Working with even a single subcontractor across the pond from where you are can be a real challenge. If you’re running a team of subs, scattered throughout different continents, stress levels can definitely go up quickly and often. Regardless of the business you’re running, managing a worldwide team of people can add a dangerous element that can lead to failure to your operations.
Success with this kind of business model hinges on communication, technology, and the ability to be flexible with time zone, cultural, and language differences.
Be flexible with time zones
Even though you may be the manager of a global team, don’t make it a constant expectation that everyone be available at your convenience for video conferencing or one-on-one calls. Not only is this unfair, it makes you look like less of a team player. Perhaps sometimes they’ll have to stay at their office for an extra hour or two. Other times, maybe it makes most sense for you to get up an hour or two early.
Remember that your global team members likely have several options as to who they work for, and they won’t stick around if you’re impossible to deal with. Deadlines need to have a single time zone attached to them (Eg., EST), and all subcontractors need to understand it’s their responsibility to adjust accordingly to their own time.
Face-to-face visits really help build rapport
When you show willingness to jump on a plane and actually see your team face-to-face, there’s simply no better way to build a rapport. Think of how special it makes a person feel when a manager they respect and love takes the time to stop by their “office” and have a chat with them, offering feedback and praise for the job they do.
Whenever possible, try to arrange meetings with all your subcontractors in a central location that’s accessible to most of you. For those who’re really far away, purchasing a plane ticket on their behalf can go a long way toward instilling trust and loyalty. Virtual offices located in key areas between you and your subs make for great formal or informal meeting spots.
Be conscious of language barriers
Imagine telling a key player or partner on your team to “get out of here” when they propose a ridiculous deadline or make an attempt at a joke. In several countries, this and many other types of playful phrases aren’t part of the vernacular and may well be taken quite literally by the recipient.
This won’t apply to all global partners, as many people you work with will have loads of international communication experience. However, make sure you know the person is going to understand when you’re joking and when you’re not. Also, any type of local slang, jargon, or metaphors can easily lead to confusion, and lead to avoidable mistakes that can cost your company money, time, and may hurt the brand.
Create a single workplace for everyone to meet
In the past, a global office was often relegated to email, as language barriers made it much easier to email back and forth, letting Google Translate and similar tools “attempt” to make communication flow. Now, there’s collaboration software available on many platforms that allow for this in real time. It all comes down to realizing the true extent of your communication needs, then finding the solution that offers all or most of the functionality you require.
This can be accomplished using proprietary platforms provided by a virtual service provider, creating a Google Chat group, or even something more extensive such as Salesforce or Asana which handles scheduling, budgeting, CRM, and time tracking. Software developers also realize there’s no one-size-fits all when it comes to management and collaboration software, so most platforms integrate with one another.
Allow clients to easily connect to the right team member
Email and online chat is an easy way for clients to connect with a team member in their country of choice. International free phone numbers (UIFNs) are also a great idea, allowing your business to have a single toll free company phone number that’s the same in all countries.
Another option is to hire a reception service, which can be much cheaper than a UIFN depending on how many calls are routed through your central business phone number. Without a UIFN, caller will be charged normal national and international calling rates in this scenario, so combining the two options is really a great one-two punch option for connecting your team to clients.
Don’t take cultural differences for granted
Religious holidays, daily practices, and other differences, need to be respected just as if everyone were working on the same continent, in the same building. Most countries have laws in place protecting a worker’s right to observe religious practices and cultural holidays without reprisal from their employer. However, as an international business manager, you really have no legal obligation to understand or offer any reprieve to team members when their religion or culture demands it.
Many countries also have strict rules in place for more extensive vacation times than those observed in North America or the UK. Understand that you’ll have to make adjustments for any and all cultural differences in order to run a team of subcontractors working across the globe.
Finally, make sure to research each team member’s cultural norms carefully before you talk with them for the first time, and avoid any conversation involving politics, religion, or anything that can be interpreted as bigotry.
International business is a tough road to navigate. It’s not impossible though, particularly when technology, compassion, and a willingness to compromise are introduced into the equation. Working with a team of international subcontractors allows you to work on projects in other countries and/or keep your local or national business running beyond traditional business hours.
Do you, or are you considering working with subcontractors in other countries?
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