Future Trends in HR: The Challenge of Supporting Virtual Teams

Tara Powers
October 2, 2017

You don’t need a crystal ball to predict the top HR issues in the coming years. Some are staring us right in the face… or the screen, as it happens

A recent report by the World Economic Forum found that telework (also called telecommuting, working remotely or working from home) is "one of the biggest drivers of transformation in the workplace."

Every time you open a businessmagazine, you read about somenew collaborative softwarelaunch, or new technology forvideo conferencing, screensharing, file sharing, or onlineproject management – all designed to help teams ofemployees in remote locationswork effectively together.

It’s not just technology that’sfueling this trend – rising costsand increasing globalizationare other contributors, aswell as the promise of higherproductivity. All of these factorshave fueled the rapid rise ofvirtual teams to the tune of an800 percent increase in the lastfive years alone. Some sourcesnow estimate that more thanone billion people will workvirtually in the next few years.

You can’t blame companiesfor jumping on board. Virtual teams promise lower costs, away to connect skilled workersaround the country or aroundthe globe, and the ability tooffer employees a moreflexible work schedule.But for Human Resourceleaders, these virtualteams pose their ownunique questions. Howdo you implementtraining across oceans, cultures, andlanguages? How doyou prepare managersto supervise and leada team that they’venever met face-to-face?How do you manageissues of conflict resolution,accountability, communications,succession planning andmentorship, and much morewith these far-flung teams?

This is a topic close to my heart– and my research. I’ve beeninvestigating the challenges ofparticipating and leading virtualteams for almost a year. Likemany people, I wanted to rushto judgment on the issues withvirtual teams and how to solvethem. But you can’t design asolution until you understandthe problem, and the only wayto understand a problem is todefine it, validate it and quantifywith data. So I did.

Over a six-month period lastyear, hundreds of participantscompleted an online surveyabout their experiences leadingor participating in a virtualteam.

Participants included virtualteam members (52 percent), virtual team leaders (24 percent), executives who support virtual teams (15percent) and people who willsoon be on a virtual team (9percent). Survey participantsrepresented various industriesand sizes of organizations.

The results are a mixed bag ofopportunities and validations.First a few validations – yes,newly formed virtual teamleaders and team membersare experiencing significantchallenges around leveragingtechnology, communicationpractices and access toresources. Per my research,these are the top threeroadblocks to remote team effectiveness:

But when you take a look atmore mature virtual teams –teams that have been workingtogether for a year or more– the challenges are different,according to team leaders.The top challenges experienced by established virtual teams are:

Despite these daunting challenges, knowing whatyou’re up against means you’llbe ready to handle the bumpsin the road. Every one of theseroadblocks is manageable andcorrectable. The shift to virtual teams is not a trend – it is anevolution of the workplace,and it will only continue togrow. It is our challenge as HRand leadership professionalsto stay in front of it tosupport the people in our organizations. The technologywill change but the needs ofthe organization will not –they will still need recruiting,screening, interviewing, employee relations, talentmanagement, payroll andbenefits and training. Sure, it will all be digitally driven, butit is our job to keep the humanfocus in human resources.

I am in the process offinalizing the executivesummary and full researchreport on this study.

There is so much to unpack,but here are a few of thetopics I will cover:

So stay tuned – there is so much to discover!

About the Author

Tara is an award-winning leadershipexpert, nationally sought-after speaker,experienced talent developmentconsultant and crusader against boring,ineffective employee engagement and leadership training.

She is on a mission to help fast-growing companies and sociallyresponsible organizations boostemployee passion, develop cohesiveteams and build leadership capacity.Tara is a 20-year talent developmentexpert with an M.S. in OrganizationalLeadership. She’s a Five Behaviors ofa Cohesive Team Authorized Facilitator and Everything DISC SolutionsProvider.

Her commitment to her clients is toserve as a catalyst for change, to be abusiness partner that takes your teamcollaboration, employee engagement and leadership credibilityto the next level and deliver results thatmake you want to do that happy dance. Mrs. Powers is the author of theinternational bestseller - SuccessUniversity for Women and is working onher forthcoming book with Wiley -Virtual Teams for Dummies (2018).