International teams are not necessarily remote teams. But at least in a smaller company like ours, in many cases, it boils down to exactly that. In large cities, such as Mexico City or São Paulo, traffic-related long distances become a killer argument against on-site collaboration, especially when it comes to smaller branch offices.
Because OTRS Group is in this situation, we have been dealing with the setup and optimization of remote working teams for a long time — long before COVID-19 became an issue. And, I don’t know what is more difficult: managing employees remotely or working with different nationalities, cultures and mentalities in one team. International remote teams mean adding both challenges together, but that’s exactly what our future holds.
According to a study by Gartner, which was completed before the Corona pandemic, we will have a very high proportion of remote workers in 2030 (30% increase), if only because Generation Z defines this as desirable. In other words, we would do well to create the appropriate structures, to learn and to develop concepts to meet this trend.
It is therefore a question of flexibility and how this is made possible, as well as of monitoring the various options in order to provide timely support and intervene if necessary.
Despite this, there are doubters who evaluate the new Corona-conditioned hype around home office work as bad and to the advantage of the employer. So, we are not talking about going to one extreme or the other, but about optimizing workflows while employees enjoy a maximum of freedom of choice with regard to their workplace.
It is therefore a question of flexibility and how this is made possible, as well as of monitoring the various options in order to provide timely support and intervene if necessary. Particularly in the course of the international workforce, there are a few additional components that need to be taken into account when developing, supporting and optimizing the work teams – in contrast to teams on site.
Whatever aspect we talk about, the technology used is the decisive factor, the catalyst and vehicle: In other words the right remote work tool makes it possible to implement everything that is required for productive and successful cooperation across time zones and countries.
Stay In Touch, Even Across Different Time Zones
For example, regulated communication. This is not only about the exchange of business information, but also about the personal connection between colleagues. Everyone who works globally knows the problem of overcoming time zones and staying in “real” contact with colleagues.
Sufficient time should be available for private exchange, because this maintains team dynamics and allows important aspects, such as trust, reliability and helpfulness, to develop and unfold. Therefore professional exchange must be efficient and compact. The best way to do this is not to rely solely on verbal exchange, but to make information available in a clear, comprehensible and comprehensible manner during the process.
At this point, it is essential that HR and IT work well together: HR is the department that grasps the needs of communication and the framework conditions of cooperation in a way that enables the IT department to provide the appropriate tools to effectively support this process in a reliable operational manner.
Development Of a Remote Working Culture
While structures develop almost by themselves when working together in the office, and new employees can quickly recognize which customs are part of the company culture or what is better not to do, the situation is different when working from the home office or, in general, with remote work.
Especially in an environment that is predominantly geared towards remote work, guidelines and orientation for employees become a success factor. They are important for creating a framework for employees outside the office structure that makes it easier for them to structure themselves and to be able to perform tasks precisely.
Here, concrete guidelines are needed so that employees know when and in what form tasks have to be completed, for example, which meetings are mandatory and where participation is voluntary.
Especially in an environment that is predominantly geared towards remote work, guidelines and orientation for employees become a success factor. They are important for creating a framework for employees outside the office structure that makes it easier for them to structure themselves and to be able to perform tasks precisely. At the same time, employees feel more secure with regard to what they are supposed to do and what expectations are placed on them.
Here again, good and efficient support through appropriate work at home tools should not be underestimated. Information must reach the right recipients, on time, comprehensibly and above all in a form that allows for quick and easy further processing and handling. Last but not least, this tool must also take care of data protection and the associated encryption and access rights.
Resilience as an Important Part Of The Strategy
In the context of digital transformation, COVID-19 has been the subject of much discussion about enterprise resilience, which is reflected at all levels of the organization and is primarily about improving agility, time to market and stability.
For international teams, this resilience to uncertainty and change has always played a special role, as it is not developed from physical presence to one another. It is, therefore, particularly important to equip employees with the appropriate skills and to enable them to quickly and easily train themselves or encourage them to become their own problem solvers by using self-service tools.
Not only is the ability to create an efficient and solution-oriented working day important, but also developing an awareness of one’s own limits, needs and necessities is critical. Strengthening personal responsibility in order to prevent overload and stress is of the utmost importance.
Since we have to use the home office so consistently now, the term Zoom Fatigue has become established. And, who doesn’t know this: one virtual meeting follows the other during which we desperately try to identify the little pictures of our comrades-in-arms and their facial expressions. We are simultaneously fighting an unsuccessful battle to recognize in time who is speaking and to understand what is being said. Thus, we tire quickly, become unfocused and the performance level drops. A sensible organization of meeting frequency and duration is, therefore, indispensable to conquer fatigue. Appropriate calendars and time recording that reflect the duration of the employee’s assignment and workload are effective here.
Among many other components, the correct use of technological support is an essential key to the success of international remote teams.
How are you dealing with your international or remote teams? What’s been the biggest challenge for you during this transition?