A virtual team is an emerging trend for workers who are dissatisfied with traditional employment opportunities. These experienced workers are freelancers, part-timers, and side-hustlers who use their local experience in a global environment.
It is a form of telecommuting with a twist. You’re working with a team of other people that you’ll never likely meet in-person, tasked with collaborative activities to benefit a mutual client or employer. Many virtual team members are self-employed or are small business owners themselves.
There are three layers of advantages and disadvantages to consider when looking at virtual teams: societal, organizational, and individual. Here are the critical points to review if you’re thinking about starting or joining a virtual team today.
List of the Advantages of a Virtual Team
1. The existence of a virtual team creates a happier employee.
Virtual teams are powered by remote workers. People who are able to telecommute are generally happier and more productive because they have more control over their employment circumstances. There is more flexibility available with this structure to balance life and work than there is with traditional employment. It is such a powerful motivator that 1 in 3 people would choose working as part of a virtual team over a pay rise. Some would even take a pay cut.
2. Productivity levels can rise dramatically.
For some workers, their inclusion on a virtual team is such a powerful motivator that their productivity rises by more than 40%. Even in the worst-case scenario, an effective virtual team sees productivity gains of at least 10%. Most people do their best work when they aren’t required to report to a physical office, with the largest gains found in workers who had the longest commute. If you eliminate a 30-minute drive to work, you’ve just given that worker 1 hour of free time that they didn’t have before.
3. Virtual teams save companies tons of cash.
Cisco Systems is often used as the primary example for this advantage of forming virtual teams because they were able to save over $270 million per year with this type of structure. Even a team that is partially virtual is going to save most companies money. The average business will experience a cost savings of $2,000 per employee thanks to fewer furniture requirements and less office space to lease. Don’t forget about the savings of office supplies, lighting, and other office costs too.
4. You have access to a larger pool of talent.
When you decide to create a virtual team, you’re no longer bound to the skills and talents available within your company and local community. Thanks to the Internet, you can reach an entire world of talent with just a few clicks of your mouse. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork make it possible to hire freelancers and independent small businesses to work with you at rates you can afford. You can hire people for any scope of work, from short-term tasks to full-time contract work.
5. Your business can be operational for 24-hour cycles.
Imagine being able to have your business open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. In the past, you’d need to have people work the overnight shift to do this. Today, you can take advantage of the global nature of data sharing. That means your team’s collaborative efforts never need to stop. Although there can be communication challenges when time zone differences are extreme, the benefits here of being always engaged far outweigh any negative issues that require management.
6. Virtual teams reduce the environmental impact of your business.
When your employees are working at home virtually instead of driving to the office every day, then there are fewer carbon emissions being released into the environment. When Xerox introduced the concept of virtual teams within their workforce, they reduced their carbon footprint by over 41,000 metric tons in just one year. There are added benefits from less heating and cooling use, water consumption, and electrical use when people can work from home to consider as well.
7. They can reduce your time to the market.
Because you have time zone advantages with virtual teams, your crew can stay more productive. That means you always have someone awake, working on your projects, if you create a geographically diverse team. With that level of productivity, it becomes possible to bring your product or service to the market sooner, improving your response time while reducing your development time for each market.
8. It is an opportunity to leverage talent that may not have been available before.
When you look at the overall population of the United States, almost 20% of workers have at least one disability. These disabilities make it difficult for some workers to be traditionally employed. If they have the opportunity to work on a virtual team, however, they are able to maximize their productivity in ways that best suit their needs. Over 30 million Americans have difficulty walking or climbing stairs, which are issues that can go away when there are more opportunities to work from home.
9. Workers take fewer days off when working on a virtual team.
When traditional employers allow telecommuting for workers, then sick day use decreases by 6% per year. For virtual team members, that rate is even lower. Many workers on teams like this are hired on a contract basis, which means they don’t receive the typical benefits of a full-time employee. They find themselves working more days and longer hours to ensure their expenses are fully covered each month. In return, they gain an opportunity to work in ways that are beneficial to them on a personal level.
10. Higher loyalty rates are found in virtual teams.
Even though workers are at home or a preferred remote location, being a member of a virtual team makes them feel like their opinion still matters. People only leave virtual teams when their voice isn’t heard or there is a lack of career growth associated with the position. When managers take the time to listen to their team, even if the feedback is negative, the retention rates skyrocket.
List of the Disadvantages of a Virtual Team
1. You are forced to operate with an assumption of trust.
When virtual teams are created, they should follow the same interview process that a traditional employment opportunity uses. Managers must be able to trust the people who work with them. That is difficult to do if you’re unable to see what your team is doing. There is always a chance that some workers will goof off, wasting their time on personal tasks instead of pursuing the work they’ve promised to do. If you micromanage these teams, however, the results tend to be negative. That’s why trust must be established from the very beginning.
2. Virtual teams tend to create silos more than collaborative results.
The structure of a virtual team tends to be transactional. A worker is assigned with a specific task, then they must deliver it by a specific time. Everyone tends to be off, doing their own thing, and you’re lucky to come together for a weekly conference call. When you’re working at home virtually, you miss the non-verbal cues that people offer when communicating with one another. You’re often left with the words that are written, which can be easy to misinterpret. When the difficulties in communication combine with the individual nature of the working arrangement, silos tend to form.
3. The people on virtual teams are often isolated socially.
Sometimes referred to as the “water cooler effect,” there is a social aspect to work that is often missing with a virtual team. Even though you’re working together with others, you’re also working at home by yourself. Workers must be proactive about their social engagements outside of their professional responsibilities to counter the issue of loneliness that can creep up You don’t get the same opportunities to chat with people, share a lunch break, or talk about favorite TV shows when you work remotely.
4. There are time zone issues which may interfere with communication.
Let’s say that your company is based in Los Angeles, so you operate under Pacific Time. You’ve got two virtual team members who are located in Singapore, one located in New York City, and another located in London. Here are the logistics to consider with such an arrangement.
• If it is 2:45pm at your home office, then it is 6:45am the next day in Singapore.
• For your worker in NYC, it is 5:45pm and they’re thinking about dinner.
• It would then be 10:45pm in London.
Balancing out these time zone difficulties isn’t easy. Someone must always sacrifice their regular schedule for the needs of the team. Good teams will rotate who must do this to prevent one group or team member from being burnt out. Many, however, would base their requirements on the home office time zone, which tends to be why it is difficult to find high-quality workers in the global environment.
5. Virtual teams must consider the cost of technology.
If you are telecommuting as a traditional employee, then there is a good chance your organization will supply you with the equipment required to work from home. For the members of a virtual team, that isn’t the case. Each team member must use compatible technologies, be familiar with instant messaging, video conferencing, and meeting software, and be well-versed in the software or apps that are used to create work. You must then pay for this equipment in advance, which is not always easy if you don’t live in the developed world.
6. Being on a virtual team doesn’t stop arguments from happening.
People who work on virtual teams have disagreements like any other group of workers. The difference is that their arguments are not always handled in real time. If you’re having a debate over email or a messaging platform, you’re forced to wait for each response to continue the conversation. Even if you’re on a conference call, time zone differences may create fatigue for one person that limits their creativity. You’re not going to avoid drama by switching to virtual teams. You’re going to change how those issues are handled, which can be difficult for some managers.
7. Assigned processes may be too ambiguous to be helpful.
Managers who clearly state the roles and responsibilities for each virtual team member will typically see the most success. The way most teams are run, however, does not come close to this expectation. Many workers are unclear of the work they should perform or they role they play in the overall mission and vision of their employer. There might be uncertainty about the criteria for work that needs to be performed. Every person is dependent on everyone else for successful outcomes. If just one element breaks down, the entire virtual team might fracture.
These virtual team advantages and disadvantages are often exacerbated by the skills, talent, and approach used by the manager. When trust is present, these teams tend to work better. Even if workers find ways to silo themselves, the manager can bring the work of each team member together to create needed results. Everyone saves time and money when it is correctly structured, while the disadvantages are often manageable. That’s why this work option continues to see increased interest.
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