Virtual Teams

What’s the difference between remote and virtual working – and does it matter?

According to a 2017 global survey of over 24,000 workers, 62% of the working population are now working flexibly and a whopping 98% say that remote working makes them more productive. In 2020 this has accelerated massively due the COVID 19 crisis.

The trend towards greater remote and virtual working looks set to continue.

This is exciting stuff for companies and individuals – but before we jump on the band wagon waving our arms with great enthusiasm – let’s just pause.  What are we actually talking about here?  Remote working, virtual teams, hybrid teams – these words are bandied around, often interchangeably, but in our experience people don’t often have a clear understanding of the difference.

However unless we are crystal clear on what we mean, we cannot clearly define what we need to do differently – both as managers and individual contributors.

Here is the difference as we see it:

Remote teams

  • Remote team – team members report to you but are geographically remote. A key issue is overcoming ’out of sight, out of mind’.
  • Hybrid-remote – some of the teams members are co-located with you. They may work in different locations and at different times, you may have the chance to get together, or you may not

Virtual teams

  • Virtual team – they formally report to different managers (not you!) and may or may not be remote. The key issue is how to lead through influence rather than hierarchy.

For example, one of our FMCG clients recently came to Global Integration to ask for help with working more effectively in their matrix structure – where lack of formal authority in ‘horizontal’ cross-functional teams is often a key issue. However when we performed a probing training needs analysis we were able to show that their most pressing concerns were actually linked to remote working. Therefore that’s what we tackled first – meaning that the right people got the right tools and skills at the right time.

So yes in our experience, knowing the difference between remote and virtual does matter.

Is that distinction helpful for you? If you see it differently, we’d love to hear your views.

Find out more in our virtual team insights and virtual team training.

Read our book Leading remote and virtual teams: Managing yourself and others in remote and hybrid teams or when working from home



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