How to Be an Effective Manager of a Globally Distributed Workforce
Harnessing the power of a globally distributed workforce is a surefire way to overcome the HR issues of the current global labor shortage. With more and more companies embracing remote work, it just makes sense - and dollars - to hire outside of the United States. Usually, these are contractor positions, but they are treated as valued team members.
But, with a global team comes a new set of communication challenges. Team members are often working in varying time zones and are from different cultures. This can make it tough to maintain cohesion and team spirit, but there are ways to make everyone feel welcome and valued.
The (hopefully old) challenges of remote work
Hopefully, most companies have managed to surmount any challenges remote work could have presented. However, it is still a good idea to review best practices regularly to make sure you are following them - every tip that is good for remote work will also help with managing a global workforce.
Washington State University’s Carson School of Business suggests some basic strategies for managing remote teams that are worth reviewing. Out of the ten tips, offering employees time to connect with managers, empowering local leaders, and creating structure are the most noteworthy for a globally distributed workforce.
Working across time zones: meeting everyone where they are
If your people are spread across multiple time zones, it may mean having two meetings for the same thing, or only having a meeting with key people and inviting those who can’t make it to watch a recording of it later. All video conferencing solutions, including Zoom and RingCentral, allow for automatic recording of meetings which can then be uploaded to a team YouTube channel or shared with a link. Plan your meetings with tools like World Time Buddy to see when members of your team are actually available.
To make sure meetings are effective, each invitee should be there for a reason and actively contribute to the meeting agenda, which should be shared in advance in the invite. Tools like Fellow integrate with calendar solutions to make sure that important points such as deliverables and who is responsible for them aren’t missed at each meeting. Where possible, schedule regular one-on-one meetings with each member of your team to ensure they get “facetime” with you.
As a manager, you should be flexible with your own time and accept that you may have to hold or attend some meetings that are outside of regular business hours - or even outside of regular hours in general. While it is a lot to ask of your employees to do this, it is unfortunately part of your job to take this pain so they don’t have to. If you must schedule meetings outside of regular working hours for employees, make sure it is critical for them to be there and that they can’t just work off of your notes. Client-facing meetings may be a good example of meetings a team member likely can’t miss, even if it is 10:00pm where they are.
Project management: clarity is king & rush jobs
While it’s always important to have clear deadlines and deliverables, it’s doubly important to ensure they are clear with a global team. If you aren’t making proper use of a project management tool yet, now is the time to start and also make sure all team members are onboarded properly with training on the tool and expectations for its use.
Tasks and subtasks should be clearly assigned to specific team members, with full briefs given on the work before it starts. Written communication should be kept brief and easy to interpret - this is where tools such as Grammarly can be a big help. Dialing down the complexity of the language you use is key, and tools like this can help you do it easily in emails and other communication tools.
Rush jobs should be handled very carefully with global staff too. Everyone knows that it is best practice to avoid doing rush jobs for clients, since details can often be missed and expectations not met. However, they are also an inevitable part of doing business.
In some cases, a global team is a blessing for rush jobs because they can work on something when North American staff are sleeping. But where the deliverable is unclear and only exists in an email or conversation someone has had with the client (which describes 99.9% of rush jobs), the team which took the client request should own the task. This is not because a global team cannot understand rush requests; just that a lack of clarity can end up delaying the project rather than speeding it up.
The Cultural Piece: Get to know the work culture of your team members
Every person in the world approaches work culture and language differently and getting it wrong could mean unintentionally insulting or alienating a key member of your staff. For example, Germans are very direct and prefer blunt feedback, whereas Japanese workers may be less inclined to ask for help. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with work culture norms in your team members’ country during their onboarding process. Whether or not you agree with it, and where it does not stand in the way of getting work done, try to conform to your team’s work styles rather than expecting them to conform to American norms.
And while it seems like a basic thing, make sure you are pronouncing everyone’s name correctly. Slipping up once or twice is forgivable, but doing it constantly is egregious and can be easily avoided.
If you are looking for tools to manage a globally distributed workforce, consider Prodoscore to monitor each employee’s productivity. Prodoscore gathers productivity data in the background without disrupting workflow and provides insight into how people are working each day. It also assigns team members a “productivity score,” that can inform opportunities for improvement and growth. Prodoscore gives leadership peace of mind that employees are engaged and mitigates the urge to constantly check in.
In a globally distributed environment, insight into engagement can be a helpful way to maintain a pulse on the business and your teams.