We all know that as businesses expand internationally, they become more complicated and difficult to manage. Stores spring up in multiple new locations across the world, languages become more diverse and people and processes become ever more geographically dispersed. For business leaders, keeping in touch with their local teams to offer support and leadership, while offering the right amount of autonomy and flexibility for their teams to do the job well, is an ongoing challenge.
A good leader knows that this dynamic demands agility, which nowadays includes managing remote workforces, and keeping track of multiple ‘local’ projects and launches.
When teams are geographically spread, communication and culture are very often the first to suffer unless leaders set a clear ‘north star’, create an aligned strategy to execute against that ambition and empower their distributed teams to operate the machinery of business. They also need the tools to manage that complex and ever -moving ecosystem.
Below we consider five approaches and tactics big business leaders are using, to make that happen.
A mobility philosophy cultivates team spirit and bridges distances, without endless travel. It needs to bring simplicity and transparency to workflow and communication, to avoid misunderstanding and prevent things becoming lost in translation.
In essence, a mobility philosophy empowers geographically dispersed teams to work on any device, from any location. This is of particular benefit when teams are split across different time zones, as it means they have access to project information at all times. Furthermore, it makes it easier for a business leader to keep in touch with local teams, as people are more accessible.
Online collaboration tools such as Basecamp and PSA, allow for synchronisation of complex projects, and can significantly enhance the day-to-day running of an activity, and make it easy for a business leader to keep in touch with virtual teams. These collaboration tools can remove many obstacles to communication, by taking conversation out of fragmented emails and messaging, and making sure it is all happening transparently and in real time. They allow workflow and documents to be hosted in one central place in the cloud, which is accessible to all users at all times. So if a business leader is overseeing a store opening in a different time zone, for example, they can check in on progress and keep track of deadlines when local teams may be sleeping.
When local teams are dispersed across different offices, locations, and time zones, this often removes the luxury of face-to-face meetings. It’s crucial that business leaders learn how to use online meeting technology effectively, to form a cohesive team and keep everyone accountable. In effect, to “shorten the hallways”.
Online meeting and video conferencing technology has come a long way. Nowadays there is an array of solutions on the market including Skype, GoToMeeting and join.me. Leaders need to spend the time understanding the tools and select the one that meets the individual needs of their business. Having the ability to meet together online, see each other via webcam and collaborate on documents, can speed up the working process substantially, while also firming up working relationships.
The best solutions offer the flexibility of joining a meeting via phone or VOIP, they have HD video, the functionality to record, and secure document sharing.
Keeping in touch is one thing, but making sure local teams feel a part of the company culture is another.
Having an intranet, or online community in place, can be a helpful way for business leaders to keep colleagues all over the world up-to-date on what’s happening in local offices or stores.
When US t-shirt business Johnny Cupcakes opened its first London store, it used its blog to communicate detailed updates with the rest of the business. For the central London team, this helped them to feel a part of the overall business culture. A lot of the communication happened via the creation of video. Check out this compilation of the video dialogue that was created.
While virtual communications are increasingly becoming the norm in big business, there is still a lot to be said for the maintaining of face-to-face relationships. In businesses where teams are geographically dispersed, there is the risk that business leaders will lose people to their individual roles. Making the time to get together once or twice a year for a company ‘hackathon’, can be a great way of getting team members together, to draw out their creativity and brain power, and help build strong team bonds.
Keeping in touch with local teams is not just about managing projects and overseeing workflow. It’s also about making sure that individual teams operate as a cohesive unit, and understand what’s happening within the business as a whole. Maintaining real world meetings are crucial to achieving this.