5 Remote Collaboration Challenges and How to Overcome Them
The trend of flexible working hours among the people is increasing exponentially. People prefer working from homes. As reported by Forbes, 73% of millennials are engaged in freelancing. On the other hand, companies struggle to fill the skills gap. So they are embracing agile, remote teams to get work done.
The SHRM Employees Benefits Report 2019 shows that more than half of the organizations (57%) offer remote working hours. Remote work can bring jobs to you if you don’t have the means to move to a country with a better economy. You are the one in control of your time and attention to stay productive. But consistency is the key, for which you need to work your ways around creating productive work habits.
Nicholas Bloom in his TEDxStanford talk stressed upon the tremendous potential working from home offers. He talks about a survey conducted with CTrip.com, which is China’s largest Travel agency. As per his conclusions, people working remotely were 13% more productive than their team members at the office.
But the main challenge is managing virtual teams. Any mismanagement may lead to a drastic decrease in output by the employees. A noticeable advantage of virtual teams enjoyed by an organization is the associated cost savings. Many organizations outsource their projects to low-cost regions. Ultimately, production costs, operational costs and expected wages of the employees decrease in these geographic locations.
Now let’s get back to the experiment conducted with CTrip.com. After concluding the results, the company allowed employees who were willing to work remotely. And to their surprise, the performance went up to 24%!
Big companies like Yahoo!, HP, IBM, Honeywell, and Best Buy have now mandated their employees to work on-site. They believe in developing a strong organizational culture and creating an emotional connection amongst the employees.
Working in a SaaS environment can be quite stressful if the management is slow. You can take tips from Top 10 SaaS Growth Lessons from Dropbox in 2020 to work your way into getting the best out of your team.
To have a better look into the matter, let’s talk about the team collaboration challenges SaaS environments have to face:
Top 5 Remote Collaboration Challenges
The communication gap is a product of poor leadership. To get work done in a virtual environment, e-leaders need to double their employee management skills. Lack of direction given to the team members can lead to inefficient results. Ineffective leadership damages the relationship between the team members and the leader.
Team members are not sure what is expected of them. No direction or sense of purpose is conveyed to them. These factors lead to less engagement by the team members. Eventually, it may persuade them to quit as a result of alienation. And none of the organizational goals will be met.
NetSpeed Learning Solutions conducted a survey amongst virtual team leaders and their teams. The survey conclusions are available upon request. Based on the response, the surveyors concluded the following key characteristics that must be present in team leads (in the order of decreasing priority):
- Checks in, to support virtual team members
- Maintains a strong virtual presence
- Clearly defines processes, roles, and deadlines
- Conducts effective virtual meetings using an online collaboration tool
- Does not complain about situations or people
To overcome remote collaboration challenges, new communication tools are being introduced every day. Remote teams must make use of them and set goals for every day through virtual meetings.
Lack of employee engagement
In terms of the contribution of ideas towards the project, people are reluctant if they are not engaged regularly. People can get bored of waiting that is required for getting replies on conventional emails. For managing virtual teams, team leads must be profound in interpersonal skills, communication, and cultural factors.
This would help them overcome the limitations of distance and time. In the survey conducted by NetSpeed Learning, virtual team members were asked about an important piece of advice they would give any virtual team leader. There were 302 responses to this question.
Of these 302 responses, 17.9% were categorized under the heading, “Communicate” and 25.8% were categorized under the heading, “Connect.” These two were rated above “Run effective meetings” and “Respect work hours”, which shows the significance of connection and engagement.
Team collaboration challenges include the employees not reporting to the higher authorities. Since you’re working from home, your boss can not come from the other room and shake you up for answers.
Employees have the leverage to ignore the messages from the team lead. This leads to creating a distance among the team members and the organization. So, if you feel isolated working virtually, reach out to others who perform the same work or try out any co-working spaces nearby.
Cultural differences among the team members
Since members on board are working across the borders, understanding their style of work and communication is difficult. Remote working situations can be confusing. People from different cultural backgrounds have no training on a global mindset.
A practically explained example was given by Ricardo Fernandez in his TED Talk at TEDxIESEBarcelona. He works remotely as Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Prodigy Finance. Working with 30 people from 10 different countries, he shares his side of the story. People are used to their own environment’s work culture.
Ricardo shares his funny story of how he praised his Indian team member by saying, “You’re killing it!”. By which, the poor guy perceived that he had done something wrong. The next morning, Ricardo gets a long email from the employee on how he could improve his work.
So, the lack of context creates misunderstandings, which is a huge problem working with remote teams. To overcome it, the team members should often interact face-to-face to understand each other’s ideologies.
Lack of Commitment
Research published in Harvard Business Review reported that almost two-thirds of the remote working employees do not engage themselves regularly. Over a third never get to make video calls with their team. Only 5% of employees promise to stay with their current companies for a lifetime. These stats clearly show how emotional attachment to the organization influences people to work dedicatedly.
While working remotely, the craving for human interaction may influence you to look around for better opportunities. And no one is there to even hold you accountable about it.
If the team does not have the habit of reporting to the team lead and meeting the deadlines, it will be ultimately dissolved. Team leads are responsible for creating an environment of motivation. They must be considerate enough to look after the employees working under them.
Managing virtual teams include the responsibility of the e-leaders to keep in touch with the team members and hold them accountable for the deadlines. Although research shows that people prefer working from home, they usually won’t reveal how secluded they are.
An article published in Forbes, referencing a survey conducted by PWC reveals that most millennials prefer flexible hours over cash bonuses and free healthcare. That is why some companies force their employees to meet after a certain period. The employees need inspiration from each other. And in this way, companies hunt for talent across borders and participate in the global economy.
Poor time management
Since everyone is working from home, you cannot force them out of their comfort zones. An employee is responsible for his own productivity. But being a leader, managing a virtual team is your responsibility. There can be two reasons for poor time management:
- Remote team members are in a different time zone which makes it difficult to find a perfect time to call a meeting.
- The employees are overworked and sooner or later they burn out.
Overcoming the team collaboration challenges include keeping track of the work being done. The team lead should personally ask each team member to report on a decided date. Make sure everyone on the team is assigned an equal and adequate amount of work.
Moreover, objectives and deadlines are clear. The management of tasks has now been made easy through online virtual team collaboration tools available.
Managing Virtual Teams
So what are the solutions for these virtual collaboration challenges? If you are someone unfamiliar with managing remote teams, it may lead you to tear your hair out at times. No doubt, managing people of different ethnicities is a monotonous task. And with that, the added constraints of distance and time.
To save you from the struggle we are listing down some tips, let’s have a look.
1. Develop a Team Charter
For a kick start, your team must know the goals you have set for them. It’s important to develop a team charter to get a holistic view of the process. They must be aware of the available resources and the commitment level required from each team member. This is also an effective tool to document your team’s best practices and processes.
For the effective collaboration of your virtual teams, you must adapt to the latest technologies. Old school emails are not enough, so you must communicate on instant messaging platforms. This makes them feel as if they are in the same room. A sense of connection would help them work with each other comfortably and achieve the tasks in time.
2. Schedule Meetings
On gathering your team, explain to them why you are coming together and what benefits will result. Make agenda points and write down meeting minutes. Communicating with the team and discussing goals regularly does not only increase productivity, but also establishes a connection among the team members.
Scheduling daily or weekly meetings and explaining work strategy will help you get the team on the same page and achieve goals. Whether it be a one-on-one or all-hands meeting, it is essential for team collaboration.
3. Use project management tools
Deploying the right tools to keep track of progress, assign tasks and manage your team can prove to be essential. There are plenty of tools available in the market like Google Docs, and Trello, among others. These are used by a vast variety of employers to make their work effective and easy.
To keep your team on track, you can create a network using online collaboration tools. Just find the best one that suits your environment and you’re good to go.
4. Define clear deliverables
Providing incomplete details to your employees not only results in delayed and inefficient work, but will also create potential misunderstandings.
Be clear with the instructions and always provide proper descriptions of the tasks to your team. In doing so, you will not just help them but also save yourself from the extra effort to make everything right.
5. Set working standards
Everyone perceives a task differently. Setting standards for your team can reduce the time needed to achieve the desired output. When you formulate a procedure, everyone adapts to it and follows it strictly.
In this way, your team would have lesser questions and would save you from the headache of answering everyone personally. The team members have the necessary liberty to complete the task to the best of their ability.
6. Track work hours and work output
A good team leader not only motivates the team but also keeps a check on them. So you must keep attendance and look after each team member’s performance individually. Make sure they are not overburdened. Replying late in the night or declining work performance could be some prominent indicators.
You can track work hours and attendance on different team collaboration tools like Time Doctor, etc. Last but not the least, make sure that all of the team members have at least three to four work hours that overlap.
7. Require feedback from the team members
Conflicts may arise when you are working with people. But the key to conflict resolution is communication. You must raise issues with your team members or make them participate in other sensitive discussions. Getting feedback from your team is essential for growth. It is done best in person. As you have the distance constraint, use online voice call/video call platforms like Zoom, Skype, etc.
When you are part of a virtual team, it can be toxic to let the issues reside. Team members may start hating you and may eventually think of quitting. If you don’t speak up, these issues can become bigger problems over time. Transparency must be maintained amongst the team members and the team lead.
Have a constructive tone and resolve conflicts within your team fairly. Learn to not get personal and control your sentiments. Learning good conflict resolution skills is an important task for a virtual manager, and it would help you in the longer run.
Freelancing is the most prominent form of remote working. Many big companies like Amazon, VIPKID, UnitedHealth Group, etc. allow its employees to work from home. It is observed that the remote working employees may tend to work more than the employees working on site.
Moreover, many surveys are conducted to prove the fact that people tend to prefer flexible hours over going to the office 9 to 5. They may even agree to work for more hours than their colleagues, just to enjoy the freedom they are given at their home. Studies show that this leverage also improves their productivity. But, no work environment is free of challenges and difficulties.
Managing a group of people online and keeping them engaged requires consistent efforts. Online collaborations help you hunt for talents across the borders. It would not be wrong to say that, as technology evolves and borders dissolve.
Connect with team members through collaboration tools to help build relationships. If we use the right communication tools appropriately, virtual communication shows a promising opportunity for organizations to pursue.
However, the solution is to not give up on the virtual workplace but to develop systematic and standard procedures that allow us to get the best from our remote teams. With time, organizations can gain the trust of their workers. Once trust is built, the teams will have a sense of responsibility towards the organization. They will depend on the constructed strategies of assertive collaboration. In this way, you can achieve high quality and satisfying results.