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6 tips for managing a global workforce

Sarah K. White | Sept. 23, 2016
Telecommuting has made it easier for businesses to operate on a global scale. But for managers that means they might have employees scattered around the world, which poses unique challenges.

Technology has drastically changed the role of management in the enterprise, as teams, and even entire companies, grow more disperse. In fact, it's not out of the realm of possibility that you could eventually work for a company with an entirely remote workforce.

While technology has brought plenty of positives to the corporate world, it's also made managers' jobs more difficult. How do you effectively measure engagement and performance if you have a team of workers sprinkled across the country or even the globe?

Phil Shawe, Co-CEO of TransPerfect manages over 4,000 employees across 100 countries -- and he's learned a lot from the experience. He's had to get creative to make it work, but based on lessons learned growing his company from an NYU dorm room in 1992 to a global operation, he has six tips to offer for effectively managing remote teams.

Management is a skill

First and foremost, Shawe points out that management needs to be considered a skill -- some people have it, and some people don't. The goal of a manager, according to Shawe, is to help employees recognize and exceed their potential, and that requires a specific type of personality. But in reality, most of the time good workers get promoted to management based on performance and experience, but those traits don't necessarily translate into management skills.

"Managing people is usually an entirely different skill set than what earned them their position in leadership. Recognizing this, and being proactive about training people to be great leaders and managers is especially critical in a global workforce environment," he says.

And those skills become even more important when you consider the varying cultures and workplace norms across the globe. You want managers that are flexible and adaptable, and who will understand that management techniques are going to vary depending on the employee and their culture.

You'll need to travel

If you have a global workforce, it's important to get out to the different offices to spend time with your workers in other countries. "I still take it upon myself to visit as many offices as possible each year, as well as to attend large events, holiday parties, conferences, client events and award ceremonies around the world," he says.

Even with the wealth of communication tools at your hands, you still want to get face time with these workers. It's hard enough instilling company culture in a local office, let alone multiple offices scattered around the globe.

Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at HighGround, a company focused on employee engagement software says a sense of community is one of the biggest factors in employee engagement. "It's important that remote employees feel connected to their team members on a personal level, and are a part of the company's culture and values."


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