple channels is paramount to managing a productive and efficient remote workforce. Asynchronous daily standups are perfect for distributed, virtual, and hybrid teams. They empower virtual teammates to quickly review ongoing tasks and potential obstacles without any real-time interaction.
In addition, you can also tap into AI scheduling tools to schedule regular check-ins to outline problems and discuss solutions, determine the frequency of communication that suits your workers’ personal styles, and set guidelines to accomplish consistent communication across all channels.
Virtual team software technology
Both communication and team management will depend on the technology you choose for these tasks. The best solution is to opt for collaboration platforms that integrate audio/video communication, advanced reporting, AI-enabled automation, instant messaging, and more.
Three types of software technology are vital to effective virtual team collaboration:
Conferencing – web and video conferencing software solutions offer many collaboration features, such as call recording, automatic transcription, real-time conferencing, instant messaging, time monitoring, etc. You should opt for group and one-on-one conferencing solutions.
Video calling/text messaging – real-time communication is vital to solving problems promptly, so look for solutions that support direct calls and texting.
Virtual team rooms – if a project your team works on requires the presence of the entire company collective, virtual rooms are the best solution. You can present issues to managers, other colleagues, business leaders, and human resources to find solutions promptly and document all interactions along the way.
You should look for a collaboration platform that combines all these technologies and empowers you to create a centralized powerhouse to make your virtual office more competitive than ever.
How Ayanza helps virtual teams
Ayanza is a collaboration platform that can help you tackle all the virtual team challenges. The company lends you the power of AI-enabled technology to take your remote workforce management to the next level. The Ayanza platform provides an AI knowledge management system you can use to access the team database from anywhere.
You’ll have a 24/7 overview of all remote workers, their content, tasks, and goals. You can create multiple views of ongoing projects to prioritize tasks, organize content, and structure data according to your needs.
Moreover, Ayanza allows you to tap into advanced cross-team collaboration and manage all projects from a centralized dashboard. Keep all ongoing tasks in one place and all teammates up-to-date with the latest events, projects, and processes.
Finally, you can automatically generate team events to ensure all team objectives are aligned with the company mission, track your progress, measure performance, and make all relevant data easily shareable and accessible to your team members.
Virtual teams are the way of the future for the digital business landscape. Remote work has been normalized and will only evolve into more advanced forms that can cater to the unique needs of workers and companies alike. The ever-growing number of companies with virtual and hybrid teams are the best examples of the proficiency of virtual collaboration.
Although there are challenges associated with remote work, such as a lack of mutual bonds, management issues, and cybersecurity vulnerabilities, modern-day automated collaboration platforms such as Ayanza can tackle all these problems.
Ayanza provides virtual teams with all the resources and technology to help them thrive, develop, and prosper. You can align all your team members, unify goals and objectives, manage all tasks from one place, and create a centralized, easily shareable, and always accessible team database for fueling decision-making and improving the organization.
What is the role of a virtual team?
Virtual teams use advanced technologies and digital tools to communicate and collaborate on projects.
Companies form remote teams when they want to outsource specific tasks, save resources, improve productivity, and tap into flexible business models.
Virtual teams are commonly functional or tasked-centered since they need to meet project objectives.
How do you manage a virtual team?
You manage a virtual team by tackling all the challenges, ranging from mental detachment from the workplace and decreased productivity to poor performance, misunderstandings, and more.
The best practices for managing virtual teams include determining flexible work hours, providing training materials, nurturing a thriving environment, using the right digital tools, addressing personal and group needs, organizing regular meetings and team-building activities, etc.
What are the characteristics of virtual teams?
Successful, productive, and efficient virtual teams have three common characteristics – communication, effectiveness, and trust. Virtual teammates must have strong communication skills to be able to collaborate with others.
They must be as effective as possible with each virtual interaction. More importantly, they must work effortlessly to build trust with other teammates to show dependability, integrity, and competence.