What is a Virtual Team or Remote Team?

Canberk Arslan

Canberk Arslan

9 min read


What is a Virtual Team or Remote Team?

Virtual Team Definition

The virtual team or remote team almost means the same thing, a group of people who works for common projects and goals via electronic communications.

Remote teams are geographically located in different areas, on the contrary, the virtual team may locate in the same zone, but still, work virtually.

Another difference is the reporting model. In remote teams, every single team member report to the team manager. Whereas there might be some virtual team members, who report to each other.

Here is an example of a virtual team:

Imagine a big global company that has more than 15 thousand employees all around the world. It might cost too much to bring them physically together, but not virtually.

In business, it is important to put a focus on purpose, virtual teams naturally bring purposefulness to the business.

Having a group of people, who just come together for one purpose ends up having efficient meetings.

Virtual Team Benefits

The companies who like to be economically and environmentally sustainable goes virtual.

  • Virtual teams are cost-saving. Hiring an office, buying supplies, using electricity, etc. There are many big global companies where virtual teams are built. In that case, benefits may differ. If the company creates a big virtual team from all over Europe, again it ends up being more cost-effective.
  • In virtual teams, every remote employee has the freedom to choose wherever they are going to work.

Virtual Team Advantages

  • The virtual team has no boundaries. You can have 12 hours of the time difference with your dream colleague. But if you are part of a global virtual team, nothing to worry about.
  • You can work with the most talented remote workers from all over the world. Diverse teams generally give great results. Having a virtual team increases the possibility of diversity.
  • It helps cut down the travel time to work. Imagine you are an employer who has 20 employees. If everybody spends at least 1 hour per day on the road, you may lose hundreds of hours.
  • Increases the flexibility level of virtual team members. People who can have control of their time become self-sufficient and efficient. Virtual team members are generally more flexible compared to the traditional team members.

Virtual Team Disadvantages

  • Virtual teams might be expensive too. Not as much as traditional teams but it has a huge technology cost. If you do not have a good mechanism for tools like emails, instant messaging and conferencing, the virtual team may fail at some point. For efficient and uninterrupted meetings, the cost of technology should increase a bit.
  • Unfortunately, you cannot choose between one or another tool. Your employees should be able to reach each other whenever they need it. Constant installations and maintenance tools may also be a little bit expensive. But you will see that virtual teams will bring the lost back by their high productivity level.
  • Another important disadvantage is the reasonable lack of trust within the team. You cannot expect people to trust each other immediately if they just virtually communicating. It may take time to build the connection. There are many ways of building trust within the virtual teams. You can create gaming sessions or spare plenty of time for socializing by social games. Listing games and sharing weekend plans may be a nice step.

Virtual Team vs Traditional Team

There are some huge differences between the virtual and the traditional team. We can define the traditional team as to where work is organized by the team. There is a team manager, and people divide the job based on their specialties.

But in the virtual teams, things are a bit different. Working based on specialty still counts but having one team manager does not always apply.

There can be some people who report to each other in virtual teams. In general, the gathering is formed from different departments, areas and reporting lines. In traditional teams, the reporting line and boundaries are pretty revealing.

Virtual Teams vs Face to Face Teams

Many remote workers suffer from isolation. One of the most important advantages of the traditional team is the reduction of isolation. As mentioned in the management study guide, most of the communications in the virtual environment are task-oriented. Task orientation brings productivity to virtual teams.

On the other hand, task orientation may weaken the team bonds. The productivity level may decrease due to the isolation of each remote team worker. Creating a learning platform within the team is the employer’s responsibility. The isolation can be minimized, and virtual teams can come closer like face to face times. They can learn from each other, learn together and they can learn about each other. Having 15 minutes session of bonding will increase the trust rate in the team. Employees need to understand each other’s culture and do their best to communicate openly.

It is crucial to change the mindset. All employees and employers should be able to see the difference between the face to face and virtual meetings. Face to face team rules does not apply well in a virtual setting. For instance, in face to face meetings, there are three participants in one location, five in another and two in another location. That would not apply to virtual meetings. In the virtual team, each participant needs to have the same technological conditions.

Technology and Virtual Teams

To have a successful remote company, you need to know how to use different systems. Being familiar with different tools helps facilitators and participants to have efficient meetings. If you do not know how to create a whiteboard for brainstorming sessions, you may cause losing some brilliant ideas. If you want to vote an idea, you should also be able to create a poll.

In addition to these technical parts, there is something crucial you should consider. If you believe in the magic of the virtual meeting, and if you do not prepare yourself well, your meeting will fail. In virtual meetings, the job needs to be done 50% before, 20% during and 30% after the work. To find out the focus of the meeting, the pre-work is extremely important. Pre-work helps meeting to be more interactive. When the pre-work is done, the facilitator finds a way to establish the area for the dialogue. Asking the virtual team to prepare a pre-work would increase efficiency as well.

Last but not least, virtual teams may be distracted in many ways. Check-ins can be a nice introduction for all employees. Giving a brief on the purpose of the meeting and the expected outcomes will take everybody’s attention. Do not forget to add a good closure to the meeting. Mentioning all learning and key points is essential to make everything clear.

Types of Virtual Teams

As mentioned by a co-operating finance institute, there are different types of virtual teams depending on the objective, goals, and roles of members.

Networked Teams

These teams are established by bringing cross-functional members together. The members share their knowledge of their specialty. The old members should be removed from the networked team when their task is completed. And the new members should be added in an agile way.

Parallel Teams

There is always a point needs to be developed in the systems. You need a commissioned team to find these points. This is what parallel teams are doing. They are generally the members of the same organization. Even though the team is formed for a short period, the members should not be changed. When the development point is found, you can reshape the team or put it in the hiatus period until it is needed again.

Product Development Teams

Product development teams come together from the different parts of the world to work on a specific task. Developers and product designers are a good example of that kind of team. Imagine a group of engineers from the United States, Denmark, and China is coming together to build an engine. The product will have more than one different approach.

Production Teams

Production teams are more independently formed comparing to other types of virtual teams. They come together to perform regular work. The team members have defined forms and they are expected to contribute individually. The result is the collected work of each team member.

Service Teams

Service teams are needed in specific areas. Like call centers where the employers need to work in different time zones. They work independently but continue each other’s work. When a worker in the United States stops working, an employer from Asia takes it over.

Management Teams

In global companies, management teams are highly popular. Management teams work for the same organization and try to make cooperate level decisions. They generally based on different parts of the world.

Action Teams

In general, unexpected problems occur in the business. There should be a team that needs to solve these problems. Action teams are built during hard times. The team members should have a high level of problem-solving skills. Until the problem solves, the action teams work actively. A quick and agile way of working should be implemented by these teams. Action Teams can be put off when the unexpected problem is solved.

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Canberk Arslan
Written by Canberk Arslan

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