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Virtual Teams And Flexible Work Hours: Boon Or Bane?

Asloob Alam

Virtual teams and flexible work hours have been the saving grace in the face of covid-19 and its impact on how we function as a society.

 

Richard Branson’s quote from 2013 comes to mind where he quipped that the office would become a thing of the past. Well, it surely has, at least for the time being. The IT and Ecommerce industries have the luxury of possessing the required tools to embrace a digital working environment. Therefore, they shifted their workforce to virtual working environments quickly after the advent of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns.

 

What might have started as a response to a challenging situation is slowly gaining popularity because of the benefits it has offered remote working employees. Amid the echoes and growing clamor of adopting remote-work environments fully, or at least partially(hybrid work environments), once the pandemic is over, the words of visionaries like Mr. Branson have found new meaning today.

 

But what are the implications of having virtual teams and flexible working environments in the real world? Want to know more? Keep reading.

 

In this article, we will discuss the true implications of having a remote working environment driven by virtual teams and their flexible work hours. Our goal is to give you a complete picture by highlighting both the advantages and the disadvantages of the same. By the end, we will try to answer the question of the moment: Are virtual teams and flexible work hours a boon or bane? So, let’s begin.

The Pandemic and Its Aftermath

The cost of living through a global pandemic is to witness and adapt to rapid changes that occur all around us. The requirement to evolve day-to-day processes for matching the needs and situational demands of a disease-ravaged world has never been more immediate and daunting in the last many decades.

 

When we talk about these daily processes, wage work and the working population, the bread-earners, have been the worst victims of the disruptions galore. Some have not been fortunate enough to continue making enough, or any money, to support themselves and their families, like many workers in the manufacturing, oil & gas, automotive, travel, and other physical labor-intensive industries.

 

In this regard, the IT and ECommerce sectors have remained relatively unscathed. The reason for this is the undercurrents and silent(mostly) reckonings, over the last few years, of shifting to remote working environments in the future. Unfortunately, that future they would often discuss came sooner than expected, and that too because of a deadly disease.

Defining Virtual Teams

Any group of individuals that cooperate and work together on any given project using digital communication lines through the internet is a virtual team. These individuals work remotely from a place of their choice(generally their homes). Virtual teams can accommodate individuals from different geographical locations across the globe, spanning multiple time zones.

 

Virtual teams leverage the cutting-edge modern telecommunication channels — the technological revolution in the 21st century has truly transformed the communication game. There are plenty of avenues such as video-conferencing, real-time chatting features, audio conferencing, and many other tools for effective online collaboration.

 

Having virtual teams with flexible work hours comes with its own sets of advantages, and many companies have only realized their true potential once they embraced them as a compulsion in the last two years or so. That said, no good thing is ever completely perfect, and therefore, there exist a few disadvantages, or rather challenges of conducting business via virtual teams. Let’s weigh them both.

Why are they important?

 

  • To hold and maintain the business continuum

Virtual teams in a remote working environment form the backbone of any organization because they ensure continuous delivery of services against the demand. Without remote employees, the continuity of business operations takes a severe hit, especially in the conditions where in-office work has to be limited or completely shut down. 

  • They are the Present and the Future

Having seen the importance of virtual teams in the wake of the pandemic, most IT and E-commerce companies have realized that it’s not just a matter of meeting the present needs. Remote work is here to stay — it’s the future. 

 

Advantages of Virtual Teams and Flexible Work Hours 

First, we should look at the major benefits/advantages of deploying virtual teams. They are as follows:

 

1. Addressing the ‘Elephant in The Room’ first: Effective costs

The costs of operating from a physical office are exorbitant. There are many places where a business has to invest a good amount of money to make a traditional office structure work smoothly and without glitches that hamper work quality and overall productivity.


First and foremost, in-office work makes you spend on the office rent and maintenance. Housing your teams in a building requires you to provide them with good infrastructure and an environment that makes them feel comfortable. Next are utilities like electricity, a fast & reliable internet connection, running water, water dispensers, microwaves, coffee machines, and much more.


Adding to that, you need to have world-class equipment too, such as computers, servers, furniture, etc. In some cases, companies also have to cover the transport costs for their employees. We can go on and on about the list of expenses.

Having virtual teams in remote work environments removes the burden of a majority of these costs. When you save costs on these expenses, you can repurpose and better invest the savings. Other important areas of your business can enjoy a monetary boost when you have virtual teams.

For example, your marketing and SEO efforts can improve with an influx of funds. You can spend money on promotional strategies such as blogger outreach and paid ads, etc., to increase the visibility of your brand. You can also employ the help of SEO experts after analyzing the performance of your business website using a suitable backlink checker and other SEO audit tools.

Overall, virtual teams provide a higher return on investment(ROI) and leave sizable savings in a company’s kitty. The cost-effectiveness of maintaining virtual teams is phenomenal.

 

2. Employees can have a healthier work-life balance

One of the common complaints a majority of employees often cite in many surveys is not having a decent work-life balance. In-office work requires employees to manage quite a few other essential aspects in addition to their actual job. These are taxing and time-consuming. For example, employees have to commute to and from work, which in itself is a tiring and time taking essential activity. 

 

This results in the reduction of their daily time that could have been spent with their family or managing their personal life. In a nutshell, in-office work offers little control to employees over their own time. The effects can be seen in the form of lower productivity rates and other challenges. 

 

When employees work in virtual teams and enjoy flexible work hours, they have better control over their time and life. They save a lot of time which they would otherwise spend on unavoidable essential activities during in-office work. 

 

Now they can spend more quality time with their family and use the rest of their leisure hours to indulge in calming activities like following a hobby or simply resting. They can also take time out to work on their fitness and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

 

3. Opportunity to have access to a truly global talent pool

One of the biggest advantages of having virtual teams is getting access to a diverse, highly qualified, and quality talent pool without worrying about the limitations of location. A remote work environment opens the door to hiring the best talent from across the world.

 

Companies don’t have to solely depend on the skills and talents available in and around a given location where they have a physical office. With virtual teams, the possibilities of recruiting deserving and best-quality employees are endless. 

 

Removal of geographical limitations in recruiting employees offers many benefits. The work culture gets strengthened when motivated, talented, and hard-working individuals become a part of a company. Moreover, a company can hire great talent from less expensive countries and save costs on salaries. 

 

Having virtual teams and flexible work hours also allows talented individuals with disabilities, responsibilities, or other situational factors that prevent them from working from a physical office to become a part of a company.

 

4. The ability to solve many scalability issues

Sizable growth in a business is a cue for scaling up operations to more locations and increased size. There are many challenges, from monetary to operational ones, that act as a roadblock in the scaling-up process.

A company needs to meet many conditions for scaling up a business. If you have to scale up by increasing the size of operations at the same location, you would require:

  • More office space
  • More utilities and equipment like furniture, computers, cubicles, etc.
  • More supplies and other miscellaneous items

In the case of scaling up to multiple locations, you can multiply the above requirements with the number of locations you want to add plus the costs of renting new office space at each location.

Hiring virtual employees can help you scale up without worrying about any of these conditions and expenses. In virtual teams, employees take care of their equipment, work environment, and utilities.

You would simply need to hire as many remote employees as you would require to scale up production. 

 

5. Flexible work hours are linked to reduced turnover

Flexible work hours don’t necessarily mean that an employee can work sporadically at any time they want. Instead, having flexible work hours means being able to choose your work window rather than sticking to a standard nine to five in-office schedule. 

 

Employees in virtual teams may have the leeway of flexible working hours. When employees are allowed flexible scheduling in work-from-home jobs, they can work at a time when they feel most productive. 

 

With flexible work hours, workers can change their schedules from time-to-time, to better manage their job responsibilities and relieve work-life conflicts. For these reasons, employees in such work environments tend to stick to their companies, reducing turnover. Thus, flexible work hours play a key role in employee retention.

 

6. Continuous availability of employees: Fostering a 24/7 work culture

When your business can be operational all days of the week, 24 hours a day, the possibilities of generating more productivity, increased output, and higher revenue increase manifolds. A combination of virtual teams and flexible working hours can make your business functional 25x7, and nobody has to work extra shifts.

 

Virtual teams and flexible working hours let you hire from across the globe. When you have employees from different time zones, you can make teams that work on different schedules. In this way, you will have continuous availability of employees at all times.

 

Strategically planning the schedules of your globally scattered virtual teams will allow you to foster a work culture where your business is always functional, and no employee has to work extra for the same. The possibilities of extracting output will be monumental.

 

7. Increase in happiness and productivity of employees 

You can make your employees happier by giving the benefits of flexible work hours when they work in a virtual work environment. When employees work in virtual teams, they can save their commute time and control their working conditions.

 

As discussed before, when employees enjoy flexibility perks, they can devote time towards improving their lifestyle and their physical health. A healthy and happy body leads to a happy mind, and it starts reflecting in the work quality of your employees.

 

The happiness of your employees will translate to improved productivity. According to a recent survey by Gartner, 43% of the people who undertook the survey believed that flexible working hours helped them achieve higher productivity levels. Another 30% thought that the time they saved by telecommuting enabled them to have improved productivity levels in comparison to their in-office work.

 

8. Meetings become more relevant

In regular office working environments, we often see team meetings occurring frequently. Meetings happen even for discussing smaller issues that could be communicated or resolved over a text message or an email.

 

The frequency of meetings takes up much energy of HR managers and uses up valuable time that could have been invested in increasing productivity. You can avoid such issues with virtual teams.

 

The idea is that, with the limited hours that are available when every team member is online together, the frequency of meetings has to be dialed down and reserved for the most pressing issues only. While this reduces the number of meetings, it also improves the quality of the outcomes of all meetings that you conduct.

 

But how is the quality of meeting outcomes improved? Since meetings are scheduled only for essential reasons, the participants prepare well and only discuss what is relevant. Conducting virtual meetings is also less taxing for the HR department as they can use a video conferencing app that works best and ensure face-to-face interactions.

 

9. Positive environmental impact 

We live in a world where the environmental impacts of our collective exploitation of nature in the past hundred years have resulted in catastrophic outcomes. Be it global warming, climate change, increased frequency of natural calamities, and much more.

 

Lately, industries have been called out for not doing their bit to mitigate their environmental impacts. There has been a rise in public movements that demand greater accountability from corporations and urge them to go green.

 

That said, your company should do its bit to take your customers into confidence about your efforts towards sustainability. Having virtual teams gives the much-required impetus to reducing your carbon footprint by doing away with the use of paper.

 

Additionally, when employees don’t have to travel to the office, it also reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that come from their commute to and from work.

What are the challenges? 

As we have covered the majority of the benefits of virtual teams and flexible work hours, now is the time to dive into the few challenges posed by the same. We need to have a clear understanding of these challenges to mitigate them going forward. 

Virtual teams are considered harder to manage

One of the biggest challenges with virtual teams is monitoring work progress by walking up to employee cubicles or having a quick chat about what could be done differently. Team-oriented departments require members to meet often, and with virtual work environments, they have to work out a suitable time for when every team member is available. 

 

There can be delays in delivery owing to the difficulty of managing virtual teams and keeping everyone on the same page. Therefore, virtual teams are considered harder to manage by many companies. 

Lack of social interaction may result into communication issues

Companies fear having a lack of camaraderie and cohesiveness between their virtual team members. They have doubts about effective teamwork because of a lack of belief in effective communication through online channels. Their arguments stem from the challenges in having impromptu social interactions between team members that lead to better productivity in in-office work cultures. 

Cybersecurity fears

When you have virtual teams working for your company, there is a legitimate fear of compromising confidential company information to cyber-attacks and leaks. These fears are not overreactions as the risk of cyber-attacks has only increased in the last decade. Remotely storing information  is a risky undertaking overall.

Harder to replicate the work culture

Not having a personal team exposure daily also runs the risk of deviating from the work culture your company has always sworn by. Replicating the in-office work culture is seen as a daunting task in the case of remote work environments. There is a hesitancy that stems from doubts about effective communication between team members and managers.

Can they be mitigated? And How?

These are no challenges too big to be left unmitigated. We can easily take care of the doubts and fears that persist in remote work environments. You can easily manage your virtual teams through the following ways:

 

  • Ensuring effective communication and interaction between team members

Since a majority of challenges to virtual teams are regarding the communication aspect, you must pay extra attention to it. The technology has advanced to an unprecedented level, and there are plenty of communication tools that can effectively take care of all your communication doubts.

 

There are powerful messaging tools in the market designed specifically for virtual working environments to ensure real-time interaction between virtual team members, for example, Slack.

 

Video calling tools like Microsoft Teams, Troop MessengerZoomGoogle Meet, etc., are more than well-equipped to ensure face-to-face connectivity between virtual employees and managers.

 

  • Using technology to manage employees and monitor their performance

Management issues can be mitigated with the help of dedicated and powerful project management tools readily available online. You can effectively manage your remote workforce, right from organizing tasks to tracking employee progress. When you use tools such as Wrike and ClickUp, you can have better control over your virtual teams and how they approach their work.

 

Then there are performance management tools such as the Time Doctor that will help you minutely monitor the working process of your virtual teams and help you cast away your doubts about remote work.

 

  • Invest in secure cloud storage services and strict data-handling protocols to take care of cybersecurity challenges 

You can prevent your company’s internal and confidential information from reaching the wrong hands by adopting strict data-handling compliances and rules for your virtual employees.

 

Use data encryption. Ask your employees to secure all data using strong passwords — use password manager tools. Have all your virtual employees use encrypted devices and ensure that they always use a VPN. Provide your virtual teams with updated antivirus software. Promote regular software updates.

 

Additionally, you can invest in reliable cloud storage services like Sync, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc.

The Verdict (Conclusion)

Quite clearly, there are many more arguments in favor of virtual teams and flexible work hours compared to the challenges they might pose. Not just that, when navigated with an open mind and the right solutions, most of the doubts, fears, and seemingly challenging aspects of remote work environments can be mitigated easily.

 

So, in conclusion, we can have our verdict:

 

Virtual teams and flexible working environments will only become more prevalent in the time to come, even when the restrictions of the pandemic are lifted. The benefits of virtual work environments outweigh their drawbacks, and for this very reason, virtual teams and flexible working hours are a boon.

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