Recently, I visited an organization where some of the managers oversee employees in a European country in which it is virtually impossible to terminate someone's employment. In that environment, employees are quite relaxed about working hours and take long mid-day breaks. Deadlines don't seem to mean a great deal. Just talking about it seemed to irritate the American managers. The conversation turned to one of equity between their direct reports in the US versus Europe. It was apparent that several of the managers had completely given up when it came to accountability of those they supervise remotely. I asked the group to brainstorm possible solutions for keeping up with the employees they rarely see. Following are some of the ideas that surfaced.
- Set 1:1 meeting times and honor them. Even if they are held during US non-working hours, hold true to this ritual to signal how important the employee is to you.
- Take time to get to know the employee, especially if you've never met in person. Ask about their interests and their opinions on current events. It's enlightening to learn how viewpoints differ depending upon where the person resides.
- Encourage group conference calls or meetings where remote employees can hear what their peers are doing and participate actively in discussions and decisions. Make it a point to ask all employees to prepare for and contribute to the conversation.
- Don't be afraid to let someone know if they are not meeting standards. Just because practices and habits differ around the world, it does not mean a manager shouldn't confront deficits or ask employees to put more effort into meeting the performance standard.
- Finally, be respectful of the differences between cultures. Remember, your organization chose to have a prescence in a foreign land, so to some extent, you need to expect and respect differences in attitudes and practices. If they take a six-week "holiday" each summer, you know that ahead of time. Plan around it.
In fact, most of these suggestions work equally well with American employees who happen to work remotely (maybe just 50 miles away). Setting clear expectations and holding employees accountable are important management practices regardless of how near or far away the employee is working.