Remote working is no longer an option reserved for blue-chip companies' elite and top management.
The recent pandemic has made it necessary if businesses are to survive and grow. However, while remote working brings many advantages to the table, such as reduced operational costs, better productivity, easy availability of virtual assistant services, etc., it also has many challenges.
One such challenge that companies are grappling with is managing remote workers across different zones. The challenges of managing the workforce are, however, not limited to ensuring high productivity and quality standards and ensuring that the cultural ethos of the company is maintained.
When we speak of maintaining the cultural identity of a company, one of the companies that come foremost to my mind is Canva. An 800+ employees company that has been operating completely remote since the pandemic.
To ensure that all employees experienced the same work culture and work environment, irrespective of the fact where they are located, it set up a "Vibe Team" compromising of a group of dedicated individuals (roughly 1 for every 25 employees). The result, a strong sense of belonging and teamwork among the entire Canva team.
Challenges of working remotely in different time zones
To understand how businesses can manage remote workers across different time zones, it’s necessary to look at some of the possible challenges small businesses and entrepreneurs may face.
With teams and individuals located across different time zones, getting everyone on the same page can be quite a challenge. In addition, language and cultural differences can further add to the challenge of making sure everyone understands what's needed and how they need to achieve it.
Ensuring that all the key people working on a project are in sync with each other by organizing online meetings can be challenging, especially if the teams are located across different time zones. While online video conferencing tools may make the task easier, ensuring everybody attends the same is still challenging.
Lack of physical interaction
People have been used to the concept of physically interacting with their colleagues and bosses and seeking their advice on both work and personal problems. However, the lack of physical contact can hinder this process and make people hesitant to reach out to each other to discuss issues they may be facing.
Lack of physical interaction can also cause employees to feel left out from important decisions and moments. The feeling of being left out can be high, especially among employees working during the night compared to those who work in the daytime. It needs to be addressed at the earliest to prevent high attrition rates.
Accountability & Trust
Business owners’ most significant challenges are ensuring that their remote employees are up and working per company guidelines and requirements.
With constant monitoring being considered an invasion of an individual's privacy, businesses have no way to precisely measure an individual's productive time. That could lead to accountability & trust issues among both of them.
How to manage remote workers across different zones
As companies get comfortable with the concept of remote working, they are drawing up guidelines and SOP's to be followed to ensure better work coordination among all the employees.
One of the companies leading by example is Gitlab, a 100% remote working company with more than 1400+ employees across different continents and time zones.
Gitlab has fine-tuned the remote working concept to art, thanks to its focus on transparency and documentation. As a result, Gitlab's The Remote Playbook, a comprehensive remote work guide, is now considered the industry standard for organizations planning to adopt the concept of remote working.
It is a simple, illustrated guide that covers the concept of remote working in-depth and shares the best practices businesses can adopt within their organization.
Some of the other best practices you can consider to manage remote workers across different zones are.
Share time zone boundaries with your team
As an organization, everyone needs to be aware of the different time zones all the teams are operating. That will help in better collaboration and communication among the teams.
Being aware of the time zones other individuals work in will help the team set realistic deadlines within their achievable timelines. It will also help avoid time zone errors, which are relatively common when people from different zones work on a project.
To avoid inconvenience to all team members and ensure fair play, teams can alternate the meeting schedules among different time zones.
Avoid holding too many meetings
Ensuring that only those essential for the project's progress participate in the team meetings will reduce the time wastage on meetings. In addition, the key members can download the critical information/discussion points to their colleagues.
At the same time, individuals need to understand that they need not say "Yes" to attend every meeting, especially those outside working hours, just for appearing to be responsible and diligent towards their work.
Also, make sure that you pay attention to different time zones while scheduling meetings to avoid causing too much inconvenience to other team members. To avoid inconvenience to all team members and ensure fair play, teams can alternate the meeting schedules among different time zones.
Use project management tools to track tasks and productivity
One of the most commonly given suggestions, but ignored by many individuals, is to use project management tools to track tasks & productivity. Many individuals find it tiresome and repetitive to use project management tools without realizing their actual benefits.
You can use Project Management Tools to update tasks and information. It can help boost your remote team's productivity, no matter in which time zone they are working.
The dashboard and timeline view in most project management tools can help project managers get an accurate view of the different tasks in progress and help them plan and allocate adequate resources accordingly.
Project management tools can also help team members track the project goals and build up their motivation to achieve them. One of the best ways to ensure proper coordination on all projects is to hire a virtual project manager who can collect project updates from all the team members and update the same for your reference.
Building and maintaining trust among team members
Given the lack of physical interaction and a chance to know each other personally, there can be a lack of bonding among the team members, eventually leading to a trust deficit. That could have a direct bearing on the performance of the entire team.
Creating forums and organizing online events geared towards helping people know each other can be the first step in assisting people in understanding each other better. One can also create WhatsApp & Slack groups, where team members can interact on topics ranging from music to food and movies.
Guidelines should be set up to ensure that the discussions in these groups are strictly for entertainment purposes only and not for political or work-related talks, which could inadvertently lead to animosity among the team members.
Maintaining work ethics and quality
A business to succeed needs a credible work ethos built on ethics and producing the highest quality of work. To realize this objective, companies need to ensure that all the team members are aware of the company's work ethics and quality guidelines.
An excellent way to achieve this would be to create documentation/guides on the company's work culture and the basic quality standards to be followed by all teams. A clear definition of what is expected and what won't make the cut will help team members produce high-quality work that will surpass the business's expectations.
Adequate resources also need to be provided to all the team members in the form of training/subject guides, etc. The team can constantly upgrade itself and stay relevant to current business scenarios.
Creating a common platform to share all updates and learnings at the workplace would also be immensely beneficial in helping all employees be aware of the latest happenings within the company. That can be highly motivational and will create a sense of bonding among all the team members, to work towards the organization's goals.
Managing remote workers across different time zones will play a crucial role for businesses to succeed in these turbulent times.
The future is remote, and businesses need to be ready for the same.
As large corporations start pushing aggressively for more sales and growth, small businesses need to adapt quickly to counter the threat. Remote working offers a distinct advantage to small businesses and entrepreneurs, as large corporations may not implement the same on a wide scale.
However, the road to being completely remote is not easy and needs small businesses to constantly innovate and be flexible enough to embrace all necessary changes. One of the critical challenges they will face and need to meet heads-on is managing remote workers across different time zones.
Small businesses need to ensure that all their work policies are employee friendly and are designed to provide maximum output at the workplace while maintaining work ethics and high-quality standards.
Setting up proactive communication and grievance redressal systems will also play a significant role in a business's success while helping them manage remote workers across different time zones.