October 14, 2019

3 Steps in Overcoming the Challenges of Virtual Teams

We had the pleasure of having Matthew Barby, Global Head of Growth & SEO at Hubspot, on the Virtual Success Podcast where he talked at length about how he leverages virtual teams to drive large content & growth strategies. He also delved into how he manages to avoid the common challenges of virtual teams that can create chaos instead of flow.

We asked Matthew Barby his 3 key steps for anybody starting virtual teams for the first time:

  • Start off small
  • Have a strong selection criteria
  • Treat people like people
challenges of virtual teams

1. Start Off Small

Success with handling virtual teams comes from tackling one task or issue at a time and doing it really well instead of trying to solve all of your problems immediately.

As business owners, we all know the feeling of trying to take on too much at once and striving to get those things done right away. While sometimes we pull it off with the results we want, most of the time we find ourselves too overwhelmed and stretched beyond our limits. This is going to be counterproductive for you and your business in the long run.

The same thing applies to virtual team management. If you had a problem before you started working with a virtual assistant, that problem will persist if you try and overload your team with things to do. Just get them focus on one thing at a time.

Start small!

First, simplify your processes and prove that they work well when delegated to your virtual team and then work your way up from there. Build out more rigid processes slowly but surely for working with people and actually getting some results.

You can start using virtual teams to scale up your processes. Have your virtual teams help out with your own individual projects first and then grow out your lists of projects once you have a core, kind of an engine working in the middle of it all. 

challenges of virtual teams

If you start small like this and build up, you will really ‘get’ how to start building a virtual team and, more importantly, how to overcome the challenges of virtual teams.

2. Have a strong selection criteria

One of the most common challenges of virtual teams is when you have people in your team who do not quite fulfill the role you envisioned them in. To make it easier for yourself, make sure that you are sourcing and selecting people that are a right fit for you personally as much as the task you are delegating.

You’ll know you have the right people in your virtual team when you’ve answered YES to the following points:

  • Do they understand your expectations from a communication point of view?
  • Do they understand why you expect certain things of them?
  • Are they going to be passionate about what they're doing for you?
challenges of virtual teams

When your virtual team members are passionate about the things they do and believe in what you are trying to achieve in your business, you’ll know that they are motivated to go above and beyond for you.

When you’re building your virtual team at the start, choosing people can sometimes be a bit of a painful process but it’s well worth spending that time to get the right candidates in. Spending the time training your team and working with them closely so you can spot potential holes in your processes is key. If you do this then not only are they going to do a better job for you but you’re actually going to build longer lasting relationships with these people because you’re not just engaging with them on a transactional level, they will also come to you with ideas in no time.

You need to devote at least a month of solid, intensive time with your virtual team to build out a solid understanding of expectations, until they get to the point where they are proficient in delivering what you want to do. And even then, they may still need some check-ins and guidance here and there.

And remember — cheapest isn’t always best! Working with people based on the cheapest possible price won’t guarantee you success in pursuing your goals.

Really focusing on this step makes managing virtual teams much easier and less stressful in the long run. Finding the right types of people and working with multiple people could also really help you with what you’re trying to achieve and in overcoming the challenges of virtual teams.

challenges of virtual teams

For more of Matthew's tips and insights on how to approach the task of building specialist virtual teams within your business and how to leverage these teams to their greatest potential, listen to this episode of the Virtual Success Show Podcast.

Also Available on The Virtual Hub YouTube Channel. Subscribe Now!

3. "Treat People Like People"

A lot of people have a bad perception around the effectiveness of virtual teams because they don’t really understand their value. Nine times out of ten, it’s actually you that’s the problem and not the VA!

You often find that one person will excel to success with the same VA that someone else discarded and labeled as useless.

The root cause of why most virtual teams go wrong is because people don’t feel heard, appreciated, or respected. This is another important thing to address when tackling the challenges of virtual teams.

challenges of virtual teams

You wouldn’t bring someone in for a performance review on their second day of work. That would probably result in a lawsuit, never mind you actually having to get rid of that staff member.

So, if you want to overcome the challenges of virtual teams, be realistic.

These people are starting a task from scratch. They’re working with you when they’ve never worked with you before.

This is a new employee and a part of your business. Treat them with respect, keep them motivated, and be realistic. It is likely you yourself were not able to solve the problem in a day so why should you expect your virtual team to be able to solve it in a day?

The problem is that people try to work with virtual teams in a way that they would with a digital agency or consultant. They expect to just send something over and it will get done for them. But really they are bringing a new employee into their business, even if it is a contracted VA.

If you hired someone, on the first day of them coming into your business, you wouldn’t be saying to them, “Right, where are we at? What targets have you hit? How are you going to do this by the next week that we’ve already started working. I’ve started paying you so I want to see results.”

The thing that you need to be thinking about here is to always treat people as your employees. Managing virtual teams is exactly the same as managing employees in your business. People don’t just get told something once and then that’s ingrained into their memory and then all of a sudden they’re superstars at whatever you just told them. You need to train people. These are human beings. If someone’s motivated and they actually want to listen to what you say then they’ll come back to you, they’ll learn, they’ll ask questions.

These are the best tips on leading remote staff and overcoming the challenges of virtual teams so you actually get all of the advantages of virtual teams and less of the stress.

There is a success strategy for virtual teams that is the same for any business in any industry.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just follow the same strategy that those who have achieved success before you have followed.

challenges of virtual teams

If you're looking to learn more about virtual teams and virtual assistants in general, you can read our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants where we lay down everything there is to know about virtual assistants including how you can hire them, the best ways on how you can manage them, and how to overcome all the challenges that you may face when working with them.

Matthew Barby

Global Head of Growth & SEO at Hubspot
Award winning digital marketing consultant, global speaker, startup advisor, and lecturer. You can find Matthew on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.

If you want to hear what Matthew thinks are biggest challenges of virtual teams, then why not listen to the full Virtual Success Podcast episode where he shares more effective team management tips and some cool ideas if you are looking for a virtual business to start.


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