By Yasmeen Qahwash
Feb. 14, 2020
While managing and maintaining engagement among a global workforce may seem like a daunting challenge, it’s not impossible.
Operating globally can present additional challenges and concerns when it comes to engaging employees. These hurdles can go well beyond time zone differences — the divide in cultures, communication styles, values and gaining a better understanding of the global marketplace are to be considered as well.
The goal is to make sure that employees feel connected to each other, the culture and the company’s values regardless of their location.
“If you are working with a team spread around the world, especially in different time zones, it is important to remember the human being in all of it.” said Joe Flanagan, fitness app developer at GetSongBPM, an open source database of beats per minute. “If your employees feel valued and connected, they will remain motivated and loyal.”
Onboarding is a great place to start. Tammy Perkins, chief people officer of PMI Worldwide, a global manufacturer of food and beverage container solutions, said that managing a global team requires understanding and adopting professional practices of other cultures.
Standardizing the onboarding process worldwide can ensure that everyone starts out with a strong foundation, which can result in developing and retaining happier, more productive employees.
“The onboarding process is one of the most important leadership functions. It is fundamental to success when it comes to developing strong, diverse teams,” Perkins said via email. “The additional complexity of managing remote, international teams makes it even more important that we get onboarding right.”
Michael Tindall, founder and CEO of virtual staffing company Opus Global Operations, said that transparency and feedback are also key factors for managing successful global teams.
“Only knowing your piece of the puzzle can limit what is achievable if the team has a transparent vision of where things are going. The same thing is on the flip side, when times are rough, everyone digs and supports the organization from top to bottom,” Tindall said via email. “A major challenge for the company is everyone’s challenge. When your team feels that they are responsible for the whole picture and not just ‘their’ part, people will get creative to make things work.”
Tindall also pointed out how essential it is in becoming accustomed to the varying employment laws worldwide. “Employment laws vary widely from country to country and these create cultures within themselves in the way you have to do business,” Tindall said. “You have to learn about and be aware of these or you will be in for a shock when someone quits or you have a major issue on your hands from something that you weren’t aware of that applies to that locality.”
In addition, cultural awareness and diversity training should be regulated throughout the entire organization to educate employees about what to expect regarding cultural differences and how to work successfully with colleagues from around the world. Katy Roby, marketing manager at e-learning company Valamis, said that investing in an employee’s personal learning and development is a huge contributing factor to employee loyalty.
Roby also pointed out that one of the biggest challenges in a global workforce is creating a truly global work culture despite multiple cultures.
“Empathic evaluation for each individual work culture in different cultural ecosystems is very important in supporting employees and addressing challenges,” she said.
One of the most common concerns when it comes to maintaining engagement among a global workforce is communication. Annmarie Neal, chief human resources officer at HR technology company Ultimate Software, said that leaders should consider developing a team communication and operating agreement for remote and global teams. These should make clear when status reports are needed, what communication venues are preferred, what should be communicated and to whom and how information should be presented. Neal said that these plans can help instill a greater sense of accountability among team members while reinforcing deadlines.
“Even without in-person meetings, when business leaders are able to see their remote teams connecting and collaborating on a work challenge, or simply chatting about something fun in their personal lives to close out a productive video call, it’s easier for them to recognize how virtual employees may be spread far and wide but remain engaged and able to make a real impact within the company,” Neal said. “Managers need to ensure they are creating room for that collaboration, with more group projects or virtual hangouts that mimic traditional office setups.”
Managers must also be able to recognize the signs of disengagement in order to successfully measure and address employee engagement, according to Neal. “Spotting disengaged employees isn’t always easy, especially when remote workers are in the mix. When remote workers join teams, they don’t have a physical presence, but they still send signals through the ways they make themselves ‘seen’ at work,” Neal said via email. “Whether it’s how they respond, make deadlines or join meetings, employees’ virtual body language can be just as informative as the analog version.”
Neal also recommends engagement surveys, in-person meetings, off-site meetings and informal catch-ups whenever possible to help take a “regular temperature check” across the organization and to help build rapport with virtual employees from the start.
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