What I Have Learned Leading an International Team of Remote Workers

by Ofer Tirosh

Remote Work

I have been the CEO of an international B2B company for over a decade, and for a majority of that time, most of our team has been working in a remote capacity. Like any expanding company, we at Tomedes have gone through growing pains. With the added struggles of coordinating team members from all over the world: from infrastructure limitations to communication challenges, we've experienced pretty much all of it. And 13 years on, we continue to reach new milestones and have had the privilege of serving Fortune 500 companies from all over the world.

And as companies are forced to adopt similar remote work setups due to the pandemic, most would probably go through these challenges as well and would have the added disadvantage of not being able to adapt to the remote work setup gradually. In this article, I'll be discussing the practical knowledge that I picked up over the years on how to set your remote teams for success and continue to be productive despite not being in a traditional office setting.

Do Not Micromanage

Thou shalt not micromanage.

That is the first commandment of managing a remote team.

When you micromanage your employees, you are telling them that you do not trust them. What’s more, you are adding unnecessary stress to their already stressful work life.

Nobody likes a boss who breathes down their neck while they are working. Even virtually. On one hand, it can result in the employee being dependent on your micromanagement. On the other hand, it can result in employee burnout. The latter often results in an increase in employee turnover rate.

Give your members freedom to take initiative. If they have their own methods of working, respect those methods. As long as they finish the tasks assigned to them correctly and send the tasks on time, then it’s not really a problem.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t track the progress of tasks or ask for updates from your team. In fact, you should ask for updates — either daily, weekly, or monthly — to ensure that projects are progressing smoothly and goals will be met. Weekly tends to be the sweet spot.

Managers Are the Bridge Between You and the Rest of Your Team

With a big team such as ours, we have divided people into different departments. Some of those departments have sub-departments that have their own duties and responsibilities. Hiring team managers has been such a relief. If I did not hire managers, the entire process would have been chaotic.

For example, my company has a Digital Marketing Department and under that department is the Content Team which includes the Content Writers and Graphic Designers who all report to the Content Manager who then reports to the Chief Marketing Manager who then reports directly to me.

Managers are the bridge between you and the rest of your employees. They are the ones that your employees will have the most contact with.

The best managers are those who can quickly solve problems and efficiently manage multiple projects at once. They must be able to act decisively, especially when you are not available to make decisions. As the ones workers have the most contact with, they must have great communication skills and are capable of handling different kinds of people.

A great manager can help you drive great results. They can motivate team members towards success. In some cases, they also serve as a mentor for their team members. As the one who members directly report to, the team manager is the best person to highlight an employee’s distinct strengths and maximize those, as well as identify that employee’s weaknesses and work on improving them.

As Peter Ferdinand Drucker, the father of management thinking, says, “The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager.” Remember that a company can only ever be as successful as their employees.

Conduct Regular Staff Meetings

There will always be communication issues when managing a team, especially if that team is an international remote team. You cannot fully escape that, but you can take steps to minimize it.

Since you will not be able to meet your employees physically, it is best that you interview them before hiring them. The hiring process is the obligation of the HR department, but it is beneficial if you also interview potential candidates. This will help you get to know them better and judge whether they are a good fit for your company or not.

In the same vein, your employees will also not be able to meet their co-workers physically. A good practice is to introduce them to each other early on. New employees should be introduced to who is who during the first week of integration. They should also know who they will be working with on a daily basis. Communication is the key to success. And also the key to avoid conflict.

In a big company, a clear hierarchy is established. This hierarchy could drive you further away from your employees, so it’s important to have an open door policy. In our company, we use Skype as our main communication tool. Any of my employees can contact me easily on the app.

Since we are not talking verbally — in which a response is immediately required (i.e., you have no choice but to respond because the other person is standing in front of you and waiting for you to say something) — some employees might only reply to my messages hours or even days later. This is why weekly or bi-weekly meetings are indispensable.

We hold regular staff meetings in our company. All teams have official weekly meetings held on different days, but there might be times that we hold emergency meetings. Remember that it is always better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

The department head meets with the sub-department heads as well as the team members at least once a week.  This is to review productivity and check if we are progressing towards our target.

Another agenda is to solve any issues that may have arisen throughout the work week, before they could grow worse. A small fire is easier to put out than a large one.

Lastly, the team managers hold end-of-the week discussions with their team members to check on a summary of tasks that they have worked on. This also serves as a way to develop the mentor-mentee bond for the manager and members under him/her (or them).

Technology Is Your Best Friend

For a CEO managing an international remote team, technology is your best friend.

Well actually, technology is the best friend of remote workers in general. An employee working remotely will be bringing their laptops everywhere they go.

However, technology can also be the cause of a lot of frustrations. For example, I have a lot of employees from the Philippines and the internet speed there is slow.  And that’s sugarcoating it because there’s no month that passes by without me seeing my employees messages in our group chats informing their coworkers that the internet is either slow or gone. This is because the Philippines lack cell sites. In fact, it has the least number of cell sites in all of Asia. Some of my employees will even face technical issues such as power interruptions or computer malfunctions.

What you can do is be understanding when issues arise. Foster an environment of understanding rather than dominating. In this way, your employees will be more likely to cooperate and open up to you, thus, helping you solve issues faster.

Bonus Tip: Have Physical Get-togethers

Since my employees will only be communicating with each other online, they are not able to fully connect with their co-workers.

We have an annual get-together to remedy that. It’s refreshing because when I meet my employees in person, I get to meet who they are outside of Skype and it is when their personalities truly shine. My employees can also get to know each other without the pressure of work. It’s easier to foster a sense of community in this way.

Unfortunately, our get-together this year has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. But we adjusted. We have an exchanging gift activity for Christmas but since we live in different places, the gifts will be sent via delivery couriers.

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a professional translation company working with over 10,000 professional translators all over the world. As someone passionate about linguistics and language translation, Tirosh was able to drive Tomedes to be an industry leader in the Language Services industry.

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