How to Benefit the Most from Virtual Teams

Maggie Sun
4 min readMay 4


Covid 19 took the world by surprise and gave remote working a significant boost. Although many companies are calling their employees back to office following the ending of the pandemic, virtual mode has taken root in the business world — most virtual team members simply love working in their pajamas and many “zoomers” would rather quit than return to “boomers’ mode.”

Is remote/virtual working good or bad?

First of all, it is wrong to take a stand against remote/virtual working on account of the assumption that people don’t perform without close supervision. As a matter of fact, performance can be, and in most cases should be, measured by the quality of the deliverables rather than the time people spend in their office under someone’s watch. For example, we take our broken car into a garage and leave it there until we are told to return and pay for the deliverable without ever watching the mechanic; we also entrust our money with a financial advisor and evaluate the deliverable without watching him/her work.

Besides, there are many benefits in adopting remote working/virtual teams. It helps to:

- Reduce expenses for office or parking spaces.

- Reduce traveling expenses for employees.

- Include more people in the company’s labor pool.

- Decrease pollution/congestion thanks to less commuting.

- Reduce concerns for people with physical disability.

- Allow people to be recruited for their competencies without the limit of physical locations.

- Decrease the time required to address conflicts created by poor in-person communication.

- Offer flexibility allowing people to work from anywhere at any time.

On the other hand, remote/virtual working isn’t without its challenges, which to some extent justifies the negative opinions. Hereunder are the main problems:

- Misunderstanding in communication is the leading complaint among members of virtual teams.

- Working on a project or program over the virtual workspace causes lack of visibility.

- It can be difficult to contact other members in more effective ways than emails and instant messaging.

- Differences in time zones can pose challenges.

- It can be harder to build trust in virtual teams than in face-to-face ones.

- Not all virtual team members take “ownership” of their projects and deliverables.

To answer the question, remote/virtual working is neither absolutely good nor definitely bad; it all depends on whether the benefits achieved can outweigh the problems ensued.

Here are some tips for how to benefit the most from remote working/virtual teams:

- Coordination rather than control: The best control of off-site employees is the control imposed from within (self-control) rather than from outside (manager imposed).

- Accessibility but not omnipresence: Virtual team members want to know that they can reach their leaders when, and only when they need to.

- Information without overload: The challenge is to give team members the information they need at work without undermining their efficiency by inundating them with too much data.

- Fairness over favoritism: Fairness is especially important in distance because perceived inequities are magnified over time and space. Favoritism of any type can affect productivity of distance workers.

- Decisiveness but not intrusive supervision: When a big decision needs to be made, make it. But don’t try to make all decisions on behalf of team members — that’s intrusive supervision.

- Honesty rather than manipulation: Honesty is the best policy because it encourages trust and builds a culture of openness.

- Respect rather than paternalism or condescension: Respect is a basic human need. When it is absent in a group, people revolt.

- Feedback instead of advice: Employees generally appreciate skillfully delivered information about how they are doing. Advice is better received when it’s solicited, not when it’s imposed.

- Concern for team members’ development over apathy: The expectation is that management will develop and train team members. Although classroom training is the preferred method, the most effective learning is often derived from developmental project assignments or mentoring programs.

- Community building over mere coordinated isolation: Team building activities and other community-building interventions are essential.

To further understand how virtual teams (VTs) work, here are some myths around the topic and the corresponding realities:

· Myth: VTs are deployed to save money on travel.

Reality: High-performing VTs are measured on faster, better responses to rapidly changing environments.

· Myth: Face-to-face meetings are required early in a VT’s life cycle to build trust.

Reality: VTs build trust through a planned team communication strategy and frequent in-process, team-tuning sessions (mostly without ever meeting face-to-face).

· Myth: Face-to-face meetings are required for brainstorming.

Reality: Electronic brainstorming gives VT members more time for reflection and produces quality ideas.

· Myth: VTs require hands-off leadership.

Reality: The teams require communication-intensive leaders. The joint use of real-time synchronous/two-way communication (audio conference, video conference, web-based conference, interactive whiteboard, application-sharing, and instant messaging) and persisting asynchronous/one-way communication (virtual team rooms with document repositories, electronic discussion boards, online shared drives and databases, emails, and voice mail) enables VTs to coordinate and collaborate across space and time.

We are living in a VUCA world with unpredictable changes occurring at an ever-accelerating rate. While it presents enormous challenges, it also provides new opportunities for us to create a better future by adapting to new situations and learning to do things differently. The virtual world is not perfect, but it may help our organizations perform better and offer us an alternative way to shape our future — if it is used wisely.


Adams, L., & Parker, J. (2008, August). Virtual Leadership & Virtual Teams [PowerPoint presentation]. The Association for Improvement of Minorities Internal Revenue Service. 39th Annual Business Meeting and Training Seminar Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Related articles and book:

Agile Leadership Explained: We Can All Be Agile Leaders and Change the World Together! (Kobo)

Agile Leadership Explained: We Can All Be Agile Leaders and Change the World Together! (Amazon)

Collet, B. (2019). Agile leadership. (Online course).



Maggie Sun

MBA, certified agile coach and experienced strategy analyst, specializing in business agility, agile leadership, Beyond Budgeting, and general management.