How to manage teams in diverse locations around the world

Managing teams around the world

By Marco Landi, President, Asia Pacific, Europe and Africa at Polycom

With 63% of the UK now working from home regularly, one of the challenges for enterprise is how to manage teams that either work flexibly or are based in different locations, to make sure they are as productive and motivated as possible. As someone who manages teams around the world, here are my tips for managing a successful team that are based in different locations.

Be clear on objectives

It is absolutely essential before you set about creating or building on your existing flexible, mobile or global working cultures that you are clear on what you want to achieve. For example, successful flexible working needs advocates and support at all levels and departments, but especially C-level decision makers, Human Resources (HR), Facilities Management (FM) and IT, as these will be the teams who will need to work together to deliver successful flexible working.

Be clear on the cultural and financial goals that you want to achieve from a flexible working structure, and how you plan to measure that. Meet your technology partners to find the right solutions for your needs, as collaborating in different locations won’t work if you don’t have the correct technology in place.

Devise a company-wide policy

We know from our recent study* that the biggest concern for the 24,000 businesspeople we interviewed worldwide is that, when working outside of the office, they worry that their office-based colleagues will think they are not working as hard as them. Their next biggest concern was that they might end up working longer hours followed by concerns it would be difficult to build relationships with colleagues.

When asked what would help allay these fears, they want collaborative technology, a flexible working policy, and guidance from HR on how to manage flexible working. It’s here that the expectation is set for flexible workers.

This is where HR really needs to get involved. What is expected of flexible workers or workers in different locations around the world? How will you present the policy and training? How do you establish accountability for workers based outside of the office or those not necessarily based where their line manager is?

Give your teams the tools to do the job

IT and FM will need to ensure that your flexible and international staff, and those travelling for business, have the equipment and software they need to be potentially even more productive than they would in the office. At the very minimum, they will need strong broadband and Wi-Fi where they are based, access to conferencing software and audio/video tools. They will also need secure access to company files, such as via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and access to collaborative project management tools.

IT and HR will need to team up to provide training to all staff who will be working flexibly, as well as to those at the office who will be using higher end conferencing and collaborative tools to liaise with them.

Four out of five UK workers* (79%) use conferencing and collaborative tools each week, so this is something we are used to and expect. Nowadays, collaborative tools are so intuitive that disparate teams can share content wirelessly from their laptop, tablet or mobile using mirroring technology. It’s almost as if participants are all in the same room.

Trust your team

Trust is a big element in allowing and enabling flexible working, and it’s not for everyone. A third (33%) of respondents* in our survey said they don’t trust themselves to get started and stay focused when working outside of the office enviroment! But with the right training and policies I am sure many of them could be persuaded.

Presence features on technology such as Skype for Business are excellent for showing staff availability. It will keep even the 33% who don’t trust themselves connected and accountable.

Make sure flexible workers have a direct line to IT to help them when they need it.

Assess regularly

Be sure to build flexible working into staff appraisals. How do they find it? Are they more productive? Do they feel the benefits of not commuting and of being able to enjoy a better work-life balance? Do they have the tools they need?

By reporting regularly on your own business key performance indicators, you can gauge the impact your flexible working set-up has on staff motivation and productivity, travel and real estate costs. Be sure to survey staff regularly and keep testing new technologies to imagine new ways of collaborative working that could be deployed in your organisation.

By creating a collaborative and trust-based culture, flexible working and working with international teams or partners can become a habit. While there will be times when it’s beneficial for staff to all be in the same office, a solid flexible and international working culture can help a company to retain talent – especially women returning to work after becoming parents – and young people, who know how to work flexibly adapting easily to new technology.

Flexible working, and collaboration with teams around the world, is already making strides in UK business culture, the question is how you can make it work best for you and your staff.