It is no news that the Covid-19 pandemic came to revolutionise the planet and redefine operating logics, which impacted on all levels, including the world of work. For reasons of confinement or a virus with no apparent cure or containment for a long time, millions of people around the world began to work remotely in order to continue producing, but from their homes.
The crisis of this pandemic passed, but teleworking was installed in many organisations and companies, and with it a new work system became permanent, a virtual one, where day-to-day work was no longer shared in a common physical space, meetings began to be mediated by a screen and the way of working as a whole changed. And workers, instead of being reluctant to this, began to want it. This was revealed in a study by Global Workplace Analytics, which found that 72% of workers want to work remotely, at least part of the time.
In this context, human resources started to become even more important, as they can assist in managing employees in smart working and remote working, and thus support the well-being of work teams in a virtual environment.
This situation brought challenges, advantages, disadvantages and constant learning. Read more about this in the following article.
What is virtual or remote working?
Remote work, virtual work or telework, is not new, but the last few years have accelerated its adoption at a dizzying pace. But what do we mean by remote or virtual work? It is the work that someone does for a company remotely, i.e. from a location away from the headquarters of the place they work for (e.g. from their home).
For this purpose, the people working under this modality, or the virtual teams that give life to it, make use of technological, computer or telecommunications means, or the services provided must be reported by them.
What are remote working teams?
A remote work team or virtual work team is a group of people who work interdependently, but with a shared purpose defined by the organisation they work for, using technology to achieve it.
If there is one thing that makes virtual teams stand out, it is their online collaborative spirit, as all the work is carried out telepresentially, with flexibility and autonomy being key to their success.
This type of work team requires constant communication between team members, and their interpersonal relationships are strengthened.
In this sense, leading virtual teams or remote work teams has become crucial for them to have the expected result in pursuit of the common purpose that has been agreed.
What kinds of virtual teams are there?
There are different types of virtual teams in organisations, and here are some of the most outstanding ones:
- Multidisciplinary. These are teams made up of professionals from different complementary disciplines who come together to achieve a common goal. The experience, knowledge, points of view, personality and skills of each member are made available; in addition, they can rotate according to the needs of the common objective.
- Parallel. Formed by professionals from the same company. They work on improving a company process or system. Unlike the previous one, the members are the same.
- Product development team. This is where independent professionals come into play, who develop new products or improve existing ones.
- Production team. The team is made up of workers with similar tasks and all work in the same way to achieve a common goal.
- Service and customer service team. In this case the workers live in different latitudes, with different schedules; this means that the production chain does not stop. When one member finishes his or her shift, the next member’s shift begins.
- Management team. Made up of managers who work on operational issues of the company and, thus, develop new strategies to be applied.
- Action team. This work team arises according to the needs of a specific moment. This means that they are created for a short-term objective and then disbanded.
What are the characteristics of virtual employees and virtual teams?
Employees in virtual work teams must possess certain characteristics in order to achieve their objectives. Let’s look at some of them:
- Assertive. They must be assertive in the way they work and in their daily decision-making.
- Responsible. It is important that they are responsible in their daily work, respecting agreements and protocols, all in pursuit of the common goal.
- Independent and autonomous. They must have the ability to work independently, as they are not in the same physical space and must be able to regulate themselves autonomously in order to carry out the work they have to do.
- Flexibility. A remote worker and virtual team must be flexible according to changing circumstances and needs.
What are the benefits of remote working teams?
It can be a challenge for traditional organisations, which is why it is important to highlight the advantages that underlie this model of remote working. It is not for nothing that a study by the consulting firm “Meta4”, confirmed that the advantages of teleworking translate into a reduction of up to 60% in absenteeism, travel savings of 56%, reduction of employee turnover by 20% and this modality increases the salary of workers by 20% on average. Here are some points to consider when looking at these and other advantages:
- Time is maximised. Workers do not waste time commuting to the workplace, and virtual meetings save time because they are organised in a simple and practical way.
- It saves on resources. Just think of all that is involved in maintaining an office, from rent to maintenance. It also means savings for workers, because of commuting costs.
- Working hours become more flexible. This allows workers to choose when to work, as long as deadlines and objectives are met.
- It reduces stress and increases happiness. If we review a study by Staples (a leading company in office supplies), 75% of bosses who implement teleworking notice that their employees are happier, and 48% say they are in a better mood. In the same vein, FlexJobs found that 65% of workers surveyed reported that remote work is important for their emotional and physical well-being.
- It improves productivity. According to the “Meta$” study, remote work leads to a 56% increase in production. This is essentially because employees are able to focus on results, reducing downtime, which is very common in offices. In addition, by being in different locations, it is possible to produce at different times.
- Internationalisation of the work team. As no specific physical work location is required, staff can be recruited from different parts of the world.
- Improved working environment. While face-to-face can help to create bonds, it can also lead to friction due to the day-to-day. This can be lessened with virtual working.
What are the potential disadvantages and challenges facing virtual teams?
Not everything can be easy when applying work in virtual environments. For example, there are some points to consider:
- Additional cyber security measures must be taken. Stricter cybersecurity measures need to be implemented to protect the work of the organisation. Failure to do so may put the overall work at risk.
- Disconnection with the rest of the team. Not seeing each other’s faces physically could lead to some interpersonal disconnection and this could affect the worker’s sense of belonging to the company and, therefore, there could be less connection with the organisation’s objectives and a drop in productivity.
- Poor communication. This is related to the previous point, as workers do not share the same workplace, which can lead to poor communication between them. This, in turn, implies that managers must be alert and organise the work of the team very well.
- Technological difficulties. Teleworking relies heavily, or almost entirely, on technology as a tool to make the work possible. If the technology fails, the work is affected.
- Problems in acquiring new knowledge and learning. When adopting new knowledge, social interaction is very important, ranging from observation to the ability to learn different perspectives on the same process, and here the human factor is crucial. This could be seen in the onboarding processes of an employee (when they start working in an organisation and the induction stages they have to go through) as well as the implementation of new ways of working.
How to manage virtual teams and overcome challenges?
As we said at the beginning, managing virtual work environments is a challenge, and it must be met with appropriate strategies in remote work teams. Here are some useful strategies:
- Communication. Communication is a fundamental axis to be able to lead virtual work teams. It is necessary to discuss what is happening within a team, and this includes externalising possible problems or conflicts, and all this helps to learn from virtual colleagues, to grow together and helps to establish bonds. Trust is essential in this respect.
- Motivation. A motivated team works better and more focused, even more so when they are not face to face. Therefore, this should be taken into account as a constant strategy to implement with remote workers so that they have the necessary interest in the project they are working on.
- Collaboration. Encouraging collaboration – where everyone contributes their ideas, training and collaborates together to enrich the work they are doing and achieve optimal results – among team members is essential in virtual work environments to achieve the common goal.
- Clear definitions are needed. Roles and responsibilities, as well as team rules and protocols, must be very well defined. Feedback should be very clear and avoid assumptions.
- The importance of leadership. Employees tend to be more engaged, more productive and experience less stress when they interact with their manager on a regular basis. This helps to keep them informed about how the team’s activities impact the organisation’s results.
- Time should be maximised. Time is valuable in virtual teams, for example, so it is important to convey to the entire team that they should be on time for a videoconference meeting, and make the most of those times and then devote their energy to other items.
- Relevant technology. Because you are working remotely, you need to make good use of available technology and make use of more sophisticated collaboration tools. This includes enterprise instant messaging tools, videoconferencing, knowledge and collaboration workspaces, etc. This leads to employee training.
HR’s role in overcoming the challenges of the virtual workforce
The human resources area was faced with the challenge of managing human capital in a new environment: that of remote work. This is challenging because the traditional logics of a company’s operation and the work teams, many of which are now virtual, have changed. And if some workers used to work remotely, it is now a constant feature in countless companies of all kinds.
In this sense, the HR area must try to implement the aforementioned strategies as well as know how to overcome the possible difficulties that may be encountered. For example, a key point is to create an environment conducive to remote and hybrid working, and this implies that companies ensure a secure connection. What if the employee is the one who provides his or her own internet? The expense incurred by the employee can be reimbursed in addition to the salary, so the employee knows that it is not an out-of-pocket expense and the company – by paying for it – can demand good connectivity.
Another example that is important to highlight is that the HR area executes a proper change management, i.e. that workers can be as productive in the office as from home (either 100% remote or if it is a hybrid system, for example), and that area leaders are not forced to exercise permanent control over the tasks that are performed remotely.
Work teams in a virtual environment have come to change the way people work. The pandemic accelerated it, but the incorporation of remote working into teams was already taking firm steps in the world of work. Today it is an unquestionable reality, a change that has become part of the norm.
But this does not mean that organisations and companies have adopted remote working in their teams with all the success one would expect, as it is a paradigm shift in the way people work and relate to each other at work. And changes can come unexpectedly, but the processes for acquiring and adjusting to them sometimes take time.
In this sense, the HR area is fundamental to, as we said before, help in the management of employees in remote work, and thus favour the wellbeing of work teams in a virtual environment. This involves managing the change in all possible ways, triggering the advantages associated with this work model and minimising the disadvantages.
If you need help, our expert advisors will guide you in better managing your virtual workplace.