Although 87 percent of white collar employees of multinational companies work virtually at least partially, most of these employees encountered challenges in virtual work as only 16 percent had any training for this type of work, according to a study by RW3, an intercultural communication training organization.
"It is clear that the survey struck a nerve," says Charlene Solomon, president of RW3. "In fact, the huge response itself is one of the key findings. There is a pent-up demand for expressing the difficulty of working virtually across time zones, languages and cultures."
The study also shows that it takes longer to make decisions in the virtual workplace, and the lack of visual cues makes it harder to collaborate. Building team trust is also more difficult, and working across time zones is one of the biggest hurdles facing corporate workers for communication and other culturally based challenges.
"It appears that while nearly everyone in today's workplace recognizes the need —and appreciates the value—of virtual work, it is not easy, especially when cultural differences, time zone challenges, accents and communication styles enter the equation," Solomon says.
Among the respondents, 41 percent of virtual team members have never met their colleagues face to face. Another 33 percent of respondents say at least half of their virtual teams are based outside of the home country, and virtual teams are most different from live teams in managing conflict at 70 percent, expressing opinions at 55 percent and making decisions at 55 percent.
Of the primary five challenges during team meetings are insufficient time to build relationships at 79 percent, speed of decision making at 73 percent, lack of participation at 71 percent, different leadership styles at 69 percent and the method of decision making at 55 percent.
"The rapid pace of globalization and the growing number of collaborative software solutions have enabled virtual work, and the demand for skills from around the world have made it a necessity, but virtual team work is not intuitive," says Michael Schell, CEO of RW3. "It's about time we recognize the human side of the equation."