By Wayne Turmel

3d stainless human social networkSometimes the words “virtual” team and “remote” team are used interchangeably. And they are actually a little different. The difference is important because how you work with these teams can vary.

First, we have to define our terms. A “remote” team is one where one or more members of the team don’t normally work in the same location as everyone else. If you have contractors or team members spread all over the place, and seldom have the chance to get together, you have a remote team. They are connected primarily through technology (email, phone, web meeting, webcam, Sharepoint…), but all work for the same boss. Maybe that boss is you.

A “virtual” team is one where the members may or may not be co-located, but they don’t all have the same reporting boss. If you’ve ever been on a task force or project team where there’s a team leader, but everyone has a “real boss” as well, you know what that means.

Remote teams are tricky because we’re not all in the same place at the same time. We don’t have the advantages of those organic, spontaneous moments where we bond, share information or solve problems. Virtual teams often share those problems, but there’s the additional challenge of conflicting priorities and reporting relationships.

Remote teams are, at their core, just normal teams that have to work extra hard (or at least differently) to maintain good working relationships. The leaders of virtual teams must engage and influence their team without the leverage (and sometimes the threat) of writing their performance reviews or terminating them.

The biggest factor in the success of both is motivation and engagement. If people are engaged, motivated, accountable to their peers and willing to work hard, it doesn’t really matter if you are their “real” boss or not.

Is your team “remote” or “virtual”?

And here’s an additional resource for leading REMOTE teams: How Leaders Create and Manage Remote Teams


About the author:

rsz_wayne_turmel-2Wayne Turmel is the founder and president of, and the co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. For 20 years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It- a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. Follow him on Twitter at @greatwebmeeting!

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