For CRM giant Hubspot, the shift to remote work was seamless. This is because their managers focus more on employee growth and success rather than quotas. Utilizing a people-centric approach, Hubspot nurtures a top-notch company culture that drives the success of its teams, even virtually. With a Glassdoor rating of 4.6 out of 5 for its work culture, management, and values, Hubspot is one of several companies leading the charge on running impactful virtual teams.
Working remotely is the new reality for many U.S. team members. For instance, 22 percent of the American workforce (about 36.2 million people) are estimated to be working from home by 2025. Yet, many employers still have reservations about building virtual teams. Are they just as effective? Is it possible for a remote team to get their jobs done?
In fact, a GitLab study notes a 42 percent increase in productivity amongst teams of remote workers.
By carefully positioning the right team members, onboarding new members effectively, establishing clear goals, practicing strong communication skills, and cultivating cultures of trust, virtual teams can, in many cases, perform better than in-office ones. However, many companies still struggle with the shift, not knowing how to set a virtual team up for success.
In this article, we’ll dive into:
- What a virtual team is and the different types
- The pros and cons of remote teams
- What virtual teams need for success
- How to build an impactful virtual team
What Is a Virtual Team?
A virtual team is a group of individuals using communication technology to work together collaboratively toward a common goal from different locations. Bound together by shared company values and standards, professionals of either similar or differing expertise may be assembled for ongoing projects or to find solutions for more immediate needs.
Types of Virtual Teams
There are many different types of virtual teams and remote work. However, here are the most common types:
- Networked Teams: A networked virtual team is a fluid entity composed of multiple members working cross-functionally. As projects are completed and started, new members are added in, while others are removed based on the expertise and skillset required for each project.
- Parallel Teams: Typically made up of members of different branches within the same organization, parallel teams use group decision-making to work on short-term projects with a specific goal. Once achieved, the team dissolves. Companies may often use virtual parallel teams to solicit different opinions and skills from other branches of the business to help solve a problem in another department.
- Product Development Teams: Virtual product development teams consist of experts from different backgrounds and parts of the world to develop a new product, system, or process.
- Production Teams: Formed by members of the same role, production teams carry out smaller, individual tasks to work towards a larger joint project. Editing studios and marketing firms often utilize these virtual teams to reach production goals using consistent daily tasks and procedures.
- Service Teams: Service teams consist of virtual members in different locations and time zones. Working in continuous shifts, service team members support the work of the previous worker by overlapping with another from a different time zone.
- Management Teams: To boost efficiency and communication within the same company, virtual management teams consist of administrative staff from different locations. These management teams representing other locations work together to achieve company-wide, long-term goals through defined corporate strategies.
- Action Teams: Action teams work together for a short time to address immediate problems. Similar to a parallel team, action teams are made up of professionals from different backgrounds and levels of expertise. Despite their differences, the team’s goal is finding shared solutions. The main difference between an action team and a parallel one is that once there’s a solution, an action team resolves the problem right away (where a parallel team cannot).
Pros and Cons of Having a Virtual Team
While remote teams carry apparent advantages, there are some disadvantages to note as well. Here are some of the top advantages and disadvantages to consider when switching to a remote environment or utilizing a virtual team.
Advantages of Virtual Teams:
- Healthier work-life balance
- Increased productivity when working from home
- Savings in overhead costs
- Bigger pool of talent to hire from
- Reduction in unnecessary meetings and improved time management
Disadvantages of Virtual Teams:
- Decreased team collaboration
- Social isolation, limited team building activities, and lack of “water cooler” moments at work
- Lack of trust
- Difficulty tracking progress
- Potential security risks
Virtual teams can be an incredible asset to a company if designed right. Hiring A-players, building a culture of trust, and encouraging healthy work-life balance are some ways to prevent and overcome any potential hurdles stunting virtual teamwork. Read further to learn what virtual teams need to succeed.
What Do Virtual Teams Need to Succeed?
1. Hire A-players for Every Position on the Team
The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.Steve Jobs
Building an impactful virtual team starts with assembling the right people. Poor hiring decisions can ultimately cost your company more in the long run. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that a bad hire can cost your company at least 30% of that employee’s annual salary. Therefore, it’s essential to make careful hiring decisions based on these qualities.
Before you hire for remote work, create a job description that attracts someone with A-player qualities. These people are high-performing, all-star employees you would hire again and again. To engage with A-player candidates, discuss the organization’s purpose, define your core values, and communicate how they will drive impact in this role. A-players want to know how they can go above and beyond to exceed expectations. Carefully selecting and positioning these employees can be both culturally and financially game-changing for your company.
Qualities of an A-player:
- Natural leaders
- Vision- and mission-driven
- Possess a growth mindset
After hiring and onboarding A-player team members, design an effective virtual team next. Harvard professor and Leading Teams author J. Richard Hackman explains that a team’s number of performance problems can increase “exponentially” with its size. For instance, if a team consists of more than ten employees, issues of communication and organization often arise, diminishing productivity. Therefore, it is better to have multiple smaller teams.
To design an effective virtual team:
- Identify how many small teams you’ll need
- Clearly define your metrics for success
- Envision the team culture you want to cultivate without people being face-to-face
- Design team building activities to help the group bond
2. Create an Outstanding Onboarding Process
Hire character. Train skill.Peter Schultz
On their first day at LinkedIn, new hires gather to participate in icebreaker activities to get to know each other, make connections, and learn the company culture. This is followed by a LinkedIn campus tour experience over lunch to cover new hire orientation topics and benefits information. Finally, after the tour, new hires receive laptops that are pre-loaded with the tools they’ll need and a 90-Day New Hire Onboarding Plan packet. The onboarding plan provides weekly snapshots of how to be successful and fully integrate into the company.
While LinkedIn demonstrates a great onboarding process created by leadership in virtual teams, this isn’t the case for most companies. Unfortunately, a study by Gallup found that only 12% of employees think their company onboarded them well. According to a Society for Human Resources Management study, a poor onboarding experience can lead to new hire turnover and disengagement, actually as high as 50% in the first 18 months.
New hire turnover and disengagement can result when the onboarding process fails to establish an emotional bond by effectively communicating company culture and expectations.
A great onboarding process should include:
- A team introduction and company culture immersion
- An onboarding packet, team member handbook, and schedule for the first week or two
- A 30, 60, and 90-day goal worksheet
- One or two independent assignments
- Regular check-ins with feedback
3. Establish Clear Goals and Metrics
If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.Henry ford
Setting employee expectations must occur for virtual teamwork and remote teams to work. Without understanding what standards team members must meet, strategies can go awry, and a general lack of organization can stunt a team’s ability to reach goals.
While some businesses prefer key performance indicators (KPIs) established by executives, innovative companies such as Google, Spotify, and LinkedIn prefer employee-developed OKRs (objectives and key results). This is because these challenging metrics encourage collaboration between team members and management. As a result, businesses have increased productivity and employee engagement.
How to establish goals and metrics:
- Define what the company goals and metrics are.
- Explain why they are important and their purpose.
- Communicate goals and metrics in-person and on paper.
- Foster good workflow with hardwired company routines (like a weekly team meeting).
- Set realistic timelines.
- Encourage transparency and an open channel of communication.
4. Practice Strong Communication
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.george bernard shaw
Every Friday, Google employees across all departments connect in-person and virtually to hear updates, learn about new products, meet new hires, and pose questions for the co-founders. This is because transparency is one of Google’s cornerstone company values.
Strong and open communication is key for the success of any virtual team dynamic. And yet, for some companies, this is often the biggest challenge. Building strong working relationships on remote teams may seem almost impossible. But with the right communication systems in place, like company-wide weekly meetings, a virtual team could have stronger lines of communication than a traditional in-office one.
Ways to strengthen virtual team communication:
- Utilize collaborative programs like Slack or Asana to stay connected on certain projects and keep conversations and updates all in one place.
- Make a designated space (like a separate channel on Slack) for virtual groups to share casual life updates, news, and announcements.
- Have regular weekly team meetings. Create and share a meeting calendar if each meeting has a different plan.
- Update profile statuses (set to “away” or “be right back” on Microsoft Teams, for example, if you’ll be unavailable for a short period) as needed so virtual teammates can plan and pivot accordingly.
5. Foster Great Team Culture
Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything for better or for worse.simon sinek
Some employers fear that shifting from an in-office model to an entirely virtual one harms productivity. However, Mercer, an HR Benefits firm, actually found that in the last two years, 94 percent of 800 employers surveyed report feeling their team’s productivity has been the same or higher since shifting to remote.
Great team culture.
All teams, virtual, in-person, and those in different time zones, work better when they enjoy collaborating and working with each other. When strong leadership advocates for open, non-judgmental dialogue and cross-team collaboration, it nurtures employees’ motivation. Motivated team members—and the teams they’re part of—then experience higher productivity levels, more innovation, and less conflict.
Tips for cultivating a great culture:
- Foster trust and build relationships—take 5 to 10 minutes before team conference calls to share personal news and foster camaraderie.
- Recognize employees who improve team communication and use constructive and caring criticism.
- Establish clear guidelines to reduce misunderstandings, enhance social trust, and improve project management.
- Show appreciation for employees at every level, publicly and privately.
- Provide support for employees during hard times. Remind them they are cared for.
- Have occasional touchpoints to celebrate milestones, successes, and company updates.
- Live and demonstrate core company values.
Intentional Leadership Creates Great Virtual Teams
To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.doug conant
Virtual teams can be highly productive, often even outperforming in-office, face-to-face teams under the right conditions. But building a team of A-players and fostering a great team culture doesn’t happen overnight.
Driving impact and boosting performance calls for intentional leadership. It requires stepping out of the daily subconscious groove and viewing the system from an aerial perspective. You must first see things clearly before you can map out and experience changes. Once you’ve done this, give yourself the time and space you need to think about your strategy.
How to be an intentional leader:
- Assemble small teams with A-players.
- Open the lines of communication.
- Establish a culture of trust and collaboration.
- Encourage work-life balance.
- Provide purpose and re-state the collective company goal(s).
- Care for your employees.
Assembling your A-players carefully, creating a great team culture, and enacting intentional leadership is vital for great team-building.
For more resources on building an impactful virtual team, start with: