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Managing a global workforce

Posted by Meg Bear on December 18, 2008


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When I hear talk about hand wringing about flex hours and how do you keep people focused when working from home I must admit I don’t get it.  That’s not to say I don’t understand the comments, I do, it’s just that I have been working with a remote/global workforce so long I’m not sure I really remember what it was like to wonder how to make it work.  My first India + US HQ + Random other location work team was in 1995.  Back in the good old days when connectivity between India and the US was dicey at best.  We did, however, have email. 

Of all the companies that I’ve worked for I have to say that Oracle has this mastered better than anywhere I’ve seen.  Global workforce is not the exception, it’s the only rule (at least in development).  My own situation is having a boss in the UK and staff in several US locations, 2 India locations and Australia.  My peers teams are even more distributed.  If you are new to a global workforce here are some tips I’ve gathered over the years you might find helpful.

  1. Communication skills are a competency that you can no longer consider optional or nice to have.  This is especially impactful for engineering teams where personalities might find this challenging and education often downplays the need.
  2. Webconference tools are used every day.  At Oracle we are lucky to have our own tools for this, but if you don’t, you need to get favorable pricing for usage, since rarely do I attend a meeting where a webconference is not used.
  3. Technology helps a lot.  VoIP, record/playback, Forums, Wikis, Microblogging, Social Networking.  You name it, we need it.  Making it possible for interactions that happen via technology can be used (and reused) is critical to spanning the globe.
  4. Flexibility is critical.  Every team has to share the load of precious “real time” communication.  Supporting split shifts and shifting work schedules for early morning and/or late evening meetings is a part of life.  This is not just working from home, it’s starting meetings from home at 9pm.  A full scale cultural norm shift of what it means to be working is required.
  5. Timezone awareness is not optional.  Knowing that Friday afternoon is the weekend in Australia is something you just have to know.  Having a good tool to keep you in sync (I’ve been using iGoogle’s widget these days) and having someone on your team to remind you when daylight savings gets everyone off for a few weeks, can make or break critical deadlines.
  6. Nothing is more critical than relationships.  Using travel wisely and focusing on relationship building will make all the difference when times are tough.  If you are just a random name or email account you are easily ignored.  If you are a known person you will have a hope of rising above the noise when you need help from a teammate in a different part of the world
  7. Surprisingly a photoshop competency on the team is useful.  How else would you ever get a full team photo?

Working globally is not something that every industry is going to embrace, at least not at the level that we have here.  I will tell you that the insight, value, collaboration, joy and experience that you have with a diverse and global workforce is the best of the best.   While the hype will tell you that around the clock productivity is the benefit, I would argue that around the world talent trumps that by a long shot.

2 Responses to “Managing a global workforce”

  1. […] is for this reason that I’m so grateful that we have a global customers and a global team.  Having a global perspective is not only a competitive advantage, it is an opportunity for me to […]

  2. […] Optimizing for 1) is fairly straightforward.  It involves good technology and reasonably flexible people.  Optimizing for 2) is much harder and takes a level of organizational maturity.  It requires that leaders consider the talent based in particular geographic regions and how best to organize them based on skills, leadership, timezone, and organizational network/connection.  It also requires that high level goals & values are communicated and understood globally.  Meg provides some great advice for managers here. […]

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