With the global expansion of business, the need to hire highly skilled virtual workers is growing rapidly. According to Forbes, 90% of Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers have worked remotely. The benefits of bringing remote workers onboard are numerous for those in the process of scaling their online venture. For instance, having workers across multiple time zones can mean that your e-commerce business is always up and running. Some workers are just beginning their work day while others are powering down for the night.
However, hiring virtual contract workers who live across multiple time zones also has many unique challenges. For instance: How do you manage people and keep everyone on the same page when you’re here and everyone else is, well — everywhere else?
1. Carefully screen candidates
With workers scattered across time zones, it simply won’t be possible for you to be available to all of them all of the time. This could quickly become an issue if you hire less experienced workers with fewer skills. The best freelance professionals will be capable of working autonomously and resolving small errors through experience as they arise.
If you want to scale your e-commerce business, you’re going to have to take the kid gloves off and get busy hiring serious professionals. Especially with workers all over the world, you will have nothing but a constant mess if every worker needs your undivided attention, daily motivation, and endless hand holding.
2. Communicate with focus (or get the heck off the pot)
The ability to communicate with focus is one of the key elements in effective leadership. You need to be able to powerfully convey your vision to virtual workers, as well as ensure that everyone knows their role in achieving that vision.
People appreciate consistency. Especially in the business world. Consistency in communication breeds trust, and trust isn’t optional when workers are clocking in thousands of miles away from each other. The best leaders are capable of not only giving direction to a diverse group, but also steering everyone towards success when things don’t go as planned.
As a leader of virtual workers, you should be challenging yourself to constantly be looking for new ways to optimize communication. Taking advantage of tools that support instant messaging to ensure you’re available as much as possible can make this task easier. You should always strive to work smarter, not harder, wherever you see an opportunity to do that. Tools like Skype and Slack are great for this. Implementing their use will mean you have the benefit of in-office accessibility to workers while everyone still enjoys the convenience of working from home — wherever that may be.
3. Develop airtight worker guidelines to keep expectations crystal clear
Confusion is destructive. When you bring a new worker into the fold, you need to see to it that they aren’t left with any unanswered questions. Confusion is the direct result of gaps in information, and people tend to automatically fill in those gaps with assumptions. And while confusion is destructive, assumptions are usually disastrous.
Avoiding confusion, again, ties into having strong communication skills. Each time you bring a new worker on, they should receive a copy of your worker guidelines. If you have not yet developed your company’s worker guidelines, then you certainly shouldn’t be hiring anyone. Developing worker guidelines after the fact would be a mistake on par with trying to start a business without a business plan. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by keeping your expectations clear right from the get-go.
Worker guidelines should be designed to cover all your bases in terms of what you expect from workers, and what they can expect from you. Your guidelines are the stencils that guide worker interactions. With them, you can avoid the types of miscommunication that lead to disputes that can only be resolved with lawyers.
4. Embrace cultural diversity
When’s the last time you spent Christmas at the office? How did that feel? It probably didn’t feel very good, working instead of spending the holidays with your family.
When your company crosses oceans and you grow to include workers in other cultures, you will need to be aware of the fact that, while not all of them celebrate Christmas, they might need time off to celebrate a different holiday — maybe even one you’ve never heard of. You should be respectful of the varying cultural norms and values of every worker. Doing so communicates that you value them, and that gives the best professionals incentive to stick around.
This isn’t just limited to holidays, either. For example, followers of Islam may be called to prayer five times a day. As a leader, you must expect this and learn to embrace the many differences you will encounter. It will set your company apart and encourage talent from all walks of life to work with you.
After all, if you can’t work across cultural divides, you probably have no business attempting to scale your business globally in the first place.
5. Plan meetings with care and purpose
Let’s face it: everyone hates a manager who abuses their power to call a meeting. It’s not that meetings are frivolous or unnecessary, per se. However, they certainly can be if you aren’t careful.
One of the perks of removing those kid gloves and hiring top professionals is that they know what they’re doing. And since they need less guidance than the average worker, they likely won’t appreciate having a bunch of meetings plunked onto their weekly schedule just because.
That doesn’t mean you should neglect workers, either. But when you schedule a meeting with workers across multiple time zones, don’t do it just to “check in and see how everyone’s doing” unless you want at least one of the people in attendance to be drumming their fingers on the table and shooting sidelong glances at the clock because they have real work to do. Instead, have a reason for scheduling meetings. A well-defined purpose. Something that needs to be addressed with everyone — “needs” being the operative word.
As for the rest of the time, well — that’s what email is for.
6. Track your progress carefully in order to determine what’s working for your business
In a broad sense, the concept of online business is still fairly new. Therefore, the unique challenges associated with leading workers across multiple time zones are largely uncharted territory. In the face of such enormous uncertainty stemming from a relative information deficit, it can be incredibly daunting to forge ahead and see what works for you, especially when there isn’t much available to you in terms of a roadmap.
On the other hand, if you make sure you’re tuned into workers and pinpointing what is working and what’s not working as you go, the task of customizing your management strategy to achieve maximum effectiveness will become much simpler.
Taking advantage of the resources that are already out there and infusing some creativity into your management approach is a good start to get your bearings, but it’s still not enough. When problems arise (and they will), it is imperative that you are able to pinpoint their source and deal with them in a way that turns the tide back in a favorable direction.
One very simple way that you can get an idea of what is and isn’t working within your management strategy is to ask for feedback from remote workers. In fact, you should make every effort to ensure that you’re approachable to them. You’ll want to encourage openness from workers in order to avoid inadvertently creating a situation where you need to “shake them down” for valuable pointers on what could use some improvement every time you begin to suspect that something may be awry.
Another simple way to track your progress is to appoint one person to take notes during meetings. This person’s sole purpose in the meetings should be to carefully document the reason for meeting, and the points that were covered as the meeting proceeded. If you decide to implement a new change during the discussion with workers, that should go into the recorder’s notes as well.
Afterward, collect the notes from the meeting and forward them via email to each worker. Remember to encourage their feedback as any new changes are implemented, and to carefully observe and take your own notes on what is or is not leading to improvements.
Challenges abound for business leaders attempting to successfully scale their business venture globally, but it is entirely doable if you’re flexible, openminded, creative, and determined to see success crown your efforts.
As the Nobel Prize-winning French author André Glibe once put it: “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”
Audry Spade is a Business Writer and mother from Phoenix, Arizona.