While remote and homeworking have become increasingly common over the past twenty years, the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen remote collaboration spike dramatically and ‘virtual’ teams forming almost overnight.

This sharp increase in virtual teams has prompted a search for solutions to develop and manage them – ones that will help maintain both an organisation’s operational viability and employee well-being. Our evidence review uncovered a range of attributes which make for effective virtual teams. HR professionals and managers can use our practice-oriented summary report to gain insight into these factors and adopt the recommended actions to better support their virtual teams. The technical report gives more detail on the body of research on virtual teams.

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Virtual teams are a necessity in today’s world of work and this has become even more pronounced since the coronavirus outbreak. However, scientific evidence shows virtual teams deal with more challenges than face-to-face teams, because they must rely on electronic communications, have less things in common, and potentially less overlap of working hours.

Some of these challenges can be mitigated by: 

  • Encouraging the use of rich media for communication 
  • Synchronising work schedules as far as practical 
  • Mitigating the effect of physical distance where possible. 

HR practitioners and managers can also consider other actions to help their virtual teams be more effective by: 

Building team cohesion and trust through

  • Investing in team building 
  • Protecting the team from negative behaviour 
  • Being mindful about sharing negative feedback 

Ensuring there is effective information sharing by: 

  • Proactively diversifying the information shared within the team 
  • Building up the team’s transactive memory system 
  • Holding debriefing sessions 

Teaching teams how to work together and coordinate, including: 

  • Setting up teamwork training sessions 
  • Clarifying roles, including that of coordinator 
  • Providing tools for coordination 
  • Coordinating the team’s communication 

Establishing the right team leaders by: 

  • Finding the leader best suited for the challenge 
  • Identifying humble team leaders.