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How to Manage an International Workforce During COVID-19

Technology and a more abundant sharing of ideas have made it more practical for businesses to expand their team internationally, but the social differences still exist. The most successful managers have a plan for addressing issues head-on. Here’s how you can collaborate better with international employees and maintain your own company culture in the meantime.

How to Manage an International Workforce During COVID-19?

1: Understand Culture

To really understand a different culture, we must be free to talk about it. An atmosphere of openness works best when dealing with cultural questions teams may have about how to work together with their international peers. While communication should always be respectful, it’s best to lay out the differences that may arise from the onset. Then, provide a roadmap for working through these in a way that promotes inclusivity. 

2: Send Experienced Teams to Establish New Teams

When starting a new branch or satellite location in a different part of the world, don’t leave your outreach and training to chance. Choose the ambassadors who will best represent your company and communicate the company mission in face-to-face meetings. Those who possess critical thinking and problem-solving skills should be bumped to the top of the list. This is not a time to lead with your newest associates. 

3: Understand and Honor Local Customs and Traditions

With so many online resources available, there is no excuse to misinterpret local customs. Whether you appoint an employee to gather information or you have a professional consultant who guides you in learning the ways of the new locale, simply doing nothing is inexcusable. You have one or two opportunities to set the right tone with your international team. Invest in getting to know the right way to work with them. 

4: Define Core Team and Build Trust

A team is only as good as its individual members. To get the best performance outcomes from any team, acknowledging each person’s abilities and contributions is key. One way to help them explore the possibilities of how they can uniquely participate is through unstructured collaboration. Allow for a few minutes before and after each meeting for catchup and personal chit chat. Encourage team members to reach out to new members and help them become part of the group. 

Leaders should model this behavior to make it an authentic part of the workplace culture. While professionalism should always be a top priority, taking an interest in each employee as a whole and unique person will help build trust. It also gives the leader a more authentic view of the strengths and abilities of each employee, which can help when forming new teams or filling future leadership roles. 

5: Have Clear Goals, Standards, and Rules

Just as you would lay out all of the expectations for your domestic teams, laying out the rules for your international employees is a best practice. Design employee handbooks with policies and guidance that they can refer to at any time. Include these expectations in their onboarding as well. It also helps to have a way to track and measure as they go, but be prepared to enforce what’s on the books for best results. 

6: Communicate Clearly and Constantly

Just as you may see a lack of understanding when working with domestic remote teams, it’s highly likely that you’ll have some miscommunication issues with these new international associates. Use your strategy for managing remote teams and add in more stopgaps within your project management process.

Account for both language and time zone differences in all aspects, from scheduling team meetings and conference calls to message threads within your preferred platform. Also, don’t accept silence as a confirmation of your requests. Instead, work harder to have your teams acknowledge expectations and deadlines.

7: Build a Team Rhythm

It can take weeks or even months for teams to feel comfortable working with just one new associate, not to mention an entire team. Add in language barriers, cultural differences, and time zone issues, and it will be a long road to that synergy and level of teamwork we all strive for.

You can accomplish these goals as long as you allow teams the room to find their way and offer resources to assist when needed. Give your teams smaller, more manageable tasks to build their rapport. As they get the hang of working together, you can introduce more challenging projects and even team-building exercises.

8: Provide Your Team with Tools

Now is not the time to cut back on technology or infrastructure, as international employees will use these collaboration methods more than you may expect. Work with teams to ensure everyone has the communication tools they need to work together, and have dedicated IT or troubleshooters on hand that can work within the time zone of your employees in different countries. If they truly need something you don’t already use (due to local restrictions or preferences), do your best to meet them where they are at. 

9: Reinforce Structure and Be Aware of Power Perception

Perception is as influential as reality, and when you have teams that share a language, location, and culture, they can appear threatening to those outside of the group. To de-escalate this perception, reinforce how the team fits into the larger overall scope of the project or company. Create opportunities for peers to see the group as multiple members with similar goals and challenges. Humanizing even these “power structures” is a necessary strategy to reduce resentment and conflict. 

10: Ensure All Members of the Team Have Opportunities to Participate

It can be difficult to give a voice to even your domestic teams. How can you ensure your international employees all have a seat at the table? Give frequent opportunities for honest feedback, mentoring, and one-on-one training. Let international employees have a say in team activities or the next benefit package enhancement.

Make sure your training and internal communications represent their talents, needs, and cultural strengths. It’s through true inclusion that every employee can see a little of themselves in the company’s mission, goals, and branding efforts.

How Comeet Can Help

There are obviously a significant number of challenges when working with remote teams, and hiring the right people in the first place can reduce unnecessary friction. Using an applicant tracking system (ATS) is an effective way to keep your international teams on the same page as your domestic recruiters. It’s also ideal for keeping tabs on all the details of each candidate from the first contact to the onboarding process. Learn more about Comeet’s ATS and how we can help before you make a move in expanding your global teams.  

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Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith is a content strategy consultant working with high-growth businesses on their brand messaging, content strategy, and content creation. A digital nomad, she's exploring the world's cultures and cuisines as she works.

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