The modern workplace is increasingly globalized and digitized. With the ability to work from anywhere with a stable internet connection, and the rise of remote positions, international teams have become more common. Foreign companies employed 6.8 million U.S. workers in 2015, an increase of 22 percent from 2007, according to recent data. The remote work trend is only growing as some 73 percent of teams will have remote workers by 2028, according to a report by Upwork.
However, as a leader, managing an international team comes with its own set of unique challenges. From language barriers to time zones, working across borders can be difficult. Use these seven tips to transcend boundaries and increase workforce effectiveness and cohesion.
Define Your Structure – But Be Flexible
Structure is even more critical when working with distributed or multi-office teams. When you don’t have the luxury to physically check-in on employees, a well-defined organizational framework will lay the foundation for success. Your structure should start as early as onboarding and training and include well-documented workflows and processes, which are easily accessible for all employees.
To help accomplish this, you might consider having a digital employee manual or handbook, available for anyone to access. Also, outline and document the individual expectations of your team—leave no room for ambiguity. When in doubt, don’t make assumptions, confirm that your staff understand the structure and processes in place.
Lastly, don’t forget to be flexible. You may find you want to make amends or additions as you receive feedback from your staff or evaluate their productivity. For example, taking frequent breaks can ultimately boost productivity. In a recent survey, 54 percent of respondents actually reported playing online games during the work day in an effort to increase their productivity levels. If that’s the case, you would encourage and expect people to take breaks throughout the day. Take time to get to know your teams and what enhances their best work.
Use Digital Communication Tools
With the increased globalization of the workforce also comes the proliferation of digital communication tools. According to Deloitte, 46 percent of workers regularly used virtual collaboration software in 2018. What’s more, 71 percent confirmed that these communication tools improve their productivity.
Make use of digital communication resources to stay in touch with your international team. Easy and free(mium) platforms like Slack and Zoom can be powerful and dynamic communication tools that ensure everyone stays on the same page.
You can also use digital communication to give regular feedback. A recent survey found that 83 percent of employees appreciate receiving feedback (positive or negative). However, 62 percent wish they got more feedback from colleagues. A feedback-driven culture will help you manage and improve employee performance in real-time.
Give Everyone The Opportunity To Participate
Make sure you have participation strategies in place. Employees in different geographies or with fluency issues might need even more coaching to feel comfortable to participate in team projects or activities. With a proper strategy in place (for example, a rule that everyone has to speak at least once in a team meeting), you can ensure engagement and inclusion.
You’ll also want to consider time zones when setting meetings. Try to make times as fair as possible to team members in different countries. If meetings need to occur out of work hours, make sure to rotate times so that everyone can share the burden.
Especially for companies that have a mix of in-office and distributed staff, avoid impromptu meetings. Trello explains why this is an issue in their guide, 6 Rules To Live By When You Work In An Office But Have Remote Team Members. “Let’s say there are three people on a team, and one of them is remote. If two out of three people are constantly making decisions themselves and filling the remote team member in, not only does the remote employee not get a chance to give input before a consensus is drawn, but they are also constantly plagued with the feeling of being left out.”
Limit Your Micromanagement
Not being able to monitor your team might make you want to micromanage their day-to-day to ensure positive outcomes. However, fight the desire to be a helicopter manager and give your team the foundation to succeed and the space to do their work.
“If a boss is a micromanager, employee strengths are not nurtured. In time, morale dives as employees lose faith in their boss’s trust in them,” says Fleet Maull, corporate coach, and CEO, in his article for Forbes. Maull continues: “This hampers their drive to succeed, destroys organizational innovation and decreases growth potential for both the employees and the company.”
Reinforce Goals And Objectives
With workers in different countries, time zones and potential language barriers, you need to ensure everyone works toward the same goal, even more so than with a traditional, in-office team. While it’s a fine line to walk, (keeping the previous point about micromanagement in mind), you still need to reinforce your team’s overall objectives. You can accomplish this with quick weekly check-ins where you ask everyone their primary goal of the week. Then, as a leader, align everyone’s objective and relate it to the organization’s overarching mission.
Coaching your employees, more so than preaching to them, can also be an effective way to reinforce objectives. When a team member completes a task or celebrates a win, positively reinforce how that helps the team move forward or how it’s aligned with the values of the company.
Understand Cultural Differences
Working with a culturally diverse team will help you experience different perspectives and ideas, which can lead to increased creativity and effectiveness. Research from the University of Michigan found that diverse groups have better problem-solving skills. Additionally, a McKinsey report also found that ethnically diverse teams performed better in the workplace.
On the flip side, with a diverse team, you also need to be more aware of cultural differences to be an appropriate manager. Take the time to research and learn about your team’s backgrounds and the professional cultural differences in their areas of residence. That might include everything from customs to national and religious holidays, which can vary significantly from country to country. It’s up to you to create an inclusive environment where each person feels understood and comfortable.
For further insights on running international meetings and cultural differences, refer to this FastCompany article. Remember that it never hurts to check-in with an H.R. representative to ask about cultural appropriateness, as well.
Take The Time For Face-to-Face
If resources and budgets allow, make an effort to meet your team members in person. To effectively manage international teams, you can’t be an image on a screen. “You can get a long way with just online communication,” explains Coby Chapple, product designer at GitHub, Inc. “But if you can build quality relationships in real-life between the people at your company, then that makes a huge difference when they disperse and go back to being distributed,”
Even if you can’t afford to take a trip for in-person meetings, consider virtual meet-ups (camera on) for both work-based meetings and team building. Ryan Rogowski, CEO of Waygo, instituted a “virtual happy hour” for his remote team. People log on after workday to connect. “It’s a time where we don’t chat at all about work,” Rogowski tells Money. “We take some time to chat about life, hobbies, and fun trips we are planning. The key part is really focusing on getting to know each other outside of day-to-day work tasks and keeping up with each other on life outside of work.”
Effectively Manage Your International Team
Leading a diverse team reaps many benefits, such as access to a wider talent pool and different perspectives on projects. However, as the manager, you also need to take steps to be inclusive and effective while connecting your distributed employees. Use these seven strategies to increase morale and productivity of your international team.