With the increasing globalization of the world economy, companies have begun operating on a broader scale than ever before. The Internet — and the countless technologies that have resulted from it — has linked the entire world, enabling international communication and collaboration. We can talk to and work with people in any country at any time. With notable technological advancements like Skype, WhatsApp, and so many more, our connected business world is unrecognizable compared to what we saw just twenty or thirty years ago — not to mention centuries past.
For businesses, this increase in global connectivity provides new opportunities: we can reach larger audiences with our products and services, but we can also reallocate our labor resources. And as companies continue to take advantage of this new capability and expand their global workforces, managing remote teams made up from people around the world is becoming the new reality.
While this phenomenon can have many positive impacts, including finding higher-quality employees at lower cost and attracting top talent by offering geographic flexibility, managing overseas teams poses its challenges as well.
First, the limited opportunities to see these employees in person make it difficult to forge close working relationships or effectively evaluate performance. Second, communication is often stunted by language and cultural barriers as well as the logistical challenges posed by working with teams scattered across different time zones.
Though we’re headquartered in Austin, Texas, Syberry is an international company, with employees in Europe as well as the United States. That means we’re no strangers to the issues that arise from managing international teams, and we’ve developed several strategies to overcome the most common hurdles we face. Whether your organization has a few employees working from local home offices or hundreds scattered across the globe, we hope these strategies will help you bridge the communication gaps of managing remote teams.
1. Acknowledge and Learn from Cultural Difference
From religious beliefs and government holidays to perceptions on work-life balance and more, managing team members from different cultural backgrounds can lead to a variety of misalignments in expectations and practices. But the reality is that our cultural backgrounds will always play a big part in how we work and interact with other people, so there’s no point in trying to hide those differences or pretend they don’t exist. That will only make matters worse. Instead, the best way to proceed is to acknowledge cultural differences upfront and make them open for (respectful, constructive) discussion.
Not only does this practice help establish a corporate culture that values diversity, inclusion, and curiosity, but it will significantly improve day-to-day operations as well. Being able to clearly define differences that may impact how the team works together will help set realistic expectations and prevent significant miscommunications, making the team happier and more effective.
2. Communicate Every Day — and Listen Even More Often
When your team members aren’t in offices right down the hall, it’s important to set up regular communication times and channels so you can ensure everybody’s on the same page no matter where they are in the world. Regular meetings — daily, even — are an important opportunity for team members to exchange information and knowledge, learn from one another’s experiences, and keep each other up to date on organizational and team developments. And between meetings, communication lines should remain open so leaders and team members can field questions and support one another as needed.
Equally important to the meetings themselves are the communication management skills team leaders bring to the table. A good manager is able to improve communication across the board by listening actively to what’s being said (and by whom), recognizing and unspoken concerns, and making sure all team members have opportunities to engage, participate, and feel heard.
While remote work can be incredibly beneficial for individual team members, it can also be incredibly lonely and isolating. Fostering community through regular communication and active listening is a powerful way to build a sense of camaraderie even when you and your team are worlds apart.
3. Define Team Structure and Core Corporate Values
We’ve all had an experience in which it wasn’t clear what to do when an issue arose, and the resulting confusion only made things worse. And that’s when everyone’s in the same office! So you can imagine that, when employees are stationed in different locations, clear and consistent structure is even more critical. When protocols, escalation paths, and even communication methods are clearly defined, team members will more clearly understand their responsibilities and their options for support.
Clearly defining core corporate values helps achieve a similar goal. Beyond improving the sense of community, unity, and purpose (an important achievement in and of itself), frequently reminding teammates of the company’s core values and mission is a great way to highlight how everyone’s work fits the overall project (and company) strategy. This helps establish trust among team members and gives everyone a touchstone or a “home base” when things inevitably get chaotic and they start to lose sight of why they’re doing what they’re doing.
4. Encourage Initiative and Personal Development
Research has shown over and over again that, when employees feel their managers are invested in their own personal and professional growth, and when they’re allowed to take ownership of their work in a way that promotes that growth, they’re more likely to remain loyal to the organization over the long term. And, especially when employees are far flung, taking an authentic interest in their personal growth and providing them opportunities to innovate within the organization are great ways to create a sense of roots and stability in a situation that could easily feel a little bit temporary or disconnected.
Our new, globally connected workforce has created countless incredible opportunities for businesses and their employees to grow, innovate, and flourish. But as with any sweeping change, managing global teams comes with its own set of unique challenges. However, If you focus on building community and unity through strong communication practices, you’ll find it’s possible to overcome these challenges and take full advantage of the rewards that come with building a productive, engaged team whose diversity — in backgrounds and skillsets — transforms the company in ways that wouldn’t have been possible thirty years ago.