The Pros and Cons of Virtual Teams

BY: Catherine Champoux

PUBLISHED: 2/18/2015

The allure of the virtual workplace has been on the rise in recent years, for both employees and employers. Still, some virtual team hurdles are easier to overcome than others and some challenges can prove to be rather difficult.

If working with a globalized team can be complicated, why run the risk of having a potentially difficult work environment, you might ask? Glad you did! Though it’s true that a virtual team may not be for everyone, it truly does have wonderful advantages. To help you make a decision on what best suits your business needs, we’ve put together a top-five “pros and cons” of having a virtual team:


The Pros


There are numerous reasons why having a virtual team could be greatly beneficial to your business. In order to see how these may be applicable to you and your company, start by enumerating the pain points you want to resolve and what your top objectives are. Once you have this list, see if the five pros listed below could help you with managing your current situation.


#1 – Extended coverage on business hours


If your head office is located in the Eastern Standard Time zone like Perkuto’s is, chances are you offer the typical 9 am to 5 pm EST business hours. Your staff and team (probably with the exception of your technical support) are available and can be reached by your clients during those hours. But what if you want to expand your market across Canada or the US? How will you accommodate a conference call with San Francisco (say, with our friends at Marketo) at 4 pm their time? You probably can’t expect your employees or teammates to be available every day at 7 pm. By expanding your team across time zones, you become more available as a company. Your EST team can handle the east coast while your PST team will handle the west coast. You just saved yourself some negotiating time with your team for that 7 pm call!


#2 – Potential to reach a wider market

Directly in line with our first pro, you can now expand your market base. With your new extended business hours, you are no longer confined to a 9-5 in your local time zone. It’s time to target that market in Europe you’ve been eyeing for a while. With a small satellite team overseas, you can cover almost any client in any country!


#3 – Extended knowledge bases and expertise


It’s no secret that some people are just better at certain things than others. By extending your team to various countries, you significantly increase your odds of finding that amazingly specialized person you’ve been searching for to fill a particular role. You can even leverage cultural differences (such as language, expertise in a local field, etc…) to widen your portfolio and offer new or more specialized services and products.


#4 – Greater independence and accountability


If your virtual team will be working from home or will be the only team member in a geographical area, you might see an increase in independence and accountability. Because they don’t have the luxury of walking up to your office to ask the most simple questions or take time to chit chat by the water cooler with their fellow team members, virtual employees often become more self-sufficient in finding answers and organizing their work. Now this is not something that happens overnight or that requires little effort on a manager’s part but if organized properly, it can happen rather easily and increase the productivity and quality of your team’s work.


 #5 – Potentially smaller overhead costs


If your virtual team will be working from home, you could be saving on some potentially high overhead costs such as your office rent, electricity, internet connection, parking spaces, etc… With a small allowance to cover your team’s expenses, you can have everyone working just as efficiently from home as if they were in an office for a significantly lower cost. This is of course hinging on several factors (location, initial overhead costs, number of virtual team members, etc…) and will vary from company to company.


The Cons


Now that we’ve covered what good having a virtual team could bring to you and your business, we need to go over some of the less desirable possibilities, challenges, and outcomes that come with globalization.


#1 – Less human contact

It can get pretty lonely out there. If you work from home, alone, you might start missing that human interaction you got from the water cooler banter, the lunchroom chit chats and the friendly “good mornings” from people walking by your desk.

#2 – Less vision/control of your team


As a manager, you won’t be able to keep an eye on your team. You won’t be able to simply “pop by” and ask questions. Nor will you know for sure if everyone is at their desk and ready to begin their day at 9 am sharp. And you won’t get to see if that lunch break really was an hour or if everyone is at their desk until 5 pm. It will also be harder to evaluate your team’s work and performance based on office discussions and feedback readily available from colleagues, as your team will be working solo and often interacting less with C-level or upper-level management. You will have to be more rigorous in validating the quality of their work and keeping up to date with how they are doing (physically, psychologically, and with their workload).  Communication will play a crucial role in helping you overcome these challenges.


#3  Potential loss of knowledge and work progress


As a team member, you might not be able to quickly gather everyone for an impromptu discussion. Information and knowledge may not be as readily available or transferred and it’s easier to drop a ball when you don’t have visual reminders of certain tasks (like seeing John walk by your desk and suddenly remembering you owe him that report). You might also run the risk of overlapping on some activities if your team is not up to date on their peers’ work and progress. Again, those are hurdles that can be overcome if you are willing to put in place rigorous processes and fail-safes; communication is key to a globalized team.


#4 – Potentially greater travel costs


If your work or business requires you to gather your team in a single location for any reason, bringing in everyone could incur significant travel costs. Each team member may have to book a flight or a train ticket, a hotel room, expense their meals and possibly rent a car. It can become quite expensive to rally up your troops. This being said, it might be a good opportunity to challenge the need to have everyone physically present. With great tools like video chat, live conferencing and the ability to record meetings, your need to bring everyone together may not be as big as you (or your company) once thought.


#5 – More risk of lack of team spirit/cohesion


Coffee breaks, lunchroom banter, and boardroom meetings all offer the opportunity for your team and colleagues to get to know one another better and really learn to appreciate each other. Globalized teams don’t often get the chance to meet and enjoy office banter. Moreover, cultural differences can also impact how cohesive your team can be. For these reasons, it becomes important to make an extra effort to engage, communicate, and collaborate with each team member individually but also as a group. Conference calls and team meetings will play a key role in helping with this con.

Overall, there are great sides and substantial challenges in having a virtual team. Weigh both sides carefully against your pain points and goals list and decide if globalizing your environment is the right fit for you and your company.