How to manage a globally dispersed workforce

ICS Learn, the Official Learning Partner of the CIPD Middle East People Conference, shares advice and key practices to effectively manage remote teams.
How to Manage a Globally Dispersed Workforce
Paradoxically, COVID-19 – which has paralysed the world economy and brought most international travel to a complete standstill – is actually increasing the dispersal of international workers from the United Arab Emirates back to their home countries. 
 
And this has the potential to cause a headache for management teams in the Emirates. How do you manage a team of remote employees, who also happen to be based in different countries across the world?
 
Here are some techniques to help you manage a globally dispersed workforce and make remote work run smoothly. 

COVID 19 and the rise of remote work

One of the major reasons for this movement towards dispersed teams is the rise of remote work in the pandemic, which removed the need to be anchored in one place. 
 
Whilst there are a range of complex factors behind the exodus of employees currently leaving the UAE and Middle East – from a rapidly-rising cost of living across the region, through to concern about the effects of COVID-19 red lists on expat travel – the flexibility that remote work offers has played a key role. 
 
Although there’s an obvious lifestyle-draw to working in HR and L&D in the UAE and Middle East, it isn’t for everyone. As the pandemic has bitten, and remote work has become the norm, more workers have been moving back to their home countries to be closer to their friends and family. If the results of a recent survey by the recruiter Robert Walters are anything to go by, which found that 38% of professionals in the Middle East want to move to full-time remote working permanently after the pandemic, this issue is likely to stay around for a while. 
 
This presents a clear challenge to employers and HR professionals, when it comes to managing a workforce over distance. 
 
So, how do you do it? Here are some key things to think about when it comes to improving how you manage a workforce scattered across the globe. 
 

1. Create clear expectations

The success of managing a globally distributed remote workforce rests on the expectations you set for how employees work and communicate progress. 
 
Even when you’re sitting opposite someone in the same room, communication can be challenging. When you’re separated by thousands of miles, that challenge multiplies. And communication isn’t just important for productivity – it’s also vital in combating the loneliness that can come with remote working
 
For example, does your company expect its remote workers to follow a set schedule during the day, or is it happy to let employees take the initiative and choose what time they start, finish and have breaks? What’s the acceptable level of communication that you expect from your team on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? 
 
By laying down some clear ground rules from the start (or firming them up), you can ensure that remote-working arrangements with a globally dispersed workforce are just as productive as those in a physical workplace. Be proactive with team communication, outlining how, when and in what ways you expect your employees to communicate, and you can ensure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and that knowledge can be shared efficiently within the team. 
 
 

2. Adapt your expectations of remote work

An office space and a home-working environment are polar opposite environments for employees and for managers. 
 
In the office, managers have a degree of control over the activities of employees – they can supervise them, direct them and respond in real-time to issues as they occur. In a home-working environment, this control is lessened and the employee has more autonomy. 
 
As a result, there can often be some tension between how managers marry an expectation of work routines continuing exactly how they would in the office, and the reality of how they really function in a home-working setting. 
 
As office-working and home-working are two fundamentally different environments, it’s obvious that our expectations of how we work in them should adapt accordingly. For managers, this means adopting a flexible mindset to how we expect work to be completed, and for employees, it means thinking about how they can maintain and exceed prior levels of productivity. 
 
Numerous studies have proved that remote employees are just as, if not, more, productive than employees working in the office, so you shouldn’t worry that your team are suddenly going to experience a nosedive in productivity the moment they start completing tasks from home.
 
Good remote managers realise one important fact: the most important thing is that work is done efficiently, on time, and to the standard that you expect – the fine print of how and when it is done isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.
 
 

3. Pay attention to time zones

Different time zones can wreak more havoc than you think when it comes to managing employees across different countries. Being aware of their perils – and how to navigate them – is one of the keys to making remote work management a success. 
 
Depending on where your remote employees are in the world, they’ll generally either be ahead or behind your local time, which can make scheduling meetings that everyone can attend difficult – particularly if employees are based in far-away countries like the USA, United Kingdom or China. 
 
The frequency and the nature of the meetings you have will obviously depend on the type of role that you’re managing. For most employees though, a weekly or monthly meeting will be the most effective way to have a face-to-face conversation about issues and it can be scheduled in advance without too many problems. 
 
 

4. Trust your employees to do their jobs

We’ve touched on this in the previous points, but ultimately, how successful you are when you’re managing a globally dispersed workforce depends on how much you’re prepared to trust your employees. 
 
Trust is fundamental to remote work. The nature of remote work means that you won’t be able to manage your employee’s day-to-day routine as much as you did in an office environment – and that’s fine. 
 
At its most basic, managing employees scattered across the globe requires you to have faith in their ability and in their promises – that, if you’ve asked them to do a task, they will do it to the standard that you expect, to the timescale that you need. 
 
This simple fact can be hard to swallow for a lot of managers who are coming to remote work management for the first time but it’s one that you need to work on if you want to manage global teams to the best of your ability.
 
If you’re looking for some more pointers on how to build trust in a remote team, this Forbes article has some useful insights that you can put into practice. 
 
 

5. Develop your remote workers!

One of the most effective ways that you can build trust at work is by investing in employee training and qualifications – in other words, by investing in the learning and development of your remote workers. 
 
By showing employees that you value their skills and that you’re willing to develop them further with training, you can both improve remote work productivity and build trust within your team.
 
Numerous studies have shown that employee training has a positive impact on morale in the workplace, can combat mental health problems and can even help to improve productivity, and all of these issues are vital to creating a good remote-work environment.  
 
Now, thanks to digital distance learning, remote workers can study training courses and professional qualifications without the need to attend a college or learning establishment. They can simply complete their qualification at home, studying the same course as their office-based colleague to keep everyone on the same page.
 
The growing trend towards dispersed workforces in the Middle East is reflective of a larger move to remote working around the world – a trend which will be with us for many years to come. By trusting and investing in your remote employees, you can show them they’re just as important and valued as their local colleagues – creating a happy and productive working environment, no matter where they’re based.
 
 
 
Upskill your remote team with an online CIPD HR qualification with ICS Learn. Get your free CIPD course guide and start your journey today.
 
ICS Learn is the Official Learning Partner of the CIPD Middle East People Conference, taking place virtually on 19-20 May 2021. Find out more and grab your tickets here or contact us at events@cipd.ae
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