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Work Smart

How To Deal When Employees Are Scattered Across The World

Differences in time zones is just one of the challenges you'll face when you decide to go global. Here's how to stay on top of things when you'd rather be in bed.

[Image: Flickr user leoplus]

Today’s office environment is becoming obsolete. With companies expanding globally and seeking talent across time zones, the workplace environment is evolving and, as a result, so is the way employees interact and collaborate with each other.

U.S. companies are increasingly taking advantage of our hyper-connected society and allowing more and more workers to be based far from company headquarters. In fact, a recent Telework Research Network study revealed that between 2005 and 2012, the number of people regularly telecommuting, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers, grew by almost 80%.

Working remotely from home or in satellite offices reduces commute time and improves quality of life for employees, but it also creates challenges for managers leading a diverse workforce.

When a company’s R&D team is based in Israel, the global sales teams is dispersed throughout Europe and Asia, and the U.S. headquarters is based in Cambridge, Mass., making sure those remote teams are always working toward the same goals is complicated: In-person meetings are almost certainly a rare occurrence.

Yet despite the increasing remoteness of the U.S. workforce and the inability to walk into someone’s office to check in, managers can adapt proven management techniques to make sure their teams are still productive and achieving the business’s goals.

To ensure remote teams stay engaged, productive, and happy, managers should consider these five steps:

1. Be responsive

Being as responsive as possible to a global workforce ensures that all projects stay on track.

Randy MacDonald, senior vice president of human resources at IBM, once said, "Technology is the new water cooler." When team members are working in different time zones across the globe, technology is critical to successful communication.

Skype, email, phone, and in-person meetings (when necessary) will all have to be implemented to ensure that all members of the team are up-to-date on projects. While this may involve a greater degree of flexibility in terms of occasional early mornings or late nights, the extra effort keeps everyone on the same page.

2. Accelerate accountability

Managers need to clearly communicate team roles and responsibilities to all team members—especially those who work remotely. If team members are left wondering which projects they have ownership of, confusion and a significant lack of productively will be the norm.

3. Practice cultural awareness

If managers are working with employees from diverse backgrounds, they need to consider their employees’ varied perspectives, traditions, and languages and make necessary adjustments when communicating with them.

If a company’s head of product development is based in Beijing and the head of marketing is in New York City, their personal and professional viewpoints and practices will be different, and their manager will need to understand those differences to work effectively with them.

4. Create a connection

Although working remotely is easier than it has ever been with technologies like Skype and Google Hangout, nothing creates connections better than direct, in-person contact with the team.

An excellent manager will know when face-to-face meetings are called for and who on their team benefits more from this type of interaction.

5. Help out

When managers don’t have the ability to work face-to-face with their employees and pick up on behavioral cues, it is more difficult to judge when an employee needs help at work.

Managers should always be on the lookout for a team member who is having difficulty, either with an especially challenging task or just managing their regular workload. As any problems arise, managers should be as responsive as possible to address the situation and provide any additional support or training as needed.

Andrew Shapiro is vice president, sales director, and manager of a team stretched across three time zones at The Forum Corp., a Boston-based training and development organization.

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