Top 6 challenges of managing a virtual team in 2024 (and how to solve them)

Viesturs Abelis 17.05.2024
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While remote work continues its victory march, challenges of managing a virtual team remain. Today, nearly half the workforce works remotely at least some of the time – for millions of people, remote and hybrid work are the new normal. 

This is unlikely to change, as nearly everyone who already works remotely wants to continue doing so at least one day a week. But despite employees being enamored with this way of working for its flexibility, they’re also mindful of its downsides. Communication struggles, loneliness, staying motivated, and other issues have consistently plagued the remote worker for the last few years. 

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As a result, some of the people most affected by the remote work trend are managers – the responsibility for tackling emerging issues and ensuring high performance rests on their shoulders. Yet the challenges of managing a virtual team aren’t easy to overcome, as doing so requires the adoption of new tools, new ways of management, and, generally, a new outlook on team dynamics. 

Let’s take a look at six remote team management challenges managers still face in 2024, and explore how to overcome them. 

man pondering challenges of a virtual team over a conference call

1. Enhancing communication & collaboration

Studies suggest that communication issues faced by remote workers are decreasing. In Buffer’s State of remote work report, “difficulties with communication and collaboration” were cited as some of the biggest challenges of remote working between 2020-2022, with 16-20% of employees naming it as a major problem. In 2023, however, that figure dropped to 8%. 

One reason for this may be that, over the years, managers have found the necessary tools and methods for improving communication. At the same time, a more cynical explanation may be that people have grown accustomed to remote ways of working and now view hampered communication as the norm. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. 

Regardless, communication and collaboration remain key challenges of managing a remote team – and ones that must be overcome for its smooth operation. 

What should managers do?

First, it’s important to unearth the source of the issue and there’s no better way to do that than to ask your team, as the specifics depend on your particular situation. Are people unresponsive? Are there too many meetings? Is there TOO MUCH unnecessary communication?

With a clear target in mind, managers should then seek a solution, which may be either technological or methodological. For instance, if people are struggling to stay connected or lack ways to communicate, then this can be remedied by adopting specific tools for communication (e.g. use Loom for video communication, rather than call a meeting every time something must be showcased visually). 

However, if the troubles lie in long response times – or on the contrary, too-frequent interruptions – then communication guidelines should be established to set a fair playing ground for collaboration (e.g. establishing availability windows when people can expect immediate responses). 

woman wondering how to overcome remote work challenges

2. Tracking team productivity & performance

One thing remote work has complicated for managers is tracking who’s working hard and who’s hardly working. Keeping a finger on the pulse is easier in the office, since – to some extent – performance can be observed directly, and any problems addressed immediately. 

It’s also not entirely clear which is more productive – working remotely or in the office, as there are studies supporting both sides of the argument. A majority of leaders say that they are less confident that remote workers are being productive. It’s understandable, as there are fewer distractions in the office and the watchful eye of a manager can keep workers in check. 

At the same time, many workers swear by their productivity and counter these worries by claiming the buzz of the office is often more distracting than anything at home. So, how can you offer the freedom of working from home, while ensuring productivity remains high?

What should managers do?

Productivity monitoring software has exploded in popularity for the very reasons named above. By adopting tools like DeskTime, managers can gain insights into the daily work of their employees, seeing attendance, how they spend their time, and overall productivity. It equips managers with a way how to overcome this remote work challenge – by allowing them to track performance and identify any individual issues that may arise, keeping everyone on the team accountable be it a remote or in-person worker. 

Employees also benefit from such productivity software, as it allows them to demonstrate where their time goes, essentially serving as a receipt for work done. 

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three managers dealing with remote work management challenges

3. Fostering two-way trust

One of the biggest challenges of managing a virtual team is that remote work severs the personal connection managers and workers have. 

Managers often play an inspirational role – they encourage employees, they help individuals overcome struggles, and they lead by example through hard work. In turn, this helps them gain trust and confidence from their employees, who are then inclined to work harder and follow the lead of their managers. And the same can be said for the workers – by demonstrating competence and dedication, they gain the trust of the managers. 

In a remote setting, this relationship becomes more difficult, as the personal element takes a backseat. Employees might not see the effort managers put in and hence be more resistant to their leadership and vice versa, making it one of the top challenges of remote working for employers. 

What should managers do?

Building trust in a remote environment requires intentional and on-going effort. Here are three strategies managers can employ:

  1. Regular check-ins: Schedule frequent one-on-one meetings with team members to discuss goals, challenges, and progress. These check-ins provide opportunities for open dialogue and help strengthen the manager-employee relationship.
  2. Transparency: Be transparent about expectations, goals, and company updates. Transparency builds trust and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  3. Encourage feedback: Create a culture of feedback where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns. Actively listen to feedback and address any issues or suggestions raised by team members.

It’s important to maintain two-way communication. Of course, you should still lead by example and hard work will get recognized. As you should recognize the hard work of the team. By prioritizing trust-building efforts and maintaining open lines of communication, managers can foster a strong sense of trust and collaboration within their remote teams.

two women dealing with challenges of remote working

4. Finding the management sweet spot

With remote work, managers need to be ready to relinquish SOME control, and here I’m referring to micromanagement, specifically. 

When everyone’s in the office, it’s easy to stay on top of things through frequent check-ins and direct participation in tasks. Some managers tend to overdo it and gain a reputation for micromanagement, which can be counterproductive and should be avoided. 

However, when working remotely, even the “normal” amount of management can become overbearing for workers, as casual check-ins are far more time and resource intensive in a virtual environment – it takes longer to respond, it’s more difficult to come to an agreement, and the nature of digital communication can cause things to come off as aggressive or intrusive, when they’re not intended to be. 

What should managers do?

Finding the right balance between providing guidance and allowing autonomy is essential for effective leadership in a remote environment. 

First and foremost, managers should trust employees to complete tasks of their own accord. With productivity software like DeskTime, managers can ensure the work is being completed and make data-informed decisions about employee performance, without butting in the day-to-day processes. 

At the same time, it’s important to be available and keep communication channels open so that when the employees DO need help, they don’t hesitate to reach out for support and insight. 

If a worker struggles to overcome the challenges of remote working anyway, then there’s a high likelihood that they require additional management (e.g. daily scheduled check-ins) or that they’re simply not cut out for the role – at least, in a remote capacity. 

leaders dealing with challenges of managing remote employees

5. Staying on top of cybersecurity

Remote work necessitates the adoption of digital tools, be it for communication, information management, or other reasons. Unfortunately, adopting a multitude of tools means that potentially sensitive information is more distributed, putting the company at higher risk of a hack or leak. In fact, cyberattacks are on a dramatic rise and should be top of mind for any business, placing it among the top challenges of managing remote employees. 

It’s easy to be careless when everything is going well, but a single attack may prove catastrophic to the entire company, hence, preventive measures should be in place to avoid a tragedy later on.

What should managers do?

Generally, beyond ensuring the use of a single tech stack, minimizing the amount of digital tools used would be counterproductive, as there’s usually a valid reason for why they’re employed. 

The best way to approach this is to ensure adequate cybersecurity training for the team. For example, one of the most important factors for minimizing cybersecurity risks is ensuring password hygiene, namely, using a different password for every tool and regularly changing the password. Also, teaching them to recognize phishing and other scam attempts is critical. 

Moreover, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), teammates should be instructed not to share any sensitive information with the tools. 

woman struggling with challenges of managing virtual teams

6. Tackling social isolation and loneliness

Year after year, one of the top issues plaguing remote workers is loneliness. Since work constitutes a major part of our social lives, those who work from home often find themselves stuck indoors and isolated.

The office is a social environment and a virtual workspace doesn’t quite measure up – conference calls and Slack messages simply do not scratch the itch the same way a watercooler chat would. 

Loneliness and bad mental well-being can directly lead to lack of motivation and decreased productivity, thus undoing any other productivity boosting efforts you may have in place. That’s why – even though some may perceive this loneliness as self-inflicted – managers must put in the effort to minimize its impacts. 

What should managers do?

A targeted effort should be made to help team members connect beyond just their daily work tasks. These can be major events like an in-person offsite that brings the entire team together to small things like creating a Slack channel where people can chat about football or some other particular interest. 

In fact, we recently created a guide with 20 activity ideas for curing work loneliness in virtual teams. There’s something for every budget, every team size, and every interest, so be sure to check it out and feel welcome to try out any of the ideas in it. 

Overcoming the challenges of managing a virtual team

As companies and workers increasingly favor remote work, the challenges of a virtual team will only grow. For any modern manager, establishing methods and practices for overcoming these issues today is critical, as it will lay the foundation for all of their future work. 

As this article has illustrated, to overcome the challenges of managing a remote team takes substantial effort. That said, doing so shouldn’t be regarded as a short-term expense, but rather as a long-term investment as it will be conducive to company success. 

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