Asia is a prime target for almost every business’ growth plans, but successfully building teams and keeping employees engaged – often dispersed across wide distances – is another matter entirely.
When business’ set up in new markets there is often a solo point person tasked with opening doors and investigating the opportunity, before greater resources are committed. Whether this is the right or wrong approach will continue to be debated but the reality is that is precisely what’s happening on the ground.
The key question every business must now answer is: How do you keep a disparate work force together and engaged?
At SRi, we have been through the same challenging process as we grew our small but tightly-knit APAC team from 3 to 15 people in 5 offices across the region. In addition, we’ve seen our clients, often starting out with 1 or 2 people and then scaling quickly across Asia. Luckily, there is nothing desperate about the simple initiatives that may make a real difference to team performance. And while the following is certainly no ‘magic wand’, they might work for you:
Getting to Know Them as People
When working together physically in the same space, you get to know your colleagues through casual chats and be able to pick up on their moods. Words of consolation, encouragement or congratulations, whichever appropriate, can be passed on easily. With remote colleagues, greater effort has to be made to know them as individuals, i.e., the greater landscape of their lives outside of work, so that remote employees are more than just another name on the team.
Of course there is a fine line between being interested and being intrusive, but managers should allow themselves to be led by the employee to get a good feel for how much they want to share. Remembering the details about their interests and personal situation is essential so you can have genuine conversation around these areas, much as you may have in a physical office.
Focusing on What, not When
Remote employees tailor their schedule to optimise productivity to suit them, so trust and let them perform without unnecessary restrictions that would debase the point of flexible working arrangements. Establish a working schedule and reporting system that do not compromise a project’s timeline and yet respect the employee’s autonomy.
If the employee is isolated from the rest of the team, and particularly if working from home, it takes a huge amount of dedication and commitment to motivate themselves for 9 hours straight – and studies have shown that this approach doesn’t lead to real productivity.
Allow your employee to lead on their schedule. Be open about it so both sides know what to expect.
Leveraging on Technology
Those working remotely do not have a similar constant information feedback by way of desk visits and discussions by the coffee machine, so employers must provide a platform for effective communication. Collaborative project management tools like Trello and Basecamp can ensure a consistent flow of information exchange and make a huge difference as does the correct use of CRM systems – which become all the more essential with remote working. In addition simple WeChat or WhatsApp groups assist in enabling quick, direct feedback and response
Help them manage time effectively. Sometimes it could be as simple as asking what they need – a hardware upgrade or more admin support, perhaps. Provide training and the right IT equipment to show to remote employees that management truly cares about their time. Getting the little things right provides greater motivation for remote employees to produce quality work efficiently.
Recognising Everyone’s Contribution
Because remote employees are hardly seen in the office, it is far too easy to overlook their contributions or to neglect acknowledging their efforts and great work. Remote employees’ office-dwelling counterparts might form the perception that they are out ‘slacking-off’ or not pulling their weight because they don’t see fruits of their labour on a daily basis. This can lead to discouragement and a loss of drive in the long run across the entire team.
As a manager, make it a point to bring direct attention to remote employees’ contributions on a daily basis. Highlight their accomplishments on company-wide channels and empower other team members to do so as well. Even better, nurture an inclusive organisational culture that encourages the acknowledgement of everyone’s efforts.
Cutting out the Unnecessary
Contrary to popular corporate belief, there is a thing called too much face-time.
If there is no real need to meet, do not meet for the sake of doing so or just because it was agreed that this particular meeting should be held at this time every day. Communicate only when necessary so that remote employees can be left to do their job effectively and efficiently.
As younger employees enter your teams, it’s worth remembering too that often they react much better to intermittent contact through messaging platforms rather than overly formal weekly catch ups.
While the ‘manager’ needs to ensure an employee is performing to their best ability and dealing effectively with their responsibilities, the wider team has a significant role to play in effective engagement too. Ensure the whole team realises that the region or the business cannot be serviced without remote employees – and their own success is directly linked to the wider team’s success. Encouraging informal chat groups and video calls also cultivates open relationships amongst employees.
With technology continuing to make remote working easier, the trend of having teams comprised of individual members working remotely across vast distances will only continue to increase.
SRi has worked closely with some of the largest global businesses to build their APAC teams through executive search and talent consulting. Few of those businesses entered the region by establishing large offices in multiple locations across Asia, preferring instead to secure a small selection of keystone talent to focus on building solid foundations. Bearing in mind that even the fittest of any pack would still require support in order to flourish, keeping remote employees engaged can be the key to creating a successful APAC business.
Helen Soulsby is the Managing Partner, APAC for SRi, an international management consultancy and executive search company specialising in the sports, media and entertainment market.
Leading teams throughout the region, Helen’s role is to drive performance and growth in the Asia business through partnering with clients to deliver executive search assignments, as well as advising on executive board structures how to best execute overall business strategies.
The SRi Asia team has built a reputation as the leading business in the region in delivering multi-hire projects that enable businesses to launch in the Asia region with maximum impact. You can contact Helen directly here.