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The art (and science) of managing a global workforce

Posted by Chad O'Connor  December 2, 2013 06:00 AM

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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 in Cambridge, Mass., making sure those remote teams are always working toward the same goals is complicated because in-person meetings are almost certainly a rare occurrence.

The problem of managing a diverse global workforce, however, is increasingly common among U.S. companies, which are taking advantage of our hyper-connected society and allowing more and more workers to be based far from company headquarters.

The latest statistics out of the Telework Research Network show that about 3.1 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers, considered home to be their primary place of work in 2011. That’s up 73 percent from 2005.

Yet despite the increasing remoteness of the U.S. workforce, managers can apply certain familiar management techniques to make sure their teams are still productive, even when they cannot walk over to someone’s office to hash out a problem.

Here are five ways managers can make sure their remote teams are productive and happy:

Responsiveness is key: When team members are working in different time zones across the globe, being as responsive as possible is going to be the difference in keeping projects on track. When communicating across time zones, technology is your friend. 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 some early mornings or late nights, the extra effort will ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Practice empathy: Managers should take the time to consider and catalogue their team’s varied perspectives, traditions and languages, and to create opportunities for the entire team to learn, when possible. They should also encourage all team members to learn about their colleague’s varied perspectives. Keeping track of each team members’ needs, viewpoints, and contributions is an important aspect of managing a scattered workforce.

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

Create a connection: While technologies like Skype make sense most of the time, an excellent manager will know when face-to-face meetings are called for and who on their team might need more of them. Although working remotely is the easiest it’s ever been, nothing creates connections better than direct, in-person contact with the team.

Help: Managers should always be on the lookout for a team member who needs help, an especially challenging task when they’re not the office, where physical cues can often tip off the boss to the first sign of trouble. When problems do arise, managers should be as responsive as possible.

Andrew Graham is president and CEO of The Forum Corp., a Boston-based training and development organization.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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