by Sarah K. White

6 tips for managing a global workforce

Sep 22, 2016
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

Telecommuting has made it easier for businesses to operate on a global scale. But for managers that means they might have employees scattered around the world, which poses unique challenges.

Technology has drastically changed the role of management in the enterprise, as teams, and even entire companies, grow more disperse. In fact, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you could eventually work for a company with an entirely remote workforce.

While technology has brought plenty of positives to the corporate world, it’s also made managers’ jobs more difficult. How do you effectively measure engagement and performance if you have a team of workers sprinkled across the country or even the globe?

Phil Shawe, Co-CEO of TransPerfect manages over 4,000 employees across 100 countries — and he’s learned a lot from the experience. He’s had to get creative to make it work, but based on lessons learned growing his company from an NYU dorm room in 1992 to a global operation, he has six tips to offer for effectively managing remote teams.

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Management is a skill

First and foremost, Shawe points out that management needs to be considered a skill — some people have it, and some people don’t. The goal of a manager, according to Shawe, is to help employees recognize and exceed their potential, and that requires a specific type of personality. But in reality, most of the time good workers get promoted to management based on performance and experience, but those traits don’t necessarily translate into management skills.

“Managing people is usually an entirely different skill set than what earned them their position in leadership. Recognizing this, and being proactive about training people to be great leaders and managers is especially critical in a global workforce environment,” he says.

And those skills become even more important when you consider the varying cultures and workplace norms across the globe. You want managers that are flexible and adaptable, and who will understand that management techniques are going to vary depending on the employee and their culture.

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You’ll need to travel

If you have a global workforce, it’s important to get out to the different offices to spend time with your workers in other countries. “I still take it upon myself to visit as many offices as possible each year, as well as to attend large events, holiday parties, conferences, client events and award ceremonies around the world,” he says.

Even with the wealth of communication tools at your hands, you still want to get face time with these workers. It’s hard enough instilling company culture in a local office, let alone multiple offices scattered around the globe.

Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at HighGround, a company focused on employee engagement software says a sense of community is one of the biggest factors in employee engagement. “It’s important that remote employees feel connected to their team members on a personal level, and are a part of the company’s culture and values.”

Stop micromanaging

If you want your global workforce to thrive, it’s time to stop micromanaging. Shawe says the most effective way to manage a diverse and dispersed workforce is to hire the right people and “get out of their way.”

Rather than micromanage, he “gives a lot of advice,” but avoids giving too many orders. Shawe says you need to go visit your other offices, hire the right people, give them the tools and resources they need to thrive, and then step back and let them work.

“When you micromanage or manage at the task-level, you create the opportunity for excuses. I have found that managing at the results-level works far better globally, and allows you to both hold managers more accountable and leave them feeling more empowered,” he says.

Focus on innovation

Innovation is quickly becoming a cornerstone of business, and if you aren’t innovating, you aren’t keeping up. In fact, as Shawe puts it, “change is the only constant in business,” which means fostering innovation and adaptability in your workforce is crucial to avoid future problems. You want to ensure that innovation is a focus for every office, and that all of your employees — no matter their location — feel they have a voice in the company and that their ideas will be heard and recognized.

And you might want to extend that innovation to team communication techniques; you can even try opening it up to your employees to see if they have suggestions for the best ways to maintain communication at work. The last thing you want to do, is implement a lot of tools that your employees won’t want to use – forcing them to find their own avenues to communicate.

For instance, Harris says that she asks her remote workers to use video chat, rather than just calling in to meetings on the phone or relying on text-based chat platforms. Since implementing video chat tools, she says she’s noticed her workers feel “more connected to their colleagues and their role in general.”

Be an example

It’s no secret that the best way to lead is by example, and Shawe says that, in the case of management, that couldn’t be more true. Engagement, productivity and innovation start with the CEO and trickle down from there — if your workers see management and executive leadership.

Harris also recommends recognizing achievements as they happen rather than overlooking positive efforts and only acknowledging mistakes or missteps. Demonstrate your own levels of engagement by recognizing employees in real-time, instead of waiting for their yearly review, or ignoring them entirely. The more positive feedback you deliver, the happier workers will be, and the more likely they’ll be to pass that positivity around the office.

“Recognition platforms provide managers with a natural outlet in which to recognize great work in real time. This is crucial for geographically diverse teams and employees who might only see their managers when they’re in the same office,” she says.

Have fun

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but if you want to keep your employees engaged and maintain strong professional relationships, you have to have some fun. Shawe likes to choose fun locations for training and team-building exercises, noting its “good for morale,” and gives employees a fun way to connect.

He also recommends investing in philanthropic efforts, noting it has helped his company bridge gaps between teams and give all of his employees a sense of purpose and community. You can opt to plan a volunteer day, or even have employees select and vote on a cause they’d like to support, so they feel more invested in the cause.

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