The modern workforce has the opportunity to collaborate in ways that only a few decades ago would have been inconceivable.
For instance, no longer do your employees need to be sat in the same office; virtual teams can be scattered across the globe, connected digitally but still able to provide high-quality services to clients on a tight schedule. Remote workers are an exciting disruption to the classic conventions of employment and commuting, and offer an exciting way for entrepreneurs to grow their business.
However, there are several things that you need to consider closely before you decide to hire and manage remote workers. To help you decide if it is the right approach for your business, here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of virtual teams.
What Is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team – also referred to as a distributed team, a geographically dispersed team, or a remote team – is a workgroup whose members are based in different locations, and who communicate through the internet. Within this definition is a wide variety of types of virtual teams, which include:
- Production Teams – Teams that are assembled to complete and deliver ongoing products and services.
- Service Teams – These teams are formed to offer ongoing support for services such as tech support.
- Action Teams – Teams formed to deal with one issue as fast as possible, and which will be disbanded upon the problem's resolution.
- Network Teams – Composed of experts on a particular area, members from these teams are added and removed as needed to bring the best minds to bear on a specific issue.
Advantages of Virtual Teams
In general, the benefits of remote teams are based around untethering your workforce from a physical office. Here is how it can help you run a more efficient company:
It Reduces Workplace Overheads
One of the most straightforward benefits of relying on virtual teams is that you won't have to worry about maintaining a workspace.
This can be crucial for new companies that are trying to grow fast. If your business is being restricted from scaling because you can't afford more office space to house an expanding workforce, then a virtual team can be an excellent solution to this problem. The financial benefits of utilising a remote team can be staggering, too – global organisations such as Cisco, IBM and Oracle have all previously reported yearly savings within the eight-figure range by adopting this approach.
It Lowers Your Carbon Footprint
Many entrepreneurs run environmentally conscious businesses, and what better place to start a commitment to running a green company than at the workplace? Not only will you save on expenses such as heating and lighting, but by eliminating the need for your employees to commute to an office, you will help make a measurable impact on the global commitment to lower carbon emissions.
Higher Employee Satisfaction
A 2016 study by Forbes found that remote workers were both happier with their work, and felt more valued as employees than traditional office workers. This is important to consider, as good morale almost always leads to a more productive workforce.
Indeed, working remotely allows employees to design a schedule that works for them. They can focus on their tasks and better balance their lives around the demands of their jobs, meaning that they will be more engaged, more motivated, and easier to retain in the long-term.
It Expands Your Talent Pool
By putting together a virtual team, you have the opportunity to find the best people for your project from all over the world. You are no longer limited to recruiting from your immediate region, allowing you to review a larger pool of candidates with a more diverse array of backgrounds, skills and knowledge: a win-win for your organisation.
It Boosts Productivity
As already touched upon, employing virtual workers delivers documented benefits to employee productivity. Indeed, a two-year study at Stanford University found that the productivity levels of offsite employees were so much higher than their onsite counterparts, that it was akin to getting an extra day of work from traditional employees. By setting up a virtual team, your company has the opportunity to operate at a higher level.
It Serves Global Clients
By employing a geographically diverse workforce, you will expand where you can do business. Not only do employees in different time zones have the chance to serve clients throughout the day, but they also bring regional knowledge that can help your company expand into new markets. If you want to make your company's reach global, one of the best ways to do this is to begin using virtual teams.
Disadvantages of Virtual Teams
Of course, as with all things in business, there are downsides to virtual teams, too; here's how accommodating virtual teams could be a challenge for your company.
It’s a Barrier to Collaboration
One of the most significant advantages of an office is that individuals can easily organise teams to collaborate on projects. Having employees separated means that you will need to create and implement a structure that can allow and encourage collaboration.
There are tools available for this purpose, of course; communication apps such as Skype and Slack are excellent solutions, and scheduling tools like Basecamp and Asana can enable you to better facilitate collaborations. However, you will have to research these systems and implement training on them, as well as cover the costs of use.
In a similar vein, your employees will not have the chance to build the same kind of bond that they would in a traditional office. Depending on the nature of work your team is going to perform, this may or may not be an issue; if the work can be done independently, for instance, this shouldn't be a problem. If the task depends on spontaneous interaction and brainstorming sessions, though, then this could cause friction.
It Could Impact Your Reputation
The modern world usually celebrates dynamic solutions to organisational problems, but this is not a given. For example, there are industries where the absence of a traditional office environment and a reliance on remote employees could be seen as unfavourable. If this is the case, using virtual workers could be a risk for your company's reputation, particularly when you are pitching to high-profile clients.
The more your company exists online, the higher the potential security risks become. Most business owners have virtual workers sign contracts and store important information in protected databases. However, the fact of the matter is that, by using a virtual team, you inevitably increase the risk of a security breach. For this reason, sensitive information may not be appropriate to entrust to a virtual team.
There is also the potential to run into data legislation issues, especially if a remote worker is storing information on servers outside those dictated in any information-sharing agreements. This can provide restrictive if you need one of your overseas employees to have access to a particular data set, while you could easily end up breaking the law without realising it.
Just as employees may find remote work a barrier to camaraderie, so too might you find it an obstacle to building trusting, professional relationships. Managing employees through email and texts may prove more challenging than it seems. In addition, without the social cues we rely on to interpret our work communications, misunderstandings can lead to confusion and low morale.
A very real side effect of remote work is that it often leads to a feeling of social isolation for your employees. Sometimes referred to as the loss of the water cooler effect, the lack of pleasantries that some employees expect of the workplace means that virtual work is not for everyone.
While virtual teams may not be the solution for every business, they are an excellent choice for a wide number of growing, globally focused enterprises – particularly if the employees you are hiring are to assist in and complete short-term projects.
What do you think? Are virtual teams the workforces of the future, or are they no match for the "real thing"? Let us know your opinions and experiences in the comment section below!