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Essay: Managing Virtual Teams: Challenges and Best Practices

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 940 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Besides barriers of geography, virtual teams can be very challenging to accommodate. With attributes such as different working styles, languages and cultures, leading a virtual team can be more complicated.  The key to organizing an effective virtual team is to leverage these attributes, or they can eventually lead to a dysfunctional team. The appeal of forming virtual teams means employees can manage their work and personal lives more flexible, and have the opportunity to interact with colleagues around the world. Companies can now find untapped human capital in a global employment market while reducing some of their overhead costs of operating a physical office. (Maclachlan. 2017) Flexible schedules and working arraignments offer virtual teams a wide range of benefits for organizations and also provide access to previously unavailable expertise and cross-functional collaborations. However, there are challenges with these new requirements on leaders to adapt to this new emerging work environment. (Townsend et al., 1998)

In a traditional work environment, employees and their managers work at one site location, which gives them face to face collaboration, enabling them to work together and receive constructive feedback. In the modern workplace, employees are now located in different geographic locations which present many new challenges for a virtual manager such as: supervising employees in different locations and time zones, building trust and open lines of communication, establishing normal routines, helping remote employees feel part of the team. Although these challenges may be apparent in any typical work environment, not having face-to-face time and a physical workspace can be difficult for a virtual manager to lead and organize. (DeRosa. 2017)

Attracting leaders with a certain skill set can develop a successful virtual team. With the right skills and training, virtual leaders can successfully build and manage a remote group of productive employees. These may not be the same skills that it takes to work in a traditional leadership role when supervising a team or group of employees in an in-house office setting. Recognizing the importance of trusting your employees is a sign of a good virtual team leader and the key to their team’s success.  A good leader encourages trust with their employees with an attitude of respect and empathy and encourages virtual employees to build relationships amongst each other. Utilizing technological advances can give virtual team members the opportunities needed to speak openly and frankly together with a much larger group of team members around the globe, including difficult topics that need to be discussed. Virtual teams can benefit from improved productivity if their team leader can clarify goals and expectations to reduce uncertainty and increase trust. (Maclachlan, 2017)

The key to developing trust with a virtual boss who lives halfway around the world is to keep the lines of communication open while establishing standards of accountability.  Research done by the Greenlight Research Institute, suggests some of the following best practices help successfully manage a good working relationship with your virtual boss: avoid information overload by setting an appropriate schedule of communications to stay abreast on desired business results. You can accomplish this by sharing meeting agendas ahead of time, rotating the start and finish times of meetings to accommodate different times zones and ensure meetings begin and end on schedule. Being able to hold yourself accountable by avoiding vague expressions, establishing clear goals and expectations, and sharing these with your boss will also hold them accountable for constructive feedback. (Ferrazzi, 2014). Your boss is human so why not become personable with them and build an interpersonal trust. Although my current boss is not halfway around the world, I only see him once or twice a month. Until we started to share the details of our lives, I regarded him as some cold puppet used by upper management. Then I took the time to talk, get to know him and was able to learn that he seemed cold and distant with the employees because he not only was going through a bad divorce but had just lost his mother. Employees working from home often feel isolated or disconnected from their colleagues, making it difficult for them to develop personal relationships and trust. By sharing personal details, my boss became more humanized, more likable and easier to trust. Studies have shown that the more trust and respect your leader gives you, the higher the level of employee satisfaction, which must be exhibited as much as possible when you work in a virtual atmosphere. One last example of working smoothly with a virtual boss and getting more personal is to be generous, seek out ways to make their workload seem easier. Volunteering to take on other roles and responsibilities will strengthen your personal bond with them while enabling you to selflessly focus on the success of your boss and essentially the team as a whole. (Ferrazzi, 2014). A way I have been able to accomplish this in the past was going to my boss and asking if there were anything for me to assist them after having free time completing my assignments ahead of schedule. It served several purposes, it alleviated some stress placed on the boss, exposed me to the duties of management, and also helping to develop additional skills toward my career development plan, helping me as an employee for a potential move into management one day.

In summary, there is no perfect office environment that exists and having the right leadership and employees under you can make a virtual team work if the effort and hard work are done. Those who choose to work virtually must overcome the emotional distance and build stronger relationships with one another than with face-to-face colleagues, regardless of how far apart you work.

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