The Seven Deadly Sins of Virtual Teams

The fact is, working virtually is very different from working face-to-face. The communication skills required to work, lead, and collaborate in a co-located 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.

Is your team falling victim to these most common pitfalls?

What are the seven deadly sins of virtual teams? Many people assume virtual teamwork is simple – you do the same work you always do, only at a distance, right? In fact,

with some studies pegging the number as high as 82%.

That’s pretty scary when you consider that 89% of employees report working virtually at least some of the time.

So, how do you create a virtual team that beats the odds and becomes a success story, delivering on the promise of cost savings, high morale, and sustainable productivity?

It all starts with knowing (and avoiding) the Seven Deadly Sins of Virtual Teams. If you think your team has fallen victim to any of these common pitfalls, you’ll want to focus on doing something about it since these deadly sins don’t usually get better on their own.


Us Vs. Them

Few things are worse for team morale than hosting meetings in which some of your team members call in remotely and others attend in person. This setup can cause an us-vs-them mentality where remote staff feel disconnected and disengaged from the face-to-face attendees, withholding valuable input and feeling less ownership over meeting outcomes.

This ultimately leads to half-successful meetings at best, frustrated leaders who wonder what is going on with their team, and a siloed workforce that wastes time and energy on miscommunication and duplicated effort.


Multitasking is Killing Your Bottom Line

Multitasking. We all do it, none of us do it well, and it can even be harmful to your team’s productivity. In fact, worldwide, multitasking costs corporations $450 billion per year.

Virtual meetings are notorious for staff answering emails, surfing the web, or just doing their day-to-day work instead of giving 100% of their attention to the meetings. Beyond being disrespectful to the rest of the team, switching between tasks causes:

  • Productivity to drop by as much as 40%
  • More frequent errors, especially where critical thought is involved
  • Higher stress
  • Increased health risk, including elevated heart rate (University of California Irvine)


Failed Leadership

One recent study of engineering groups showed that the best predictor of success for managers of dispersed teams is prior experience. This trend is more and more common, particularly as commutes worsen, more staff request work-from-home days, and more companies attract worldwide talent.

Yet, despite the explosion in virtual teams, many companies thrust leaders into their roles with inadequate training – or no training at all — in how to lead them, which explains why only 15% rate themselves as very effective and just 53% as moderately effective. The result is an inefficient and ineffective team that more often than not fails to meet its goals.


Allowing Out-of-Sight to Equal Out-of-Mind

What is the greatest fear of the virtual worker? Being out of sight means being out of mind for their managers, leading to five key consequences:

1. Virtual workers do not have an opportunity to grow and develop their skills.
2. They feel left out of the loop.
3. They do not learn company updates at the same time as face-to-face employees.
4. Their accomplishments go unnoticed and unappreciated.
5. Their career paths within the organization become limited

Virtual workers who suffer these consequences participate less, which only worsens their status and well-being. In fact, 80% of virtual team members find that working virtually is more difficult than in person.

Great virtual managers will find ways to make sure their virtual team members are well integrated, well-informed, and appreciated for their contributions. Contact us to talk about ways you could improve performance of your virtual team. Taking proactive action is what these sins need to be undone.


Goal & Role Ambiguity

Role Ambiguity is one of the greatest sources of stress for leaders and members of virtual teams. Leaders cannot achieve effective team performance without clearly defined goals and roles. The role of the virtual team leader is to implement structured processes, well-defined goals, and clear accountabilities for each team member. The result of poorly communicated goals and roles is a higher frequency of misunderstanding, lower levels of coordination, missed productivity benchmarks, and higher costs.


Taking Trust for Granted

Trust is the foundation of a high-functioning team, virtual or otherwise – it’s the glue that holds the team together. Unfortunately, it takes four times as long for virtual teams to build trust compared to their face-to-face counterparts. Teams
with high levels of geographic, operational, and cultural differences report lower levels of trust, innovation, satisfaction, and collaboration than more homogeneous teams. In fact, only 50% of virtual employees report success at building trusted relationships with their fellow team members, and 52% cite managing conflict as one of the biggest issues they face.


Are you Missing the Signs of Burnout?

Virtual teams stand apart from traditional face-to-face teams in that geographic distance between colleagues can intensify the impact of setbacks and lengthen the amount of time it takes to recover from setbacks. This distance between team members can also make it easier for virtual leaders to miss the crucial signs of a lack of team member resilience. By the time resilience depletion becomes obvious, the damage to team productivity and morale may be severe.

Every sin on this list contributes to burnout, acting as negative forces that lower morale and drain energy from your team over time. Great virtual managers are the ones who develop strategies and protocols to overcome these challenges, building high-performing teams that thrive.


Do you recognize any of these sins in your organization? If so, how many? Even one can have a pronounced negative impact on a virtual team. If you spot three or more in your own organization, we should talk soon because these problems simply do not solve themselves and nearly always get worse before they get better.

Fortunately, these sins don’t have to define your virtual team, and getting on the path to success is easier than you think. A great place to start is to schedule a no-commitment 45-minute consultation with expert staff from Virtual Team Builders and set your team up for success!