How to manage a remote workforce: 5 tips for global employers

May 3, 2022

how to manage a remote workforce

Globalization is no longer reserved for the largest organizations. Today, it’s rare to find a supply chain, production line, development and support teams, or fulfillment model that isn’t international. This shift means more companies are hiring remote workers in other countries—and it’s often redefining management structures, oversight capabilities and company culture.

Let’s explore how global employers can overcome challenges and manage a remote workforce effectively.

Tips for managing a remote global workforce

Remote work is more popular than ever, and this trend is not disappearing anytime soon. Employee expectation has changed as those who do work remotely enjoy an improved work-life balance and increased productivity, among other benefits.

For some global employers, it can be a challenge managing an increasingly dispersed team while offering the flexibility that workers want. Some considerations include:

  • Lack of clarity. It may take more time and effort to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding projects, roles and responsibilities.
  • Collaboration across time zones. Team members located in time zones with no overlapping core work times may need to take extra steps to collaborate effectively.
  • Communication. Cultural differences and fewer or no opportunities for direct, in-person interaction could lead to miscommunication.
  • Onboarding. The steps required to employ workers in different countries vary, so it can take additional resources to hire a globally distributed workforce while accounting for differing legal requirements.
  • Accountability. Some managers might find it a challenge to track employee productivity and oversee accountability when teams are working in different places and at different times.
  • Culture. Working remotely may make it harder for some employees to feel connected to the culture of the organization.

So, how do you prevent and overcome these obstacles within your organization?

1. Set clear expectations and make them visible to the entire team

Uncertainty fosters confusion and can lead to unnecessary mistakes that influence productivity and efficiency. Employees need clear guidelines about their role and the organization’s approach to remote work.

Employers should clearly spell out:

  • Priorities
  • Milestones
  • Performance goals
  • Responsibilities
  • Organizational policies

In addition to setting expectations, global organizations should have employees do the following:

  • Provide contact information. Remote workers should keep their current contact information up to date and note the best times for getting in touch.
  • Communicate availability. Remote employees should consult with their team leader, manager or the appropriate party if they’re going to be unavailable during their usual work hours. And if the organization doesn’t require set working times, employees should clarify when they’ll be available and unavailable.
  • Ask questions. Encourage remote team members to ask questions about anything they’re not sure of. If they feel comfortable expressing uncertainty, they’ll feel less compelled to guess or make assumptions, which could lead to deeper misunderstandings.
  • Voice their needs and concerns. Ensure remote team members know they can safely share concerns like working from home allowance, and ask for the support they need.

By providing sufficient opportunities to check in and clarify expectations as needed, you can create a healthy employer-employee relationship and retain insight into individual performance and personal development goals.

2. Use digital tools and technologies that foster cohesion

Digital services and tools can close any gaps separating international teams. These include:

  • Collaboration tools. Use tools to help distributed teams work together. Being able to see the status of projects, even those they may not be contributing to directly, provides employees with a broader picture of what’s going on in the organization and how everyone’s tasks fit together.
  • Communication tools. ​​Many collaboration tools have chat and other communication features built in, but sometimes employees may need to speak in real time. Having dedicated tools for one-on-one and group communication will help keep your global teams connected.
  • Productivity. Support efficiency and success across your organization with tools that organize tasks, provide reminders and enhance the function of other tools.
  • Project management tools. Small-scale projects may be easily managed with collaborative tools, but more robust project management tools will better support global teams tackling large and long-term projects.

3. Communicate regularly

Establishing a strong digital communication plan is essential to the success of a remote team. That said, you can have too much of a good thing—global teams must avoid overcommunication.

First, it encourages micromanagement, which is inefficient for the manager and frustrating for the employee. Additionally, excessive team meetings are a drain on the most valuable resource: time.

Instead, consider communication through the lens of trust.

For remote staff to do their best work, they need to understand the scope of their work and have confidence that their team will support their efforts. Similarly, managers need time to make high-level decisions that positively affect the trajectory of their department. To gain this time, they must trust the work being done by their team is on target and only course-correct when it’s not.

Well-positioned meetings and check-ins help establish this trust.

When planning your meeting schedule, consider what’s necessary for each team rather than the entire organization. If you’re not sure your meetings are providing value, use the Goldilocks method: try a few more, then try a few less, tracking how your employees respond.

4. Track progress

After clarifying expectations and establishing KPIs, you must diligently track them. According to Chris Christoff, lead developer of Monster Insights:

“I suggest creating a KPI spreadsheet for your teams, so they know what goals they need to meet each quarter. Regardless of their time zones, our team members know what's expected of them and when we meet up every week. If we can see at a glance who is doing well and who needs help, we can keep projects on track while helping our employees hone their skills.”

Tracking progress will keep employees accountable and help ensure everyone is contributing to the completion of projects and the overall goals of the organization.

5. Offer opportunities to come together

Remote teams can sometimes feel like disconnected bubbles, and when colleagues are scattered around the globe, perhaps with cultural differences and language barriers, it can be that much more challenging to develop a strong sense of community.

Creating opportunities for remote employees to interact with one another outside of the context of work tasks and projects can help foster culture. Options include:

  • Team-building exercises. Adapt traditional team-building exercises for virtual use, or come up with unique virtual team building activities designed just for your team. Give team members the chance to suggest ideas to improve employee engagement.
  • Virtual hangouts. Virtual break rooms and online hangouts can provide a way for the members of your team to get to know each other and feel more connected across borders.
  • Virtual tours. Does your organization have any physical office locations? Offer virtual tours so employees can experience them from anywhere around the globe. You can also allow employees to show off their workspaces if they’d like.
  • Occasional in-person meetups. Getting to meet face-to-face—even if it’s only once every year or two—can strengthen a virtual team’s sense of unity significantly.

Growing your global remote workforce

Successfully managing a global remote workforce inevitably leads to the need to expand it. When you find talented candidates in countries where your company doesn’t have a business entity, however, that can be tricky—especially when it comes to HR and payroll compliance.

An employer of record (EOR) can help your organization navigate the complexity so you can hire and onboard international workers quickly and compliantly. The EOR is responsible for ensuring compliant contracts, benefits and payroll—so all you have to focus on is managing your remote workers and the contributions they bring that help your company succeed.

Learn more about how partnering with an EOR like Global Employment Outsourcing (GEO) can help you build out your international remote team by contacting us today.

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