Working Internationally: Managing a Remote Team

It used to be that companies would outsource work internationally to cut costs. While that’s still true in some cases, outsourcing has now become more about casting the net further afield in search of the best candidates for roles. Advances in communication technology have meant that companies no longer have to limit themselves to employees from their given country or region: they can take on freelancers or contractors from all over the world. This is all part of a more widespread trend towards remote working.

Having your team spread across the globe poses numerous difficulties for management. A study by Lynda Gratton of the London Business School found that workers who were physically separated were less likely to develop “chemistry for success”; a theory that seemingly influenced Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer to ban her staff from working remotely earlier this year. However, telecommuting, as it’s often called, seems like an inevitable outcome of working in a digital age: Virgin Media Business has predicted that 60% of workers in the UK will be working remotely in the next ten years.

So what are challenges when it comes to managing disconnected, international workers and how can they be resolved?

–          Particularly in an IT field, but also in roles where workers might need to be trained from afar, technology needs to be used as effectively as possible. Remotely controlling an employee’s PC with software such as Remote Desktop Access from Ericom can make demonstrating complex computer-based tasks easier when you don’t have the luxury of simply walking across the office. If your business needs its employees to access data with as little risk as possible from anywhere in the world, using a combination of servers and remote desktop software to run desktops as virtual machines can be the safest, and most convenient option.

–          Face-to-face interaction is often at a bare minimum or non-existent. According to a study by the Harvard Business review from 2004, 96% of roughly 300 people in the remote teams surveyed had never met face-to-face with all of their team. This lack of human interaction can definitely impact morale. To combat this, don’t rely as heavily on email. It’s more impersonal and can be a poor tool for including people in a group discussion as it quickly clutters inboxes in an off-putting way. Focus on using Skype video calls or Google Hangout and picking up the phone instead of sending IMs.

–          Conference calling can be problematic given different time zones and occasional language barriers or cultural circumstances. Make sure you arrange virtual meetings with employees who might encounter language barriers and have religious requirements which interfere with your normal business proceedings. If you truly want to keep the best staff, no matter where they are in the world, you need to make an effort to understand their needs. And remember: Internationally spread out teams can have their benefits, particularly when it comes to offer 24-hour client services and for their language capabilities.

Exploring new technology and using tried-and-tested leadership tactics while improving communication within an increasingly isolated workforce will be the key to the success of international business in the future. For further reading, see the paper “Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger?”



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