Here’s what I know: wherever you’re based, communication is the most important tool

Running a global business isn’t just the remit of major international conglomerates. Many small- to medium-sized businesses have elements of international staffing. Whether it’s because labour is less expensive in other territories or because the skills they need simply aren’t available locally, companies often look beyond our own borders to hire staff and open offices. With our exit from the European Union looking imminent, small- to medium-sized businesses will need to search outside of the more traditional markets for employees who can service their needs. And with email, project management software and video conference tools, the need to be in the same room, the same town or the same country to work together has long gone. It’s as normal these days to be working side-by-side, albeit virtually, with a colleague from Belgrade or Beijing as Birmingham.

Motivate your global workforce

We’ve learnt a lot about running a business across many territories since we opened our offices in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, so I thought I’d share some of our key learning experiences. Managing a growing global team presents a set of new challenges. People can be working across different continents and time zones, with all the linguistic and cultural diversity that this brings. So, how do you motivate and get the best from workers who may never set foot in the same room? Make use of time windows when everyone can get on conference calls together. Emails are fine for day-to-day instructions and updates, but you lose the tone, nuance and body language of working face-to-face. Conference calls and video conferencing are a far more human experience and enable a remote worker to feel part of the team. Your international team members need to know they are just that—part of the team. Particularly as, if they’re working alone, they may begin to feel isolated and cut off. Sometimes, you can end up with a “them and us” culture, where the international team feels separate from the local end of the business and develops its own identity, which may not be the right fit.

Communicate regularly

As the leader of an international team, you need to find ways to make yourself available to talk regularly to your employees, in person, one-to-one. If you’re running a larger company, hire strong supervising managers who buy into your company culture to cover specific regions or teams and check that they are communicating regularly and consistently. Think about posting some of your best people on secondment to the international offices. They can instil the company culture and learn new practices and different ways of operating for when they return to HQ. Nothing beats face-to-face contact. If possible, bring the entire global team together for a conference or some kind of event. Coming together helps boost company buy-in, builds trust, and can make it easier for remote workers to make the move in-house or vice versa.

Embrace change

We’ve learnt a huge amount from our own experiences managing our international offices, and they have brought a similar wealth of knowledge and best practice back to our UK operation. As technology develops further, management covering long distances will likely one day lose its impersonal and remote nature, and the world will feel closer and more personal than ever. So, when those changes do arrive, the most successful will be the ones who readily embrace them.

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