Working in virtual teams has its challenges. It may look as easy like hardly any face to face communication at all. You’re wrong. It is difficult to build trust and to manage conflict when team members lack the ability to solve problems face to face. Communication is often more challenging, particularly among global virtual teams, which can also make it more difficult to overcome cultural barriers (Ebrahim et al, 2009).
According to the report by RW3 LLC, a global business organization designed 34 questions to get information on several topics about virtual teams. The survey asks about the importance of virtual teams to their individual productivity and inter-cultural communication. The survey found out the following challenges working in virtual teams:
- Timezones – Setting up online meetings have to take into consideration the time zones of each of the virtual staff. The challenge is how to set up a schedule that will benefit everyone and does not compromise more of their time for the meeting.
- Colleagues who do not participate – Virtual teams are hard to control especially when you do not meet face to face. The tendency of meeting online only not face to face is the ability to gain a connection to your virtual staff. There are barriers to communication when other members do not understand that their role and participation contributes a lot to company tasks and goals. The solution is to make them feel they are part of the group. Isolation can be lonely. It is best to call to talk about the current tasks and goals. Letting them feel that they are valuable to the company.
- The pace of decision making – Decision making can be really slow when teams tackle large projects. Projects that require a lot of virtual teams involve can hinder the progress. The best solution for this is to schedule meetings and require virtual teams to collaborate and communicate consistently.
- Understanding different accents – It is natural for some people who acquire accents because of their mother tongue. Like how the French men talks with an accent when speaking in English. Virtual teams do have diversity in their languages. It does not have to require everyone else to speak the other team’s language. The only solution is to have the virtual teams communicate in English. When they encounter such communication barrier, let the person explain what he wants to convey to the team.
- The time required to reach decisions – Compared to a face to face meeting, reaching decisions can take a lot of time in the virtual environment. The solution about this is to create a communication preference to talk about the details that can happen in the spur of a moment. Making the final decision is hard when a group of the team is involved. It is better to use an application or tool to gather the best ideas for the decision making process.
- Different roles expectations held by each team member – When you are given a role and expect to deliver, follow instructions and fulfill company goals. You have to accomplish the tasks given to you. Never deliver when it is not your responsibility to do tasks that are beyond your capabilities.
- Follow through of team members – In reality, there are many reasons why virtual members have a good track record of follow through. It could be a lack of direction and to focus on the money making aspect. It does not have to be that way. Ensuring the follow through of your members is to make them feel accountable for their actions. Train them to be consistent and reach deadlines. Challenge their knowledge. Make them feel that you value their efforts.
- Cultural differences – The cultural aspect of each individual can also hinder the productivity and communication of the teams. As the only Filipino virtual assistant in the team, I can tell the difference between me and the other American virtual colleague. He is more expressive, opinionated and eloquent in addressing the customers. I am meek, eager to learn even if I am slow and kinda hesitant. It did not bother me a lot. Not unless I was told that I am not doing my best. The company shows respect for cultural diversity in the virtual workforce. That is why it was easy for me to work with them for years.
Never be lenient in addressing the challenges in the virtual workforce. Pushing the boundaries between the individual and the company will create benefits for both of them. Virtual companies should not restrict virtual employees on what they can do better. By creating a conducive environment, virtual teams may surpass and reach higher goals.
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