The logistics involved in managing a team that works in the same building are complicated enough, so managing a remote team with members dispersed across the globe is often an unenviable task.
It will surprise no one to hear that leading a virtual team requires a rethinking of traditional management styles. That’s because a remote team is less like a set of satellites revolving around a single planet, and more like a solar system of individual planets, all following different trajectories that occasionally intersect.
So what are the important differences to consider when managing a global team?
Modern communication technology is what makes remote working and global teams possible in the first place, so effective communication channels are really like the wheels on a car – without them, you’re going nowhere.
The importance of having a communal communication space is not to be underestimated. Team Appointedd, like many others, is a keen advocate of Slack which serves as a great ‘virtual office’, making it as simple to ask a quick question of someone hundreds of miles away as it is to lean over to the next desk. But it’s important not to rely too much on IM and written communication, as by far the most efficient way to relay complicated information is verbally. Scheduling regular appointments for calls and catch ups with everyone on the team is the way to keep projects on target.
Geographical location would probably be about 80% less of an issue for remote teams if it weren’t for the small (or rather, big and annoying) issue of timezones. A simple task like planning a meeting becomes a test of endurance when your colleague on the next continent takes seven hours to reply to your emails and there’s only a two hour window when your working hours overlap.
It was with this challenge in mind that Appointedd developed first-of-its-kind cross-timezone capabilities, which make it easy to book with colleagues anywhere in the world – or let them book with you – with no need for energy-sapping timezone calculations on either end. It’s even simple to plan group meetings with participants scattered far and wide with flexible group booking functionality.
There’s a strange paradox in leading remote teams in that the distance between management and employee makes a certain level of self-sufficiency unavoidable, and yet at the same time it demands even more clarity and directness. Most of us know to some degree the unique challenge that is working independently, at home or just away from supervision. It’s not that we’re like school children playing truant, it’s just that without the work environment there can sometimes be less structure and therefore less motivation to sit down and get to it. And no one will know if you have four tea breaks in an hour and a half.
So keeping a remote team focused relies on a manager’s ability to outline clear goals. When everyone’s in the same place, it’s much easier to be collaborative and more laissez-faire about day-to-day tasks while still getting to the finish line. When everyone’s on their own, the teamwork has to happen preemptively, so that when individuals are working away independently they know what it is they have to do and when they need to do it. An individual’s role also needs to be much more clearly outlined so that there is no confusion over which tasks fall into whose to do lists. Thankfully there are plenty of useful tools available to help make task assignment and to do lists clear and in check.
One sometimes overlooked aspect of bringing together team members from all over the world is the question of culture and lifestyle and how significantly they can differ from country to country. Everyone on your staff is there because they share a vision, in one sense, but there are still all kinds of potential complications that can arise. For a start, are you up to speed on national holidays where your employees live? Sure, they’ll probably let you know when they need time off for religious or cultural reasons, but still something to bear in mind when planning your AGM to avoid plonking it in the middle of a major festival if at all possible.
It’s also worth remembering that different countries and cultures have different ways of approaching work, and attitudes towards everything from pitching ideas to structuring meetings to what time of day is appropriate for lunch can vary wildly. This is something that will become more apparent with time as the team settles into routines, but flexibility and an open mind are key for getting the best out of everyone.
Published on 24 April 2018