As technology constantly improves, the world of work is becoming truly international. Collaborative software, such as Clarizen or communication tools like Slack have made it easier than ever to run a completely international team. These can be hugely beneficial for many reasons, such as allowing organizations access to greater skills, cheaper labor or guaranteeing 24-hour production or support.
Managing remote teams does however come with its own specific set of challenges. As a project manager it’s your job to solve them, but, as ever, we’re here to help with some advice on overcoming the most common of these problems.
One of the obvious differences when working with an international team is that they’re not in your office. This means that communication can’t be on the same level, especially for small factors like noticing their mood or how they’re coping with a task.
- Introduce and use messaging tools. Encourage their use by using them yourself.
- Have a “fun” or non-formal channel for team members to share interesting information from their life so as to get to know each other better.
- Before group Skype conferences keep up to 10 minutes at the start to chat informally (though be sure to avoid people using this to be late.)
Major time-zone differences are a big challenge for an international team as it creates situations where team members have already finished by the time others start. This means that whole days of work can be lost because important questions can’t be answered, or deliverables are not coordinated.
- Set up a chart with applicable members time-zones and work out an acceptable time for meetings, this may mean some members will have to log in outside of a normal 9-5.
- For those that absolutely can’t attend, use a communication tool with a recording function so they can listen back to what has been discussed and add their input.
Different regions of the world have different ways of approaching work, for example, some prefer things more formal while some may take a more relaxed view. Then there are the language difficulties which arise with an international team.
- The work tone for the team should be set by you, finding as close as possible to a happy medium between team members involved and what you want.
- On a more informal channel, ask team members to introduce themselves and their country or region and list some ways that they think their culture works differently. This will help them to familiarize each other with potential differences in approach.
- Where possible, use simpler terms and expressions in English (if that is your lingua franca) so team members don’t have to waste time running to Google Translate for every email.
With your employees (or you) out of the office, it can be difficult to ensure that they are actually doing the work they are supposed to, especially if you’re the kind of manager who enjoys a cheeky peek over people’s shoulders now and then.
- Make objectives and deliverables clear to all team members at each project stage.
- Move away from an hourly work system and towards a results-based one. Let your team know that the most important thing is getting deliverables in by their due dates, everything else is up to them.
Managing remote teams can be difficult but can also provide huge benefits to help you achieve your project objectives. Overcoming some of the natural obstacles that coordinating an international team represents takes time, effort and understanding but in the long run will be well worth it.