Employers are waking up to the benefits of remote work and non-traditional workplace structures. But to lead effectively, a few critical challenges of managing virtual teams should be addressed before issues escalate and business performance suffers. 

Not sure if it’s worth learning the challenges of virtual, remote, or hybrid teams? Are you convinced employees will eventually return to the office? Think again. 

  • Only 6% of over 8,000 workers surveyed by Gallup said they want to return to the office full-time.
  • A huge 99% of workers like aspects of working from home that include no commute, better focus, and improved family connection on the list of benefits.
  • 87% of workers offered at least some remote work options would take the opportunity.

Let’s look at how leaders can mitigate the challenges of virtual teams and explore actionable solutions that keep employees engaged and meeting performance expectations.

Lack of In-Person Connection

Humans are social creatures, and remote work can contribute to feelings of loneliness—even before the COVID-19 pandemic. When employees feel like they’re not the best version of themselves, performance suffers. 

Building team relationships for remote employees is a challenge. How do you connect virtual teams with different priorities and communication styles in different time zones? It’s not as simple as inviting everyone for a team meal or holiday party.


1. Organize team retreats

Hold virtual team retreats or workshops to provide teams with an opportunity to discuss work and form deeper connections. For example, creator marketing platform ConvertKit holds bi-annual team retreats where their fully remote workforce collaborates and connects in person. 

2. Budget for in-person events

Look for work-oriented opportunities for groups to meet up and spend time together. For example, is there an industry conference a whole team could practically attend? Or is there an opportunity for the DEI team to organize a meetup at a city’s annual pride parade?

3. Create a virtual watercooler

Work isn’t always about heads down at a desk. Casual conversation and chit-chat between employees help build rapport, strengthen relationships, and help boost employee morale.

To make this happen virtually, create a dedicated channel on Slack or another instant messaging tool for watercooler moments. For example, a #Watercooler channel or #General channel that encourages employees to converse as though they were in person.

Differences in Communication Preferences

Poor communication in the workplace leads to confusion, misunderstandings, and misinterpretation. This has a negative impact on a business, impacting key areas, including productivity, performance, and team dynamics. 

Effective communication can be even more challenging with virtual teams and a heavily distributed workforce. Leaders need to ensure that teams communicate clearly and stay engaged, regardless of distance.


4. Create communication guidelines

Remove any ambiguity around communication expectations and provide employees with written guidelines that outline:

  • What kind of messages should be sent through which mediums 
  • How team members are expected to interact with each other
  • When team members are expected to respond by

For the last example, establish response-based acronyms and add these to messages. For example, no response needed (NRN) or four-hour response (4HR).

5. Introduce visibility hours

To ensure virtual team collaboration, build a structure focusing on employees being present and available online at a specific time. 

One idea is to create visibility hours that all team members must be available for meetings, brainstorming, and answering questions, for example, between noon and 4 p.m. But look at the employee time zones to determine when to ask for availability. You don’t want to upset employees by asking them to be online during the middle of the night.

6. Learn employee communication boundaries 

Some employees might be okay with receiving Slack messages in the evening. Others might prefer switching off their work device or only responding to emails during work hours. 

Understand what works for your direct reports and use this information to communicate with remote employees effectively without compromising employee satisfaction.

7. Lead from the front

Set your own boundaries around communication and what works for you. Don’t be that leader who says they’re unavailable after 7 p.m. but then sends an email at 9 p.m.

Managing Performance

One question on every leader’s lips when it comes to virtual teams is, “How do I know if remote employees are working?” And managers have every right to voice a concern—especially after reports of tech workers juggling multiple jobs during the pandemic.

Not working alongside an employee can make it difficult for managers to assess, identify, and understand areas employees may struggle with. This lack of identification has a negative impact on employee and business performance. 


8. Create employee engagement surveys

Keep a finger on the pulse of how employees feel about their role, the company, and remote work by conducting regular employee engagement surveys. 

When leaders understand what’s working and what isn’t for virtual teams and gain insights into employee sentiment, they can begin to problem-solve. For example, if 40% of your virtual team reports they feel like they’re experiencing employee burnout, you know you need to mitigate it.  

9. Hold regular check-ins

Schedule regular one-on-ones with virtual team members to keep them engaged, create opportunities for employee feedback, and strengthen manager and employee relationships. 

Use performance marketing software with a built-in one-on-one tool to make scheduling, create agendas, take notes, and set OKRs. You can easily share this information with direct reports, streamlining the process and helping you communicate async.

Not sure what topics to cover in one-on-ones? Check out this one-on-one template.

10. Don’t install employee monitoring software

Installing remote employee monitoring software is generally considered an infringement on an employee’s right to privacy and shows a lack of trust in employees. And when employees don’t trust their leaders, this leads to dips in productivity and engagement. You’ve been warned.

Use 15Five’s suite of performance management tools to make the challenge of managing virtual teams non-existent. Sign up for free to get started.