Supporting Workplace Culture for a Global Distributed Team

Forty-four percent of employees work from home five days or more per week in the United States alone. Before COVID-19, that number was just 17%. Employers benefit from this shift, as they can expand their talent pipeline outside of country boundaries which can help solve recruiting challenges, but it’s important to train HR and hiring managers on how to manage globally distributed teams working across time zones around the world, asynchronous work, and different cultural expectations, with an emphasis on culture, engagement and collaboration.

A globally distributed team works towards business goals and targets without dependence on staff being physically gathered in a single geographic location. A recent SHRM survey of more than 9,000 workers in 12 different countries shows that a workplace culture with transparent communication that builds trust is one of the best ways to ward off high turnover. This can be a significant challenge for workplace leaders supporting globally distributed teams.

Better people management and empathy training can help improve a global workplace culture. In an internationally distributed team, you may have people with multiple different cultures, countries, languages and social norms. As with any diverse team, it is important that all members value and respect one another’s differences in order to be able to work together effectively. Managers may have to put more thought and work into integrating different parts of a distributed team with one another in order to get the best results.  

4 Common Challenges for Globally Distributed Teams

1. Lack of communication.

Disjointed communications systems can spell disaster for companies with teams working remotely across the globe. Too often, teams are using different email clients, instant messaging, file sharing systems, and more, creating a patchwork of communications that can be confusing and dysfunctional for new and established employees alike.

It’s important to establish a communication center and shared pool of resources that apply to all global locations. Many organizations have hired dedicated product managers or newly created Director or Head of Remote positions[1]  to manage global communications for remote teams. Having dedicated staff in these roles ensures that there is a centralized location for teams to communicate with each other and with other teams within the organization, no matter where they are located. It can also support employees who may be working from home for the first time.

It's also important to set and communicate attainable goals and deadlines, as well as create transparency around workplace culture and core values to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Regular and consistent communication from managers also helps remote workers understand exactly what is expected of them and how they can best contribute to the team, so all employees thrive together.  

 

2. Lack of redundancy.

Redundancy is necessary on all teams in order to maintain productivity and avoid putting stress on employees who may have to cover for team members who are out sick, who have left the organization, or while recruiters are working to fill open positions.

Creating cross-functional, or multi-functional, teams is an efficient approach to managing multiple projects with workers who are distributed globally. These groups of employees work for a common goal and can fill in for one another if needed. This requires additional training to make employees gain necessary skills, but it’s worth the effort. Lack of redundancy can contribute to burnout, and burnout is a workplace culture killer.

 

3. Lack of connection.

Even with a common set of software and connectivity tools that give remote and on-site teams the ability to collaborate on projects, join virtual meetings, have ad hoc chats, and share documents and data immediately, many team members can feel left out and disengaged from their coworkers and company. Disengaged employees are at a higher risk for burnout and quiet quitting, leading to high turnover.

Using a central communication hub, ensure that you make space for employees to communicate with each other on a personal level. For example, in a platform like Slack, you can create channels by interest so that employees can share hobbies and interests, from music playlists to what they’re binge watching.

Encourage managers to start conversations by asking questions and genuinely showing interest in their team members’ lives outside of work, including pets, family, and hobbies. Companies should consider hosting virtual social meetups, like coffee chats or happy hours, to help employees feel connected to each other and fill the social gaps that come with working remotely.  

4. Lack of feedback.

For global teams, annual performance reviews are important as they are often how employees are rated and given raises. However, only engaging with employees about their progress once a year isn’t enough when you don’t see team members in person.

Remote work best practices indicate that continuous performance management is a more effective process. Continuous performance management is an ongoing process that enables managers and employees to exchange feedback regularly to achieve team and company objectives.

Managers should be trained on best practices for continuous performance feedback, including:

  • Scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with all team members (weekly or biweekly, depending on the number of each manager’s direct reports).
  • Helping team members understand the purpose of one-on-one meetings: they are part of a feedback loop and infoshare that goes both ways (as opposed to manager communicating to team members; the communication loop should be circular).
  • Asking team members the right questions: “How can I help you…” and “what feedback do you have for me” can encourage employees to open up.
  • Listening skills. Asking the right questions isn’t useful unless we listen to the responses and act on them.

Finally, it’s important to educate your remote employees on the same communication methods that you did with your managers, including expectations around asynchronous work. Encourage them to take advantage of chat platforms, phone calls, and occasional visits to stay connected to others at your company in a meaningful way.

Communication fosters culture

Cultivating workplace culture for a company with remote workers can be a challenge. However, by taking the time to support employees through regular communication, providing opportunities for connection and collaboration, and offering feedback, and sharing knowledge, you can create a thriving workplace culture no matter where your employees are located.  

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