RW3 CultureWizard’s biennial Global Virtual Work Survey has been identifying the allures and challenges of working remotely since 2010. In fact, we began soliciting data about virtual work before virtual teamwork became common practice. Over time, our survey results have revealed the kind of insights you can only get from participants across 160 countries. For example, we know how important virtual and global skill-building tools are in helping organizations create inclusive and productive virtual work environments.

This year, in the midst of a pandemic, our survey results found that the global workplace as we know it is morphing into something unexpected. Nearly 94% of people we surveyed want to continue working from home—at least part time. People aren't working in the traditional office where they communicate face-to-face anymore, and the need for the flexibility of working from home will remain long after the pandemic is over. This means we will need to find new ways to lead, collaborate, and create inclusive environments without the face-to-face time.

Global Virtual Work Survey Key Findings

People have been forced into a crash-course on the challenges of working from home on a part-time or full-time basis. When face-to-face communication is replaced by a virtual workplace, survey respondents indicated complications include:

  • Difficulty building relationships (37% of respondents)
  • Managing conflict (33%)
  • Lack of responsiveness from team members (20%)

Even though technologies related to working remotely have been available for a long time, the survey demonstrates that technology doesn’t completely erase the barriers of miscommunication. Roughly 75% of respondents use webcams to compensate for lack of face-to-face contact, but webcams come with their own complications, such as:

  • Ambient noise
  • Feeling pressure to look attentive and professional on camera
  • Technical issues such as insufficient bandwidth or difficulty operating new software

And although 92% of respondents reported engagement and collaboration as traits of a good virtual teammate, interpretations of what it means to collaborate vary from culture to culture. To put a complex challenge simply, remote-work collaboration becomes even more complicated when we factor in differences based on culture and generational perspectives.

Open Comments Indicate Stark Generational Differences

In addition to survey results, we offer our respondents a chance to provide open comments about their virtual work experiences. This year, there were notable differences across generations:

  • Scheduling and flexibility: Younger workers were comfortable with more flexible schedules, while older generations interpreted schedule flexibility as a lack of commitment to the job.
  • Perceived priorities: Older generations expressed concerns about the priorities of younger workers, assuming that younger workers were more interested in trying to fit work into their personal schedules rather than the inverse.
  • Slang and jargon: Both older and younger workers sometimes had difficulty understanding the colloquial phrases used by people outside of their own age groups.
  • Technology: Workers from the younger generation noted that older workers adjusted to new technologies much more slowly. In contrast, older workers claimed that younger workers sometimes had an unjustified know-it-all attitude and were unwilling to accept and benefit from criticism.

Preparing For A Future of Virtual Teamwork

When it comes to working on virtual teams, one thing is for sure: we cannot rely solely on the technologies we use to keep team members in touch because technology simply cannot alleviate misunderstandings and other culture-based obstacles. And considering the fact that so many people would like the option to work from home at least part time, we must all start working to adapt to virtual learning so we can foster more inclusive, productive, and collaborative virtual work environments.

To start, we must develop skills to flex our communication styles so we can cultivate trust and inspire inclusive collaboration even when face-to-face work isn’t feasible. Establishing trust across cultures—especially virtually—means we need to have different expectations about workplace behaviors, responsiveness, and what constitutes respect amongst different cultures.

By taking cultural and generational differences into consideration, providing transparent expectations, and accommodating differences when communicating to team members, leaders can overcome the common challenges faced by virtual teams and better prepare themselves for the inevitable future of more virtual teamwork.

For more in-depth survey results, read the Executive Summary here.