The trend is clearly towards virtual work. While several drivers have helped growth in recent years, companies continue to face the balance between the opportunities and risks of virtual teams.

I would like to explain in more detail in this article which factors play an essential role on both sides. All information is reflected in a summary from Chapter 2 of my book Virtual Teams and Homeoffice from Springer Verlag.

Opportunities of virtual teams

Why many companies have already decided to introduce virtual teams is based on some significant opportunities.

These are:

  • International Presence: Virtual work enables us to work with customers and professionals worldwide.
  • New project, market potential and knowledge advantage: The offer of a global link can favour precisely these factors.
  • Easier recruiting of skilled workers: Thanks to the flexibility, new employees can be recruited unbound and with virtual work as the final decision factor. In addition, the possibility of working on exciting, international projects without forced travel work is often an attractive plus for skilled workers.
  • Increased flexibility and agility: Thanks to the unboundness, in terms of time and location, employees can organize their work-life balance much better. In addition, the advantage for companies is that the response time to customer projects is reduced thanks to the procurement of international experts. At the same time, the service level can be significantly improved.
  • Cost savings due to low travel and office space: Less effort, also means less costs. This allows virtual teams to add value in this area as well.

Risks of virtual teams

Nevertheless, there are still many companies that are shying away from the deep cuts in their corporate structures. Even if many advantages and opportunities can be seen, there are also some risks to consider.

These are:

  • Cultural misunderstandings and language: Especially in cross-cultural meetings, virtual work can create conflicts due to different ideas, e.g. in terms of quality and punctuality or due to a lack of Knowledge of English.
  • High self-organization: The increased level of self-organization, e.g. by setting up a home office or the independent planning of the exact tasks and working hours, does not correspond to the desire and well-being of each employee.
  • Controlling teams much more difficult:Roles and task distributions cannot always be clearly defined within virtual teams.
  • Technical equipment is expensive and not easy to integrate:Within virtual teams, not all participants are always equipped with the same quality mobile software and hardware. This, in turn, can lead to delays in the timetable of individual projects.
  • Motivation of the team difficult to maintain due to impersonal cooperation: Factors such as cultural differences can promote the sense of distance within virtual teams. This can make it more difficult to establish a relationship of trust between employees. A resulting possible isolation can in turn lead to poor communication and thus to a loss of quality of the project result.
  • Data protection of the communication and cooperation of the team: The exchange and communication of virtual teams can become a risk in the area of data protection. Especially when secret unencrypted information can be viewed by unauthorized persons.

Conclusion

When the pros or cons of implementing virtual teams are predominant is often related to building and orienting an organization. If one takes a closer look at opportunities and risks, one can deduce that the introduction of virtual teams makes sense, especially in those companies that maintain relationships with international customers, deal with very complex topics or are forced to call on external experts due to the shortage of skilled workers.

I advise companies that want to face up to the disadvantages, and I advise them to deal sufficiently with the risks of virtual work and their possible circumvention. In addition, virtual work, in my opinion, needs openness to turn to a different style of leadership, away from the culture of presence.

Tip: Read my new book: virtual teams & home office at Springer Gabler or book me for a talk.

Lindner, D. (2020) – Virtual Teams and Home Office – Guide to Technology, Working Methods and Leadership. Springer Verlag

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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