In today’s hyper-globalized, hyper-digitized working world, odds are at least some of your team members are working remotely from overseas. That means you’ve likely got a workplace and a workforce that spans time zones and crosses borders. The advantages of an international team are numerous, from saving on labor costs to having experts in different languages and cultures.
But having a global team also brings with it a number of interesting challenges. It’s harder to create camaraderie when half your employees haven’t even met each other in person. Add different customs and expectations into the mix, and things can get even more complicated. Fortunately, it is possible to care for a global team and build genuine bonds.
Here are a few ways you can support your international team and facilitate more connection and transparency.
1. Hold Regular Virtual Team Meetings
Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, and other video platforms make it incredibly easy for global teams to connect online. Though scheduling can be an issue for teams spanning multiple time zones, it’s worth holding an all-hands meeting every so often. Video meetings give your team a chance to get familiar with each other in ways that can’t happen over email.
The trick with virtual meetings is to keep them short, appealing, engaging, and — ideally — optional. You want to give your employees a lot of flexibility, while also encouraging them to join the calls. Consider using a scheduling app to program meetings at times that work best for the most employees. Let employees turn their cameras off, especially if you’re meeting at hours when they might still be in pajamas.
The goal of these virtual meetings shouldn’t be to get a lot done or make major organizational decisions. Instead, they should be seen as opportunities to update the whole team on broad, shared goals and accomplishments. They’re a way to promote team-building and strategic alignment, not to enumerate and check off every task on everyone’s to-do list.
When in doubt, think about scheduling virtual team meetings around strategic dates to foster unity. For example, if you hire international employees en masse, get each incoming cohort together on an all-hands orientation call. If you’ve got a major event or campaign coming up, that’s another good time to meet and sync up.
2. Throw Open the Communication Channels
Videoconferences can be incredibly useful, but they can also be time-consuming and glitchy. For employees who work in areas with less robust connectivity, can result in important information being missed. Furthermore, video calls can sometimes present accessibility issues, especially for blind and hard-of-hearing folks and people with ADHD or autism.
That’s why, while you should be using video meetings, they can’t be your only team connectivity tool. You need other options, like efficient text-based information-sharing methods, to keep your team communicating and projects flowing. Team members who struggle with face-to-face or verbal conversation can especially benefit from these options.
Some of the most effective tools are simple text-based platforms like Slack, Google Chat, or even WhatsApp. With these services, you can communicate with individual employees or large teams in real-time. Most platforms allow link and image sharing, and some let you integrate with other applications. For instance, Slack integrates with a number of different document-sharing, scheduling, project management, and even translation tools. Project management tools can also be excellent solutions for asynchronous text-based communication.
Beyond just having these channels available, smart organizational leaders should also model openness and transparency on these platforms. Encourage your employees to reach out whenever they have questions, and never make them feel ashamed for asking you things. For more openness, adopt a casual tone, leave strict grammar and punctuation at the door, and incorporate emojis.
3. Provide Professional Development Opportunities
It’s harder to always be there for your international employees, especially if you keep different hours. But it is possible to give them tools that keep them feeling more engaged and committed to growing with your team. One more great way to support your global employees is to offer opportunities for personal and professional development.
Remote employees who work asynchronously may miss out on some chances to learn directly from you about the business. However, the option to take online courses at their convenience can give them back some of those lost educational opportunities. These types of flexible online learning tools can also empower them to expand their skill sets and increase their motivation.
For instance, if you run a business that employs a lot of freelancers, you could grant them access to relevant online courses. You could sign up for a paid platform and let them take classes for free in a number of subjects. They could learn specialized skills like long-form copywriting, user experience design, or advanced SEO techniques. You can use niche platforms for specific industries or departments or invest in more general sites like Coursera and LinkedIn Learning.
When you give your employees the chance to learn for free, they’re likely to take advantage. This is especially true when you allow them the choice of what, when, and whether to study. In turn, you reap the benefits of a more skilled workforce. Plus, your employees have the sense that you’re committed to their success and growth as individuals.
Building Culture of Cross-Cultural Communication
As a business leader, it’s crucial to invest in more than just the right digital infrastructure. However, it’s just as important — if not more so — to think about building the right company culture. Getting your international team members to work their best together starts with you. You set the expectations and precedents around acceptance, unity, and cultural sensitivity. So set your sights not just on connecting your employees, but on making them all feel welcome and supported.