Challenges For Establishing A Virtual Team

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In the last blog post, I briefly went over the perks of working remotely and working from home. And let me repeat why simply refusing to integrate remote work into your company might not work anymore: If your company worked fine during the pandemic-induces lockdown, you now have a very strong counter-argument for your My team cannot work remotely speech. Additionally, just forcing everybody back to the office of course would be possible, but is a misuse of your power which at least some of your team members will not forgive easily. It’s up to you whether you think that you want to go down that route…

If you decide to allow remote work for some of your team members – i.e., the ones who want to, which will probably not be all of them – here’s some issues that you might encounter:

  • Your office space is too big and you pay too much money for it.
  • You have to reorganize team events.
  • Team building is much more difficult with half the team working remotely.
  • You have to analyze all your monitoring and control techniques, as well as your KPI.
  • You have to establish your new working structures within your team, as well as within the company.
  • You might have to have some heated discussions with your own boss (who might also be on the everybody-back-to-the-office-side), as well as with your colleagues.
  • You might have to organize additional technical equipment for team members who want to work from home completely.

Yes, you read that correctly. There’s a lot of you have to in that list! Establishing a partially virtual team is challenging for you as a leader, and should be seen as a change project for your whole team and possibly the whole company. Do not underestimate the impact this will have – but I can promise you, if you do it properly and take your time in the beginning, you will be rewarded with a hard-working and motivated team!

No Rush With Big Decisions

As usual, this is our mantra: As this decision is quite a big one, you should not rush through with it. Take your time and wrap your head around all the consequences that this might have.

Leading a team with half remote and half on-site workers is in fact much harder than leading a completely virtual team. The reason is easy: Instead of replacing behaviors with new ones, you will always have two different kinds of established behaviors. This will create very complex group dynamics and is not only challenging for you, but for the whole team.

As this is a change project, I would always recommend you to sit together with your team and get started together. Listen to your team – do they want to go that route? Are they aware of how it will change their behaviors? As much as it doesn’t make sense to force everybody back to the office if half of the team does not like it, it’s pointless to stress the whole team if it’s only one person (or no-one really) who wants to keep working remotely. Make clear that it’s a team decision and that the team is responsible for creating a new working environment, which integrates remote colleagues as well as the ones on-site. This way, you will still be the one behind the whole project, but everybody will be accountable and responsible for making it work.

The Digital Age Is Already Here

No matter whether you like it or not – forcing everybody to go back to the office is so 2012. We all benefit from digital tech in our lives, and I bet that your company profits from it, too – be it because you can quickly call your colleagues after hours, or because they can check that email from home, or even work remotely if there’s an urgent situation (because then it’s suddenly not a problem anymore). It’s time to accept not only the immediate benefits for you and your company, but to also live with the change that comes with it.

One Challenge At A Time

There’s no need to tackle everything at once. If you decide to change your existing structures together with your team, they will appreciate it that you took the initiative. There’s no need to have everything done next week – in urgent cases, you can still negotiate temporary solutions with your team members. Let’s look at the possible challenges and what you could do about them:

  • The office space: Let’s assume that not everybody is keen on staying at home completely. How about finding a compromise with your remote enthusiasts? Let them stay at home a few days a week, and come together on Fridays, or Wednesdays. This way, you will not have the feeling that your office space is wasted. If you really see that a larger part of the company wants to work from home, you could bring up the topic of an office move a bit later. In the end, it’s money you can save and invest into other important stuff – for example, into a better IT infrastructure or team events.
  • Team Events: Either you decide to have on-site events, where everybody needs to join, or you add some online events to your portfolio. Why not have both? Having an office party is usually fun, but having a coffee break can also happen remotely. Everybody gets their beverage of choice, and you have a nice little chat. If you cannot meet anyone at the coffee machine anymore, why not scheduling a replacement for this?
  • Team building: Integrating a half-virtual team is difficult. If you stay with your usual office behavior, you will notice that the team on site grows together more quickly and more strongly, while there’s a great chance that remote colleagues might be missed, simply because they’re not there. Discuss with your team how they want to approach this issue – write down some ideas on how to change meeting structures, or meeting agendas, in order to integrate remote team members better. Do not forget to talk about the ‘simple’ things, too: Who do they turn to, if they have a question, and in what manner? How is responsibility to integrate them split between the team members? Your goal here is to raise awareness for everybody how important it is to integrate everyone equally, as well as splitting accountability as much as possible.
  • Monitoring remotely: If you don’t have any KPI with your team, it’s now time to establish some (and there’s plenty more reasons to do so…) – nobody should be paid for his attendance at the office for eight hours straight! Instead, if you have set goals with all of your team members, monitoring their work remotely will be easy-peasy. Either their projects get finished in time, or they don’t. If you base your performance reviews on this, it actually does not matter where they did their work. And be honest – you’re not standing behind their desks at the office, right? If someone is keen on shopping online during their working hours, they will find ways to do so in the office, too.
  • New working structures: This is again a great team topic. You will need to restructure some existing structures. So get together with your team and ask yourselves – what is it that you really need from your regular meetings and events? How can this be done with remote team members?
  • Technical equipment and additional costs: This is a crucial aspect of your change project. Some team members might need a different technical setup (i.e., changing from a desktop PC to a laptop), and some might also need additional equipment for their office at home (mouse, keyboard, a second monitor). Costs are a hard criteria, and if you don’t have the money, you maybe cannot do it, no matter how much you want to. IT security is another important topic; having someone working from home may require some new instructions and rules for everybody on how to deal with your clients’ files and personal data. The important thing here is: Do not use costs as an excuse to stop changing something. I hope it’s clear by now how many advantages the new setup would have, and thus how much more productive you could be. Finances might be a stopping issue, but everything can be solved if there’s a strong will behind it.

These are just some possible challenges. There might be others as well – or there might be less. The most important thing is to get started! The digital age is here, and it will not disappear again. If you’re stuck in old, traditional structures, your company might have a serious disadvantage on the market and you might not even know about it. You don’t need to tackle everything at once – just start small and see where it is going. Accepting the change as inevitable is the first step into the right direction.

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