Is There a Better Way to Manage Remotely- International Business

Filed under: Global Business — March 14, 2012 @ 10:09 am

While no one seems to know the exact number of remote or distance
workers that U.S. companies employ, we do know the trend will keep
rising.

Some research groups put the number of remote workers in the
millions; others say tens of millions.

Can firms manage employees overseas the same way they manage remote
employees in the United States? What is the difference between
managing an IT worker in Utah and one in Ukraine?

The differences of culture, work ethics and communication can make
managing (in our example) a Ukrainian employee much more difficult,
if not impossible, unless you use a few key techniques.

Here are a few:
– Get on the same team. It sounds like a bad 1970s sports movie,
but U.S. managers need to think in terms of the group. For the
Ukrainian, he’s joining a new opportunity and developing new
comrades. Welcome him as any player (not just the low-cost
alternative) and try to involve him in many different aspects of
work and personal life.

– Use the technology. With email, inexpensive international phone
calls, Skype and other video conferencing available, technology can
ease the burden. But all the technology in the world won’t make a
difference if you don’t use it. Schedule a regular video call. Send
along photos with emails. Use webcams to pan your office and allow
the personnel on both sides of the ocean to meet and interact, both
formally and casually.

– Overcommunicate. For example, describe a task to someone, then
ask them to write a description of what they’ve been asked to do.
This is a painful and counterintuitive exercise, but will ease
communication. Tell your Ukrainian what you want, why you want it
and how it helps the company, and ask him to synthesize your
request and explain it back to you.

– Don’t assume. Just because “everyone” knows this, doesn’t mean he
does. How many Ukrainian holidays can you name? How do the
bankruptcy laws in Ukraine work? If you don’t know, why would you
expect him to know anything about our holidays and laws?

– Thank them. And try to figure out the best way to thank them.
Will your employee appreciate money, more education or an iPod? Ask
someone who knows the culture how best to reward your employee.

– Count on a high transaction cost. You won’t start saving money on
day one, and it’s wrong to think you will. Plan on a steep learning
curve (for both sides) and a few trips to Ukraine. Plan on the
Ukrainian employee wanting to visit you in the United States. Many
overseas employees see visiting the United States as a perk, and
coming to the United States on a business trip conveys a great deal
of status in Ukraine.

– Format the communication and establish a routine. A routine will
make your employee saner and help you cope with the barriers of
distance, time, language and culture.

Will a daily Skype call make life easier, even if there is nothing
pressing? Should you implement Friday progress reports and Monday
to-do lists? Ukrainians, in particular, thrive with a certain sense
of structure and order. Help instill that.

– Get familiar on his way of doing things. One of the best ways to
frame this discussion is to say, “This is our way of doing this
task. What is your way?” “How is this usually accomplished in
Ukraine? If I lay out the tasks on a spreadsheet with timelines,
does that actually help you or frustrate you?”

– Don’t believe everything you hear. It’s hard enough for a U.S.
boss to get her employee to tell you the truth. The average
corporation has too many employees trained to say “yes” or “I don’t
know.”

How easy would it be in Ukraine (a former communist country) for an
employee, speaking a non-native language, to tell his boss that
she’s incorrect, mistaken or just plain out of her element? He
probably will sugarcoat what he’s telling you. In our culture, we
call it a “white lie.” In Ukraine, they call it “keeping their job.”

– Lose control. If you think for a second you are going to control
an Eastern European employee just because you’re paying them,
you’re mistaken. Try to control a U.S. employee for a while. It
won’t happen. Influence is more than just a title and signature on
a paycheck. Control? Forget it.

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