Many employers have avoided hiring remote workers from overseas fearing the difficulties in engaging their remote staff. However, difficulties in engaging remote staff should not be the reasons to dismiss considerations for hiring overseas remote staff. Rather, the difficulties should be thought as inevitable challenges on the road to success. The talent market today is becoming more and more employee-driven, and employers are increasingly seeing employees demand flexibility in working conditions. A number of adaptive and agile employers have already embraced the changes and have offered flexibility in work locations or times as part of their Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to attract top talents around the globe. Most of these companies are successful IT companies reshaping the world we live in. Therefore, it is fair to say that in order to remain competitive and up-to-date with the current market trend, employers will need to start considering offering remote working options and face the challenges head on.
Before you start pulling your hair out over how exactly you can engage your remote staff living abroad, we need to highlight that staff engagement is in fact an existing challenge most employers are already very familiar of. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of the full-time staff worldwide are engaged at work. This staggering figure is mostly made up by onshore staff. Considering that the productivity of engaged workers could be up to 21% more compared to disengaged workers, as reported by Gallup, disengagement is costly to companies.
So finally, it’s the million-dollar question (quite literally) –
how do we engage overseas remote workers?
One of the most important desire of a modern-day employee is to have a fulfilling work. According to the 2018 Global Talent Trends Study by Mercer, “Working with Purpose” is the second talent trend from the top. To provide a fulfilling job, an employer can consider tackling it from the following angles:
1. Help the remote staff understand that their roles are important
Humans are born to ask questions and one of the most commonly asked questions is about one’s own personal value and worth. Part of this value and worth is tied back to the person’s capability which is largely demonstrated throughout his/her career. It is therefore important that the staff understands how his/her value and worth is tied to the company and that there is a clear way to demonstrate it. The senior management must firstly clearly deliver the company mission and translate it into measurable metrics. Then the managers need to help the staff understand how his/her personal performance and work will contribute to the measurable metrics and ultimately the success of the company. This is also a fundamental step in setting meaningful KPIs.
2. Provide and support opportunities
Employees will constantly look for something new, whether that be career progression, new projects, new products or making process improvements. The 2018 Korn Ferry Survey pointed out that one third of those changing jobs cited boredom and the need for new challenges as the top reason for leaving. However simply providing the opportunities is rarely enough and companies also need to provide enough support to allow employees jumping on these opportunities.
3. Involve remote staff
Being the different one working outside the office would create feelings of exclusion and isolation so it’s important that the remote staff are involved across the business as much as possible. Making sure that they are included in all major and related meetings and their voices are heard is the first step in making them feeling as part of the team. You can further give them non-core responsibilities such as meeting coordinator to increase their presence in their workplace.
4. Help them understand what everyone does
Miscommunication between different teams often leads to internal conflicts and eventually business inefficiencies. However, you can open up communication through building up empathy for each other and forming an understanding of the challenges and goals in each other’s roles. One technique that is popular amongst IT professionals is knowledge sharing sessions called Brown Bag. Every staff will take turn to host a Brown Bag session during lunchtime at a regular interval and share with the whole company something that they work on, something they have learnt or something they found very interesting. The sessions are casual and promote soft skills such as presentation and communication. The other technique is role shadowing. By allowing each staff to have a chance to sit with a colleague from another team will allow them to understand better the nature of each other’s job, as well as the challenges involved. This arrangement strongly promotes communication and is useful for teams to collaboratively improve cross-functional processes.
Humans are not born with the ability to play sports as we are not born with controls over our body. To play sports, not only do we need to be able to use our body, but also coordinate different parts of the body to work in sync. For example, playing basketball requires very good coordination between eyes, legs and arms, etc. Similarly, you don’t expect different teams in a company to be able to work along perfectly on day one. They will need to understand each other’s responsibilities, priorities, team structures and team members before they are able to work well together. On top of that, they need to be strung together with aligned KPIs so they can all contribute in the same direction towards the company’s ultimate vision.
1. Put a face to the name
Working out of the offices means there’s less physical presence and therefore less interaction with colleagues so effort needs to be put in to secure constant conversation between the remote staff and the rest of the team. Apart from including them in all major meetings, brown bag sessions and role shadowing, arranging routine one on one conversations between the remote staff and the rest of the company is very helpful to maintain the human touch. The experience can be enhanced if video communication is adopted as that will help to put a face to the name and increase familiarity. On top of this, employers can also consider flying over their remote staff to visit the head office. Having the physical presence in the office every now and then not only helps with staff interactions, but it will also help the teams to iron out any cultural differences.
2. Cross team projects
How a person acts in a private setting isn’t always the same as how the person would behave in a professional environment. Therefore, staff interaction in business contexts is a useful way to help staff fit into their respective roles. For example, someone very outgoing may appear very reserved in a business setting. Although staff will usually interact during BAU, remote staff have less exposure to the daily interaction and may feel even more uneasy to stand out in the business setting. However, once you group the remote staff into projects, the private environment could help them open up more and drive more conversation between staff.
3. Aligned KPIs
Even if cultural differences and communication barriers have been overcome, teams may still work in different directions due different priorities. An example I have seen when I worked in investment is when the investment team had a KPI to complete a financial model within a period of time, but IT did not share the same deadline. As the result, the IT ends up prioritising other work and projects above the financial model and the investment team failed to deliver the model on time for their clients. Based on the example, you can see that the KPIs need to be interlinked in all directions. Firstly, the KPIs all need to trickle down from company’s measurable KPI, so every staff’s KPI has a clear connection and contribution to the achievement of their manager’s and the business unit’s KPIs, which eventually lead to the achievement of the business goals. Furthermore, between different teams and staff that work closely together or share the same projects, KPIs need to be aligned for priority and resource allocation so that they can work in sync. This priority should be consistent with the business’s measurable metrics.
The lack of recognition remains one of the most common reasons for employee’s departure, according to Gallup. It is therefore important for employers to be generous when giving credits to staff for their contribution and effort and recognition for their talents. It will enhance the self-worthiness mentioned earlier in relation to “working with purpose” and ties the purpose of the employee more closely to the company. Such connection is even more important for remote workers who may from time to time feel left out and being the odd ones out. If their contribution can be recognized and voices heard more then they will feel that they have been treated equally as one of the onsite staff.
At the end of the day, an overseas remote staff is still a human with emotion. If you are able to look after these emotions as you would for your onsite staff, your remote staff will feel just like an onsite staff. Let’s not forget, compared to your onsite staff, your remote staff is already enjoying the extra benefit of workplace flexibility, so the starting positions of their alignment and loyalty are theoretically already at more favoured positions. You just need to maintain their engagement and they will undoubtedly help your businesses succeed.