Global teams of remote international employees have become the norm rather than the exception. In fact, if the ability to work from home was taken away, two-thirds of employees would immediately start looking for a job that offered flexibility, and 39% would simply quit, according to the 2022 State of Remote Work report by Global Workplace Analytics and Owl Labs.
Distributed teams are the future, so remote work strategies are an essential part of your managerial toolkit. Once you’ve gotten over the hurdle of sourcing, hiring, and onboarding overseas candidates to your company, the ongoing work of managing, directing, and mentoring begins.
How can you successfully manage your remote team and foster collaboration across different time zones? We’ve got you covered with these six best practices. Let’s dive in.
1. Set clear expectations for your remote team upfront
A key first step to managing remote global talent is to set crystal-clear expectations for the team. This will help avoid confusion, and promote a more effective remote work environment.
Set expectations regarding:
When do you expect remote workers to be working and reachable? Should they work standard hours in their time zones, or the company HQ’s time zone?
Define core hours for meetings and synchronous work so there’s a clear expectation of when everyone will be online—without any remote team members feeling like they need to be responsive 24/7. Encourage the whole team to install a time zone app like Time Buddy so they’re aware of when everyone is available.
If a strict 9 to 5 schedule isn’t crucial, encourage employees working at home to try nonlinear workdays and experiment with what work hours are best for them.
Do some employees expect lickety-split email replies, while others think responding in two days is reasonable? What’s the expected response time for Slack DMs?
Have a conversation around response times with your team and set guidelines to get everyone on the same page. You might agree that all messages should be answered by the end of the next business day, for example.
Remember that management sets the tone for the whole company. If you respond to messages at 11 p.m., new hires might think that’s what’s expected of them, too. Ask employees to schedule messages and emails for when their colleagues are available, or make it clear that they’re not expected to respond on evenings or weekends.
Will your team have fixed meeting times? How often will you meet in real time? Make sure you schedule team meetings so that employees in different countries don’t need to join too early or too late in their day. For example, instead of defaulting to one-hour meetings you could try making 45-minute meetings the standard to give employees more breathing room in their calendars.
Make sure anyone who sets a meeting has a clear purpose and agenda, and invites only the relevant people. Is the purpose to share information, seek input for a decision, or make a decision together? If employees don’t receive the meeting agenda, they can ask for one.
Communicate whether you expect employees to keep their cameras on most of the time, and share basic meeting guidelines like staying on mute if you’re not speaking.
Well-defined goals help employees prioritize their work and understand what needs to get done. To get new hires off on the right foot, co-create a 30-60-90 plan for their first three months at the company, and schedule check-ins to adapt the plan as you need to.
To clarify individual roles and responsibilities for different projects, you can also use a RACI Matrix where you outline the different responsibility types: responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
Agree on a system with your team to keep track of progress and results, whether it’s weekly progress reports through a project management tool like Trello or Basecamp, daily check-ins via Slack, or biweekly meetings through a video conferencing tool like Zoom.
Scheduling regular check-ins with employees is a must, since spontaneous interactions don’t happen in a remote work environment. Setting expectations around career mentorship is also important, as employees consider opportunities to learn and grow the top driver of work culture.
2. Establish policies for collaboration tools
With the shift to remote work accelerated by the pandemic, technology has taken a central role. There are more options than ever to collaborate digitally—one Gartner survey reveals a 44% increase in employees’ use of collaboration tools since 2019.
While digital communication tools are crucial for distributed teams, they’re also causing platform overwhelm. Work communications like email, Teams, and Slack are the biggest distractions for remote workers, according to a 2021 study conducted by Wakefield Research for email platform Superhuman.
To help combat information overload and improve employee happiness and productivity, commit to specific platforms and define policies with your remote team for how to collaborate digitally. For example, you use email for client communication, Slack, or Teams for everyday internal communication, cloud phone systems for quick calls, and Zoom for meetings.
You might adopt a virtual-first model for your distributed team where asynchronous communication is the default. Dropbox, for example, sets clear guidelines for how to communicate effectively in a virtual first environment, including how to shift your mindset and be more clear, warm, and inclusive.
3. Listen to remote workers
As a people leader, listening is your superpower. Instead of taking a top-down management approach, make decisions about work practices together with employees by having open conversations. Let go of the idea that you have all the answers, and instead ask employees what’s important to them—and don’t shy away from difficult questions.
For example, you might initially think daily check-ins are necessary for your remote team, but after asking employees what they think, you realize weekly meetings are the clear preference. When employees feel heard and are involved in making decisions, they’ll be more committed to their work and happy to contribute.
Keep the lines of communication with your employees open and show them empathy and compassion. Listen without being defensive, and make it clear they can come to you when they need support.
Damon Bates, executive advisor and consultant with Bates Communications, advises, “Ask open-ended questions that provoke thinking and help the team think beyond ‘I’m doing fine,’ so that you can help people when they need it. And you can reveal a little of yourself to them so they experience your human side, too.”
4. Trust your remote workforce to manage themselves
Successful remote work is based on trust. As a manager, your job is about creating an environment where employees can do their best work—rather than telling people how to do their jobs.
Give employees autonomy and steer clear from micromanaging, which negatively impacts employee morale, creativity, job performance, job satisfaction, and retention. Conversely, employees who feel trusted and respected are high performers, which leads to more innovation.
Trusting employees, however, doesn’t mean withholding support. Raghu Krishnamoorthy, Senior Fellow and Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Chief Learning Officer doctoral program, argues for micro-understanding over micromanaging. Micro-understanding is about becoming involved at the proper level of detail and to know, inspire, and help your remote team in completing tasks.
Krishnamoorthy explains, “Micro-understanding is about trusting, but making sure there are no unanticipated bumps; delegating, but being there to keep workers from stumbling; and being flexible, but always heeding the warning signs.”
To strike the balance between trusting remote employees and offering support, encourage them to take ownership of the problems they face and ask for help when they need it. For example, if an employee is facing a hurdle with a project, don’t just offer to fix it yourself, but suggest they speak to someone else on the team who’s been through a similar problem, or call a meeting with the team to brainstorm solutions.
5. Foster connections between remote employees
Loneliness and feeling disconnected from colleagues are the most common challenges with remote work. Without creating opportunities for meaningful connection, it’s all too easy for employees spread across different countries to feel isolated at work.
The Zoom happy hour is an old standby, but you might want to get a little more creative when it comes to fostering social interactions. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Use a tool like Donut to prompt employees to connect one-to-one. They can connect via direct message, schedule a video call, or set up a walk and talk to get a screen break. This works great to connect people from different teams and departments.
- Create interest-based Slack channels that are optional for people to join. They could be for sharing pet photos, starting a book club, or sharing favorite recipes. Encourage people to start their own channels and invite others to join.
- Add open office hours to your calendar. During these time slots, people can join you for a short chat, brainstorm to spark new ideas, or ask for help if they’re in a pickle.
- Set up regular learning sessions that anyone can arrange to share knowledge and ideas with the company. Have a placeholder, like 2 p.m. on Thursdays, to lower the threshold for booking these sessions. Encourage employees to nominate each other for different topics.
To foster social interactions during regular team meetings, ask simple check-in and check-out questions, like “What are you most excited to work on today?” or “Are you dreading anything today?”
Avoid toxic positivity and allow people to share where they’re at, like if they’re having a rough day or dealing with a personal issue. Resist the urge to give a solution or advice right away—sometimes people just need to be heard and feel supported.
6. Adopt a hybrid work approach that suits your team
While some of your overseas employees are remote, others might be based at the company HQ, meaning you need to set hybrid work policies.
When it comes to leading a hybrid team, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every team needs to have a conversation about their ideal hybrid work model. Some hybrid teams might choose to meet once a month at the physical office, but for others, meeting in person on a regular basis might not be possible due to budget and visa constraints.
Clarify the purpose of the office and the value it brings employees. Acknowledge that employees will have different needs and preferences when it comes to working and socializing. For example, 39% of employees across the US prefer working completely remotely, while 24% prefer a hybrid work environment, according to a 2022 Rippling survey. What flexibility can you offer employees, while also upholding your company’s own collaboration styles? Can you subsidize overseas employees to work from a coworking space if you don’t have an office in their city?
It’s possible to find a balance between setting expectations as a company and enabling employees to find work-life harmony. Establishing a hybrid work model involves adapting to how your team works best so you can keep people as engaged and productive as possible in different environments.
Characteristics of a successful distributed team
- Trusting environment. The manager and employees embrace vulnerability and show empathy and compassion to one another.
- Empowered employees. Remote employees understand their roles and what’s expected of them, are accountable for their work, and openly share their opinions.
- Transparent communication. The remote team uses emotionally intelligent language and communicates often and well. Policies are clear, workflows are transparent, and information is easily accessible.
- Inclusive and fair. People managers and HR leaders make space for diverse perspectives, ask about people’s needs, and take actions accordingly.
- Positive company culture. Employees feel valued, have work-life balance, make time for learning and development, and have opportunities to connect with their colleagues.
Manage your remote team from one system
Global teams are a competitive advantage, and they can be a cost-effective way for companies to grow. But managing remote employees in foreign countries comes with unique challenges—from ensuring strong communication to choosing the best tools and technology.
Using multiple systems and manual processes to onboard employees, manage time and attendance, and assign trainings, for example, creates data silos and busy work. But with Rippling, you can effortlessly manage top talent from around the world by bringing everything into a single system.
Rippling is the ultimate solution to hiring, paying, and managing people overseas. Learn why Rippling is essential for any business with growth goals.
Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.