Remote teams versus virtual teams

Posted on 14 May '20 by , under people.

As the majority of the workforce transitions to working from home and we rely on the digital world to connect with our colleagues – employers and employees alike – we should consider the future possibilities for recruitment and a digital workplace. A few terms like “remote team” and “virtual team” are constantly being thrown around but what exactly do they mean and how can you incorporate them into your own workplace?

What is a remote team?

A remote team is composed of workers who work together on one project while geographically distanced either one another or the rest of the business. This does not have to mean that remote teams and workers are working from home, rather includes people working from different cities and even countries.

A remote team of workers is beneficial for businesses which are looking to improve employee retention – as employees are more likely to stay at a business where they can conveniently get to work. Opening up your recruitment process to form a remote team also means you have a wider range of talent to choose from as you are no longer limited to your local area as you would with commuting employees.

However, remote teams may pose a problem if your business does not have the adequate technology, coordination system and monitoring facilities to reproduce or surpass the productivity levels that you otherwise would have with in-house employees. When looking to incorporate a remote team into your business, be mindful of how they will communicate with each other as well as your in-house employees, and fit into your established business process.

What is a virtual team?

A virtual team consists of team members who report to different team managers or team leaders, whether working remotely or not. The term “virtual” refers to a defined system rather than anything digitalised.

Instead of a hierarchy system, virtual teams are more collaborative and are led through influence rather than a traditional up-down system. Virtual teams foster an interdependent workplace culture, where a business decision does not depend on any one person but becomes more of a unified process. Businesses which have a number of different virtual teams with a group of co-located team leaders are more cooperative and united in nature, although some may struggle with the lack of authoritative work culture in “horizontal” cross-functioning teams.

Key difference

The key difference between remote teams and virtual teams is where their members work from. Remote workers are always working away from the main company body, whereas this is not necessarily the case for virtual workers. Despite working geographically apart, remote teams operate as employees would in a traditional workplace system, in that there is some form of hierarchy. Virtual teams however refer to the concept of being an effective team with a horizontal approach, where workers can work both in-house or remotely.