Strategies for Effectively Managing Remote Employees in a Multinational Company
Managing people from across the world isn’t easy. But if you are taking your business global, it’s part of what you need to do to be successful in your expansion.
During the expansion process, you’ll almost certainly encounter obstacles such as cultural dissimilarities, time zone differences and language barriers.
It may sometimes feel like the odds are stacked against you. But hang in there!
The good news is that managing remote employees from the other side of the word can be done. And it can be done effectively.
Here are a few things to consider, as well as some strategies to implement, when managing remote employees within your multinational company.
Why you should have international offices
If you are aiming to take your business global and target markets that does not reside in the U.S., having an international office in those locations can prove very beneficial.
A local in-country office will make it easier for your company to recognize and take advantage of different business opportunities that you otherwise would not have been aware of without an office near your target market.
Your local partners and employees will also have a wealth of knowledge about your target demographic. This knowledge is invaluable and something you likely won’t be able to replicate from researching on the other side of the world.
Not only will your own staff be able to provide better insight into strategies that will work and those that won’t, but your customers in these markets will be more likely to take you seriously if you have a local office near them.
This is especially the case if your customers need assistance after purchase. If they are able to visit a local office, or call and speak with someone in their own country, they’ll feel more at ease making the initial purchase than they would if they had to contact someone from another country for any post-purchase assistance.
What to consider before opening an international office
Once you decide to open an international office for your new target market, researching more about the market is a “must” before you make any definitive moves.
First, in order for things to run smoothly, you’ll want to make sure you have a clearly defined plan in place. Decide how many offices you’ll need, which countries or regions you’ll be expanding to first, and what exactly your company’s objectives are for expanding there.
Knowing the details of your launch and what you hope to accomplish is critical.
Once you have these details, make a genuine effort to learn about the cultures where your other team members will be located.
Learning about a country’s culture can be as simple as an Internet search, but you can also look for professional culture coaches should you need more structured information.
In addition, make it a priority to learn the local rules and regulations. For example, each country has its own unique regulations, tax codes and packaging requirements.
These rules and requirements will not be the same as what you are accustomed to here in the U.S. It’s important to understand these rules well before you launch, or you might run into some obstacles related to compliance issues.
How to respect and embrace cultural differences
Once your international office is running, it’s time to put what you’ve learned about cultural differences into practice.
Your new employees will be operating under an entirely different schedule, for example. If they are located in another time zone, be sensitive to this when scheduling conference calls and video meetings.
If your U.S.-based office is closed outside of your international office’s normal business hours, consider having one or two people at the U.S. office work earlier or later so that someone is always available to assist in the event of an issue that needs immediate attention. Another option is to have someone be on call, especially if such issues are few and far between.
Outside of the normal workday hours, you’ll also need to accommodate different holidays and labor regulations. Make sure that you plan ahead for coverage if that office will need to be closed for a holiday, and be mindful that they may need or desire to work shorter or longer than typical workdays/weeks, depending on where the office is located.
Also, be sensitive to language barriers.
Remember, English may not be their first language, so try to speak slowly, clearly and avoid using too much slang. You may also wish to create a written agenda that everyone can review prior to any meetings, record minutes of meetings and send a meeting summary afterward.
It’s good practice to check periodically to ensure everyone understands what is being discussed and that all are on the same page, but do so respectfully so as not to appear demeaning or as though you assume they do not understand you.
Should company materials be translated at your international location?
The short answer here is: it depends!
If you have an international office in a country where English is not the primary language, it is beneficial to have human resources documents and communications translated. These include employee handbooks, job training materials, and even announcements and memos that will have an impact on how these employees perform their jobs.
This way, everyone can be on the same playing field and interpret the information as it was intended. It also helps to eliminate “gray areas” that could otherwise be caused by language barriers.
However, you won’t necessarily need to translate your interoffice memos or your general communications, assuming the employees in your remote locations all have a good understanding of the English language.
Be sure to have anything you do need translated handled by a professional to avoid any potential issues.
Communicating well with international employees makes them feel valued
When managing employees across multinational sites, clear and consistent communication is key.
And just like the team members you have within your U.S. offices, your international colleagues and employees want to feel like they are a valued part of the team. So take an interest in what is important to your colleagues and teammates so they feel like an important part of the team from the beginning.
Avoid micromanaging and trust your on-site management teams to handle the day-to-day pieces of business, but make sure you are checking in with your teams at least weekly, preferably via a video-based meeting.
If your offsite employees get to see you on a regular basis, they’ll see how engaged and truly interested you are in their work. Despite the distance between offices, they’ll feel appreciated and dedicated to the organization.
These employees add a lot of value to your organization!
Celebrate their victories publicly when possible. You can send a company-wide email for small things or host a video conference to shine a spotlight on employees who you feel deserve praise for a job well done.
Even if you can’t be there to celebrate in person, it’s still critical that your international employees feel appreciated in the same way you’d show this appreciation for those with whom you work in person.
How to use technology to bridge communication gaps with remote international team members
There’s only so much that can be said through email, and personalization tends to get lost if it’s the only form of communication you have with your with international offices.
There are so many good tools available to make communication easier between team members in different locations.
Try things like videoconferences, an intranet team page for project collaboration, or a virtual coffee room for work-appropriate personal conversations so that team members can get to know each other better.
You can also foster a healthy competition by holding team challenges across sites. Form the teams with employees at different locations to encourage them to get to know each other and work together as a unit.
Even with all the technology available, there’s nothing like meeting people in person, so if you’re able to do so, plan a trip!
If you are able to visit these remote locations a few times a year, it will go a long way in developing relationships with these offsite employees, fostering a better sense of teamwork and company loyalty for the employees and team members who work with you internationally.