These days, a company without a standard work-from-home policy is unheard of.
More businesses are adopting fully virtual teams, with nearly 50% of U.S. employees working remotely at least once per week. As remote teams become the new business standard, organizations must decide whether building a virtual team is best for them.
Building a virtual team comes with both advantages and disadvantages, depending on the environment, management, and technologies in play. Here is how your team can benefit from a virtual workplace—and what to watch out for when building a virtual or remote team:
What is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team is one where employees have no centralized office. Instead, employees come together on a virtual platform—a company intranet, a messaging platform, or an email-only workflow. This differs from regular work-from-home policies, where team members can choose to work remote for a day or two each week. Virtual teams do not come into an office to get work done.
Need help understanding if remote work is right for your business? We created The Flock Guide to Building Great Remote Teams with leaders like you in mind.
How do you know if a virtual team is right for your organization? There are many challenges to a virtual team, but many more benefits that could make a remote team a good fit for you.
Pros of a Virtual or Remote Team
One of the many benefits of a virtual team is having all your communication, files, and people in one place—no more cluttered file cabinets or missing paperwork. The advantages of a remote workplace go beyond saving time looking for files.
Offering remote work options tells your team that you trust them to be professionals. Some might consider this a paradox, but trusting people and giving them more responsibility makes them happier. Per Owl Labs’ annual State of Remote Work, remote workers reported 29% more happiness in their jobs than on-site workers.
Fewer Overhead Costs
Fewer employees working in the office means you’ll need less office space. That trickles down to savings on associated expenses, like utilities, travel reimbursements, or office supplies. If you can save business expenses and keep your team happy, why wouldn’t you?
Meet Talent Where They Are
As the workplace and its workforce go global, we’re seeing top talent move beyond traditional innovation hubs like Silicon Valley. Today's workers don't want to be forced to re-locate. For many, this means accruing moving costs and putting their happiness at risk. Unsurprisingly, more and more companies are offering remote work options to secure top talent and reduce employee attrition.
In a survey by CoSo Cloud, 77% of workers given the option to work remotely said they’re more productive when they do so. Eliminating travel time, unnecessary in-person meetings, and distractions in the office helps keep your employees focused on what really matters: getting the work done. In fact, the same survey suggests 52% of remote workers are less likely to take time off (even for sick days!) and can save up to $5,240 per year.
This productivity extends beyond individuals. By building a remote team that transcends time zones, an organization can create an “always-on” workforce. For example, with teams in Bangalore, Boston, and Mumbai, the Flock team works a combined 16 hours a day through staggered shifts across time zones. This gives us more than the usual 7-8 business hours of time for teammates to work together on building new features, responding to users, and troubleshooting issues.
Cons of a Virtual or Remote Team
Like with most things worth doing, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Building a remote team doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges, from understanding new technology to managing people virtually.
If your team spans the globe, not only do you need to tackle working across multiple time zones, but you also have to consider how cultures align in the workplace. American aggression and work-life balance can be a culture shock to international workers, and attitudes vary across cultures. It’s important to establish a workplace culture that accommodates all workers, rather than trying to force a teammate into an uncomfortable situation.
Less Team Bonding
It’s hard to replicate watercooler conversations in a virtual space. Without a teammate or two sitting next to you with whom you can chat with, bounce ideas off of, or vent your frustrations, it’s easy to feel siloed in a virtual workspace. At Flock, we overcome this challenge with special channels for shared interests. Our Harry Potter and Game of Thrones channels allow us to nerd out, while our music channels let us rock out—all from thousands of miles away. And our Question of the Day channel lets the whole team interact outside of those special interests. We’re always chatting, keeping our virtual team engaged!
Working with a remote team requires a level of trust in autonomy that isn’t usually seen in a traditional office environment where projects can be physically monitored. You need to make sure everyone’s on the same page and working on the same project. Regular video meetings are important to check in on your team and communicate more synchronously.
When you can’t meet face to face, your team can use project management software like Asana or Jira, have regular check-ins via chat—without micromanaging—and recruit carefully with trust in mind.
In a technology-driven workforce, virtual teams are a natural step toward the future of work. Virtual and remote teams can be successful if the right technologies and policies are established. While the benefits of building a remote team are many, it is equally important to recognize the challenges involved and address them proactively to make it work for your business.
This post was updated with new information in June 2020.