The Benefits and Challenges of Virtual Teams

By Tara Powers

In 2016, I launched a research study to validate and test the theory that the pros of having a virtual team and business outweigh the cons. This study included input from close to 200 executives, virtual team leaders, and team members from a mix of industries in Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and small business. The study gathered insights about what makes a virtual team effective and challenges that virtual teams face.

Virtual team benefits

Based on research, virtual team members, leaders, and executives all agree that a main benefit of virtual teams is to promote work-life balance as illustrated. Team members and team leaders also see virtual teams as a way to increase productivity, whereas executives view virtual teams as a cost-saving measure and a good way to get the right people to work together regardless of location.

virtual-teams-benefits
Greatest benefits of virtual teams.

Two-thirds of team leaders and half of all executives surveyed said that they estimate virtual teams are currently saving them costs equivalent to 16 to 25 percent of their revenue as the table highlights. In a large company, that can equate to millions even billions of dollars in cost savings.

Cost Savings as a Percentage of Revenue

Cost savings as a percentage of revenue Team leader estimate of cost savings Executive estimate of cost savings
0% 6% 7%
1-5% 17% 7%
6-15% 11% 27%
16-25% 67% 53%
26-50% 0% 4.3%

Virtual team drawbacks

The trust factor is certainly a drawback for virtual team leaders. Blindly trusting virtual employee to do what they say they’ll do, in a timely fashion, with an attention to quality, all without being able to personally check in and watch over their work on a daily basis is difficult for some leaders.

My research uncovered other common challenges. These challenges differed if the team was newly formed versus an established virtual team as shown. The greatest challenge for newly formed virtual teams was figuring out how to effectively use technology and defining how best to communicate. Virtual team leaders also indicated that they struggled with getting the resources they needed to support the team.

virtual-teams-new-challenges
Challenges for newly formed virtual teams.
virtual-teams-established-challenges
Challenges for established virtual teams.

After the virtual teams are established, keeping the team engaged and motivated is by far the greatest challenge, along with how to communicate effectively and unlock the team’s creativity.

You have to think about several others things when deciding to go virtual in your business, including cybersecurity issues, Internet accessibility, connectivity speeds, confidentiality, and more.