Skip to main content
University of Sunderland

Challenges and strategies for leading virtual teams

Posted on: April 3, 2024
Back view photo of woman worker have webcam group conference with her coworkers on modern computer at home, female employee speak talk on video chat call with diverse colleagues online brief collage

It’s one of the most enduring legacies of the Covid-19 pandemic: the virtual team.

Also known as remote teams, virtual teams are made up of people who work from different locations and time zones, and connect with one another by using technology to communicate and collaborate. 

What started as a necessity during the pandemic has turned into a preference for many employees post-pandemic. This is largely due to a number of advantages offered by flexible working arrangements:

“Benefits of remote and hybrid working for staff can include increased wellbeing, self-reported productivity and work satisfaction, reduced work-life conflict, new ways to collaborate and more inclusive ways of working through the use of technology,” says a 2022 UK Parliament research briefing on the topic.

However, virtual teams are not without their challenges, so it’s important to understand what these challenges are – and which strategies can help manage them effectively.

The rise of virtual and remote teams

The trend towards virtual and remote teams accelerated significantly during the pandemic. Many businesses were reluctant or unprepared to adapt to a remote working environment, but soon found that the shift offered a number of benefits, such as cost savings on office space and the ability to access a more global talent pool. Many employees, meanwhile, were immediately sold on the healthier work-life balance, reduced commute, and flexibility offered through virtual working.

And today, many of these employees have continued to work remotely at least some of the time. The most recent figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics show that around “40% of working adults reported having worked from home at some point in the past seven days.” Before the pandemic, this figure was around 12%.

Common challenges in virtual teams

Virtual teams can present unique challenges for team leaders and managers. Examples include:


Communication can make or break a team, plus it can be particularly difficult in remote teams where people have to contend with technology glitches, time zone differences, and a lack of face-to-face interaction.

“Virtual teams often experience a lack of trust and social presence, which can negatively impact communication and collaboration,” says Poppulo. “This is often due to a lack of nonverbal clues and the inability to form personal connections. In short, virtual teams need to work hard to build the trust and loyalty that are hallmarks of a successful team.”


While many businesses recognise the value of maintaining motivation and employee engagement, this can be more challenging with remote workers. However, it’s incorrect to suggest that remote workers are inclined to disengage. It’s simply that, without intervention, they have fewer opportunities to connect with their colleagues and leaders:

“By its very nature, a remote workforce is physically less connected to a company’s central hub of activity, which means people may miss out on communal gatherings like team lunches, celebrating colleagues’ birthdays, water-cooler conversations, and other informal moments that make a group of individuals feels like a team,” explains Slack


While many employees feel more productive while working virtually, some research suggests that there’s actually a dip in productivity among remote teams. On the flipside, some employees are prone to working longer hours from home, which can lead to burnout and stress.

This remains an active debate, but the fact remains that leaders should be aware of potential issues and keep on top of any productivity concerns within their teams.

Effective management strategies for leading virtual teams

To navigate the challenges of virtual team management, leaders should adopt a proactive, strategic approach, drawing on different tactics and techniques to effectively manage their virtual teams.

How to effectively communicate – and overcome communication barriers – in virtual teams

Leaders can more effectively communicate by selecting appropriate communication channels for different needs. For example, they can use video calls for complex discussions, instant messaging for quick queries, and email for formal communications.

In global teams, where staff members are located across different time zones, managers should also strive for inclusivity and rotate team meeting times. In these teams, it’s also important that team members are aware of any cultural differences that may influence people’s communication styles.

Finally, all virtual team members – including managers – should receive training on effective remote communication, which can help set expectations and minimise miscommunications.

How to build a collaborative team culture in remote work environments

Virtual team managers need to actively encourage open communication and transparency within their teams. It’s their job to set an example for the rest of their staff in order to create cohesion and a strong team or company culture.

They should take advantage of communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, not just for direct messaging and quick updates, but by also using specific group chats and channels for different projects so that people always have a dedicated space to work together online. These channels can act as a virtual office workspace, somewhere that team members can share ideas and engage in brainstorming sessions online.

How to ensure remote teams feel more connected

Managers can foster a strong sense of community by scheduling regular online team-building activities and informal virtual hangouts, mimicking the water-cooler conversations of an in-office environment and reducing feelings of isolation.

Video conferencing can help maintain face-to-face interactions, which in turn helps build trust and the camaraderie that’s so important – and valuable – among team members.

How to motivate virtual team members

Recognition and feedback are key to motivating team members regardless of whether they’re working in a physical office or virtually online, so managers should acknowledge achievements and provide constructive feedback regularly.

Offering flexible work hours, when possible, can also help remote employees better manage a healthy work-life balance, which in turn can boost their motivation and their productivity.

How to ensure remote teams meet deadlines

Where productivity is a concern, setting clear expectations and milestones is essential. And in remote environments, it’s particularly important to make sure that all team members are aligned on priorities and shared goals. To support this, managers can use project management tools such as Jira or Workday to track progress, and hold regular check-ins or virtual meetings to discuss workflows and obstacles.

The most valuable tool here is team communication.

Develop a reputation for effective leadership

Build your knowledge in the organisational and people aspects of business and management with the University of Sunderland’s 100% online MSc Management with HR course. This flexible master’s course has been created to give busy working professionals an opportunity to develop the skills and the qualification they need to boost their career prospects while still in their current role.

You’ll gain a deep understanding in areas such as the relationship between individual performance and organisational policies and practices, and explore various aspects of people management, recruitment and retention, organisational culture, motivation and reward. You’ll examine leadership and performance management as you consider the changing role of the line manager, and learn more about flexibility and change in the context of an organisation’s internal and external environments.

« Previous EntryNext Entry »