Working with teams across geographies is not new. In fact, organisations are leveraging on a geographically dispersed team to bring together functional expertise, coupled with varied work experiences and international diversity, to help them compete and succeed in the business world.
However, managers who lead these global teams face stiff challenges. When team members come from different work cultures and backgrounds and are working in different locations and time zones, miscommunication may ensue and cooperation can break down into distrust. Moreover, the lack of physical visibility may lead to doubts creeping in when it comes to productivity and work quality.
That said, there are also instances to organisations thriving even with geographically dispersed teams. Here are some ways to make working across time zones effective and successful for the team, managers and the organisation.
Make the most of non-direct communication
When it comes to working with remote teams, chances of co-workers sitting around together physically to communicate are slim. Teams are likely to rely on communication or collaboration tools such as virtual meetings or emails to communication. This type of practice is known as asynchronous communication – where people do not communicate directly with each other and may not necessarily be communicating at the same time.
Working with remote teams means that managers and team members need to learn how to be an effective async communicator. This could mean working on the same platforms, using the same software tools, or syncing calendars together to ensure that the team is communicating through the same communication channels. Tools such as Slack also help to ensure a common communication platform when it comes to project management or tracking. Ultimately, using the right communications tools and ensuring that everyone is on the same page and can see everything in real time is critical to successful asynchronous communication across the team.
Be cognizant of varying time zones when scheduling meetings
Scheduling team meetings can be easy when everyone is working in the same time zone. However, this becomes more complicated when team members hail from opposite ends of the world. For example, scheduling a meeting in the morning for Asian colleagues may mean that those working in the United States have to take the calls relatively late in the night. While it may be difficult to find a common time slot that works for all the team members, it is best to establish a time that works well for everyone to participate and be involved in the discussion. It could mean having to compromise on that favorite evening show on the television or waking up early in the morning, but at least it should not be an unreasonable time slot for certain employees.
Likewise, working with team members across time zones does not mean that they cannot communicate or collaborate with each other. This goes back to the concept of asynchronous communication, where leveraging on a common collaboration or communication tool can help to maximise communication across the team.
Team members located far across the globe can sometimes feel distant from their managers or co-workers. Likewise, feelings of doubt may also creep in when managers are unable to physically see their employees working. Questions like, “Is he actually doing the work that was assigned to him?” may come up from time to time. Likewise, team members may feel undervalued, or face biasness compared to a co-worker who is based in the same location as their managers i.e. “Is my manager able to recognise and see the value that I bring to my team?”
Sometimes, a brief phone call or an email can make all the difference in conveying to team members that their contributions matter. Even simple acts of recognition such as calling team members personally to wish them happy birthdays or calling out their good work during team members can help to create a sense of belonging within the team despite the geographical locations.
Address and work with cultural differences
While individual team members may be very different from one another due to cultural differences and background, the team is a single entity that is working towards a common goal or goals. Managers should always encourage sensitivity to differences, but also look for ways to help bridge cultural differences and build unity. This could be introducing a common team motto or maintaining zero-tolerance policies to racism or cultural insensitivities.
Working across time zones is almost akin to teams working remotely, albeit with its own unique set of challenges. However, flexibility and appreciation for diversity are some of the key success factors to managing global teams. Managers also need to set a good example and be attuned to each team member’s needs while introducing collaborating tools to help teams communicate asynchronously effectively. When this happens, the team can truly feel a sense of unity with mutual trust and a sense of camaraderie.