This article was originally published in Localogy.
Working with team members around the world creates a unique set of managerial challenges now that many of us work from home rather than our office. Coworkers live in different time zones. We lose a sense of personal connection to each other, as colleagues we once saw at annual events now became another face on the screen. Working with empathy and patience across this much time and space requires the help of committed managers.
Here are five effective ways to stay connected, work together effectively, and overcome the common challenges of managing your global team.
Be mindful of time zones
When you set up meetings, think about the recipients, what shift they work, and what their days’ workflow might look like. Add the additional time zones to your Outlook calendar to make it easier for participants to set appointments and have a dialogue about proposed times that may work for all involved parties.
Not all countries designate their territorial or geographic regions in the same way. For example, the United States uses counties, while other countries use districts to identify specific areas. This can cause challenges when collecting customer record information and validating mailing addresses, which can cause customer miscommunication and billing issues. Make sure to note these important geo-political differences in trainings and discuss how this might impact information gathering during discussions with customers.
Regardless of where someone’s desk sits, as managers, we still need to provide feedback in a timely manner to help our team members grow. Set up a video call as soon as you need to deliver feedback. Start the conversation by asking probing questions and assuming good intent, just as you would in person. For example, lines such as “You’ve missed two deadlines, tell me a little bit about what’s going on this week?” are often used to uncover challenges such as training gaps and staffing issues. Try to have these conversations in the same way you’d like your own manager to have these conversations with you. Although you may not be in person, it is still more effective to deliver the feedback with empathy rather than judgement.
And because it takes more energy to maintain relationships that exist entirely online, make sure you deliver positive feedback as well. Just because you are remote, do not leave your team members wondering if they are performing well because they do not hear from their managers more frequently.
The new water cooler conversations
In addition to tackling meetings agendas, use some of your time to get to know each other as people. Learn about individual team member’s interests, families, and hobbies. Ask team members about exciting upcoming plans. What’s everyone up to this weekend? What shows are you binging on Netflix? Does anyone have a birthday or special event coming up? Ask questions, but be mindful of what sorts of questions are appropriate in the other cultures. Relationships improve productivity, and respecting your international colleagues is part of showing that you are authentically interested in learning about them as a person beyond their being your co-worker.
Share cultural differences
A benefit of working with team members across the globe is a unique opportunity to learn about different cultures and the texture of your international coworkers’ lives. So ask respectful, well-worded questions about music or food. Discuss different holidays and how people celebrate them. And add holidays to your team meetings to share and discuss plans to celebrate.
Schedule regular meetings
Working remotely has changed the way our day-to-day looks. We are not able to walk past someone’s office to ask a quick question or just chat, especially in a global environment. To replicate part of that physical office experience, set up reoccurring one-on-ones with individual team members to check in on their workload, identify training gaps, and help with challenges. Making an effort solves problems and builds rapport, and they will remember these individualized efforts.
Find fun ways to stay connected and help build morale
Working remotely has also cost us many valuable aspects of the face-to-face connection that the typical in-office setting provided. To recreate some of that, have team members share the best and most challenging part of their week in team meeting, set up virtual happy hours to celebrate team wins remembering the time zone differences, and encourage teams to attend trainings together. A team that supports each other personally and professionally is happier and more engaged.
During the pandemic, one of the mottos for remote work could have been “You’re on mute.” So many of us forget to turn on our microphones during Zoom or Teams meetings, and too often the only ones who hears our insightful comments the dog coiled under our home office desk. The same goes for cameras.
While we can’t be in person, have team members turn on their videos during meetings to ensure everyone experiences the best face-to-face interaction. This will allow you to read your team members’ faces and reactions to updates, and it encourages more active listening. People communicate with more than words. We read faces. When we can’t see the impact of comments on meeting participants, how do we gauge our effectiveness? Worse yet, how do you even know if people are listening when everyone’s camera is off? Have team members turn on those cameras. As a manager, you can set the precedent for your team by turning on your own camera either at the beginning of the meeting or at the beginning of a series. Lead and make others follow.
As we have seen in the past year and a half, working remotely across the globe is the new business world norm. With new challenges come new opportunities. We have an opportunity to work with professionals across the global every day and get to know and learn from individuals we would have otherwise never known.