Top 5 Common Communication Challenges with Virtual Teams


Top 5 Common Communication Challenges with Virtual Teams

September 8, 2015
Photo of a person at their desk with a few keyboards and monitors.

As the workplace becomes more global, managing virtual teams is more of a norm than an exception. Virtual teams present unique team communication challenges. We have put together the top five common communication challenges with virtual teams and included tips to help you overcome them.

1. Lack of face-to-face interaction leads to lost information.

Experts estimate that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of communication is nonverbal. Body language and visual cues offer important insights that are often lost in virtual interactions.

To overcome this issue, we recommend using videoconferencing wherever possible to preserve some nonverbal communication. Creating opportunities for virtual team members to meet in person can also help overcome the issue.

2. Goals and priorities can be lost in virtual communication.

If virtual teams don’t have project goals and priorities in front of them, they can lose focus on these goals, causing problems down the road. Teams can overcome this issue by keeping goals and priorities at the forefront during each meeting. Make sure that priorities are communicated in meeting agendas so they remain on everyone’s minds.

3. Cultural or language differences can cause misunderstandings.

Cultural differences between virtual team members from other countries, or regions within the same country, can cause confusion. Differences in accents, idioms, syntax, and jargon are all possible contributing factors.

To address this issue, introduce cultural training so team members can develop greater awareness of other cultures. Budgeting for travel so team members can meet in person also helps bridge cultural gaps.

4. Challenges with time zone differences can lead to stress.

When team members need to find a common meeting time with a difference of six hours or more, this process can cause issues. Someone on the team must compromise by meeting outside of normal business hours, which puts additional stress on them, inhibits productivity, and can cause tension.

Teams can overcome this issue by rotating meeting times so everyone has to compromise at different times instead of just a few people. Establishing clear expectations that team members may need to compromise also lets them arrange their schedules to ease stress.

5. Malfunctions in technology are bound to happen.

Almost everyone has had a problem with meeting software or a network connection during a critical virtual meeting. Such problems introduce extra “noise” that can inhibit communication.

Plan for this issue by budgeting for hardware or software solutions, like dedicated bandwidth or a stable, dependable meeting platform. Having a backup solution available, such as an audio conference, can also help keep virtual meetings running smoothly.

Following these tips can help you overcome common communication problems and succeed on projects with teams distributed across the world. With the need for virtual communication among team members growing rapidly, project managers who can effectively manage virtual communication are in a better position to help their projects succeed.

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