Global teams can be a game-changer, and the businesses that know how to take advantage of them know it: More than half (56%) of respondents to CultureWizard’s 2018 Trends in High-Performing Global Virtual Teams survey said virtual teamwork is “extremely critical” to their organizations, and another 32% said it was at least “somewhat critical,” for a total of 88% critical!
But there’s a disconnect. The same survey found that only 22% receive training for their intercultural virtual work!
In order to effectively take advantage of global teams, participants and managers would do best to first understand the difficulties they’ll face. So, let’s take a closer look at the benefits and challenges of global virtual teamwork.
Well-Formed Global Virtual Teams Increase Productivity
Global virtual teams have the potential to reap the same business benefits as working in any culturally diverse workplace, which are plentiful. But the advantages of global teams come from more than bringing diverse perspectives together. Here are four key points:
1. Global teams let your organization cast a wider net when searching for top talent. It’s no longer about the best candidate in your city, state, or country. Cross-border teams allow you to search globally to find the right fit.
2. Cross-border teams can potentially function 24/7. A software team in Boston can hand over a project to colleagues in Mumbai at the end of the Boston day. When Boston sleeps, Mumbai works, and vice versa. As Harvard Business Review notes, by following the sun, virtual teams can keep workflow continuous and efficient.
3. Global virtual teams help maximize resources. During busy seasons, taking advantage of the global talent pool can help organizations keep customers satisfied by successfully hiring up for heightened production rates.
4. Beyond maximizing talent and resources, virtual teamwork can also boost business productivity by up to 43%. Technological advances can further enhance productivity by streamlining collaboration with integrated team communication tools. This way, colleagues can efficiently interact by connecting in whichever way makes sense—be it instant message, email, or a group text or video chat.
The bottom line is that global virtual collaboration forces teams to more carefully consider the best way to accomplish any given task. That way, everyone gets more out of their time—something that can easily be taken for granted in a traditional workspace where impromptu meetings or watercooler chats can distract from key goals.
But Not Preparing for Inevitable Challenges Can Derail Virtual Teams
Managing time-zone differences comes to mind first, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges of cross-cultural global teamwork. Add the difficulty of intercultural communication, lack of face-to-face contact, unreliable technology, and often less-than-stellar team composition, and you may find yourself asking, “Why bother?” But simply knowing and understanding the challenges of virtual global workplaces can help you learn to work through them instead of succumbing to them.
Here are four key challenges for global virtual teams:
1. Global virtual teams can often go days or even weeks without verbal communication. And they hardly ever meet face to face. In fact, the 2018 Trends in High-Performing Global Virtual Teams survey found 48% of virtual teams never meet in person, and another 26% meet only once a year—it’s no wonder about half of respondents find effective communication and conflict management to be a major challenge. There’s no denying that sometimes people just need to talk things out. It can be easy to rely on email, but email can only take you so far. If meeting in person is unfeasible, try video chat, or at least a phone call.
2. Without face-to-face interaction, it’s much harder to build trusting relationships. And a workplace without trusting relationships is more likely to experience low team morale, face more conflicts, and suffer from lost productivity. Humans are social beings, and communication is key to developing the relationships that keep teams unified and motivated. And, an absence of communication can contribute to business-hurting intercultural misunderstandings. HBR recommends multiple calls a week, especially to go over any immediate challenges a team is facing.
3. Then there’s technology, a double-edged sword. On one hand, advances in communication technology are what makes global virtual teamwork possible. On the other, that same technology is far from perfect. Difficulties and interruptions are going to happen no matter how tech savvy you and your teammates are. Without a backup plan (or two), issues like audio lag, downed connections, loss of cell service, or unexpected software updates are bound to waste time and frustrate team members.
4. Team composition. Choosing team members wisely can ensure you build a self-motivated team . Not everyone works best on a virtual team environment, but it’s often hard to gauge teammates’ inclination for global teamwork until a project is underway. Some might embrace the global remote work while others may falter in the face of technical difficulties or struggle with a sense of isolation.
All of these challenges can be overcome with proper intercultural communication training and preparation. Without effective cross-cultural training to prepare teams for the challenges that lie ahead, global businesses are more likely to succumb to the hurdles, and grow frustrated by virtual teamwork.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Many organizations prepare for and address these challenges effectively. As a growing body of research makes clear, global virtual teamwork done right improves business performance.