Sam checked the time on his phone – 5:00am. As he sipped his coffee, Sam prepared for his phone call with Chloe in Ireland, his EMEA Regional Director. Since his software company expanded globally last year, Sam needed to manage new employees in new markets.
Sam’s problem was that he never felt like he could trust these new workers like he could his on-site staff. Sam had tried to solve this by implementing a detailed reporting process. That way, he would know exactly what Chloe and her counterpart in Hong Kong, Yang “Oliver” Jun, were doing with their time. He also invited them to daily leadership conference calls, which they both regularly attended.
Sam wanted these foreign employees to feel included as part of the team, even though meetings were well outside of regular business hours. Sam felt the bristled tone as he and Chloe exchanged greetings. But how could Sam motivate his global remote-based workers to the productivity levels of his home office staff?
The Promise & Perils of Global Remote Employees
International employees in remote offices around the world present interesting opportunities and challenges. Companies are realizing that they can access a much larger talent pool when they offer telecommuting positions. When expanding into new international markets, remote-based staff can be incrementally added based on a growing understanding of a new market’s potential for market access, supplier access, capital access, etc.
As Sam is discovering, managing from afar is not as simple as it appears. A leader does not have the same level of access to their telecommuting staff. Throw in a half dozen time zones to cross and timing becomes an additional hurdle to online collaboration and supervision. The trick is to focus productivity and performance outcomes. With that in mind, here are:
5 Tips for motivating your global workers:
1. Set Clear Expectations and Stretch Goals. This is particularly critical for global employees because local business rules and culture are always different than at the home office. For instance, American companies have to set strongly worded company policies that comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), else American company offices could face harsh penalties and criminal charges in the United States.
Setting quantifiable goals for all staff that takes the focus off of “how” things are done and instead focuses on “what” needs to be accomplished. In other words, build whatever type of boat you want, but sail it to Port A by Tuesday.
2. Hire employees overseas with a successful telecommuting track record. Add it to the job requirements and to the interview questions for candidates. Working remotely takes self discipline and independence. Not everyone is meant for this work environment.
3. Conference Calls and Complicated Reporting do not increase engagement, only resentment. Conference calls take away people’s ability to read non-verbal communication signals. When navigating between work cultures, these signals give international staff instantaneous feedback so that they can make real-time adjustments to communications. Without that, remote staff are flying blind and likely frustrated.
Reporting can be a helpful management tool. But more reporting rarely improves results. One EMEA Regional Director complained to me that he spent every Friday just creating the complex reports for his American home office. The extra reporting not only reduced his productivity, but his motivation as well.
4. Face-to-Face Video Conferencing builds trust and fosters problem solving. Time and again, a 1:1 video conversation with an employee is the best forum for asking and answering questions, setting expectations and reacting to updates – both positive and negative. To make the most of video time, send updates ahead of time for staff to read and digest the information. Regularly scheduled video calls several times per week are best when it’s practical.
5. Don’t set your foreign employees up as independent contractors. Most countries do not allow employees to work separately as contractors because it circumvents local labor laws and employer taxation. Imagine what it would feel like when your company’s first request of you is to do something illegal on their behalf. Instead, either register an in-country subsidiary or hire them through Global Employment Outsourcing (GEO).
Back to Sam, our software company CEO and his new Asian and European Directors. He needs to call back Chloe using a video call to allow for face-to-face dialog. This will help him build greater rapport. Sam can ask questions about her progress on building her region for the company, as well as how it’s going working remotely. By asking the right questions, now much of the extra reporting can be eliminated, adding to Chloe and Oliver’s productivity. By receiving the review of yesterday’s management meeting, Chloe will have had time to think about how decisions would affect her region and is able to formulate better questions for Sam. Now both Sam and Chloe feel like their conversation is moving issues forward and improving their working relationship.
In time, a successful director will need to add local staff in an overseas market. But these first few employees are critical to long-term overseas growth. Their engagement needs to be a leadership priority.
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