Usually when companies permit employees to work remotely, or transition entire departments to the virtual office, it’s part of a planned and well-resourced strategy. Unfortunately, during the recent novel Coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers and team mangers have had to make that transition with no preparation whatsoever, putting in many cases setting them up to fail.
The fact is, working virtually is very different from working face-to-face. The communication skills required to work, lead and collaborate in a colocated environment are different from those required when working virtually. Feelings of disengagement and isolation are more pronounced, miscommunications are more common, and teams more often than not fail to achieve their objectives, even under ideal circumstances.
And these are not ideal circumstances. Given the added stress of nearglobal stay-at-home orders and mandatory quarantines due to COVID-19, and virtual teams are under even more pressure than they would be ordinarily. Common issues facing virtual teams include:
- 42% of virtual team members feel frustrated and overwhelmed by virtual collaboration and communication technologies
- 34% of virtual teams believe remote team members don’t do their share of the work, leading to conflict
- 85% of employees report working in a virtual environment at least some of the time, yet only 22% have received training in how to do so effectively
This leads to several negative consequences that undermine team productivity and cohesion, including:
- Feelings of isolation
- Frequent miscommunication
- Inefficient, unproductive team meetings
- Poor communication between employees and managers
With the majority of the corporate world now working virtually due to COVID-19, and the likelihood of further waves of quarantine before the virus is fully under control, it’s worth examining – how do virtual teams differ from their face-to-face counterparts, and how do those differences impact team performance?
Many people automatically misconstrue virtual teamwork as a simple process because it uses tools that are commonplace and understood, such as telephones , laptops and email. On the contrary, despite how commonplace virtual offices are, the majority of virtual teams suffer some form of performance failure. According to the Gartner Group, 50% of virtual teams fail due to a lack of understanding of how to work virtually.  More recent reports suggest that failure rates may actually be as high as 82%. 
Although technology enables organizations to bring diverse and dispersed team members together, teams that interact virtually often have difficulty collaborating effectively, gaining a shared understanding of goals and tasks,  and/or achieving and maintaining the necessary levels of trust and social cohesion between team members. [4-7]
Research findings from MIT and others show that: 
The potential benefits for improving virtual team performance outcomes through skill development and training include:
- Reduced frequency of unproductive conflict
- Improved team cohesion
- Minimized over-collaboration, improving productivity and cost-effectiveness
- Improving trust building and team viability (i.e., giving your team the best chance to work together productively in the future)
Yet globally, 85% of employees report working on virtual teams. At the same time, only 22% have received any training geared toward working in that environment. This disparity suggests that many of the people working virtually do not know how to do so effectively, which can lead to dysfunction
Challenges for Virtual Leaders
Two-thirds of experienced managers fail in their first attempt to run a virtual team – and for new managers, the failure rate is even higher. In fact, misunderstandings are five times more likely to occur without face-toface communication . For managers, it is essential to understand why this occurs, and how to develop the communication skills that work in the virtual environment.
Virtual managers and their teams can be every bit as effective as their co-located counterparts, if not more so.  But without proper training and strategies to work in the virtual environment, managers will be at a significant disadvantage and are likely to fail. Key issues are:
In addition, managers must often learn an entirely new set of leadership skills. For instance, one study showed that typing speed and accuracy are enormously important for managers in the virtual environment.  Individuals who can type faster are able to more quickly communicate their thoughts and drive the team’s direction.
Challenges for Virtual Employees
In the 2012 study Untapped Potential of Virtual Teams,  Siemens Enterprise Communications designed and executed a research survey generating responses from nine countries, covering North America, Latin America, and Western Europe. The goal of the survey was to find the realtime problems companies struggle with that involve virtual teams and their effect on operations, efficiency, and the overall bottom line. The results show that:
Another survey showed that only 22% of employees receive training on working in the virtual environment, causing and exacerbating many of the above issues. Lack of face-to-face contact for employees without a solid foundation in working virtually experience productivity impacts in the
following areas: 
Further, even employees who work virtually only some of the time feel that their in-office colleagues don’t treat them equally: 
- 67% feel that colleagues don’t fight for their priorities
- 64% say colleagues make changes to a project without warning them
- 84% allowing these concerns to linger for days before addressingthem; 47% did so for weeks or more.
The Way Forward
Are you ready to transform your Organization using the same techniques that competitive businesses are using to advance their bottom line, to become tech-savvy and move into the digital age, the answer needs to be “yes.”
Virtual teams can be enormously successful for organizations, leaders and employees – performing as well as or even better than their co-located counterparts. The potential for improving team performance outcomes is substantial if you have the right skills in place.
At Virtual Team Builders (VTB), we know that it takes more than technology to connect your virtual team. We will work with your virtual team members and managers to teach them how to successfully engage with one another, resulting in a healthy, engaged, productive team.
About Virtual Team Builders
Virtual Team Builders (VTB) is the leader in virtual team success. Since its inception 30 years ago, VTB has assisted over 200 organizations worldwide to improve the efficiency of their virtual teams. We provide worldclass customized solutions. Whether separated by 90 feet or 3000 miles our
world-class programs provide you with solutions that drive engagement, communication, collaboration and success. A high performing virtual team means a high performing company. Work with our consultants to assess your virtual team, identify skill gaps and implement a customized solution to transform your team, leaders and organization.
VTB’s roster of clients spans both the public and private sectors in North America and Europe:
All our our programs are specifically tailored to the unique needs that virtual teams face! Take our 1-minute Virtual Team Success Survey and receive a FREE 30-minute consultation here: virtualteambuilders.com/virtual-team-success-survey
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