Search Google for “Remote Management”, and you will
find more than 25 million resulting links - almost all of which relate to remotely managing computers. The analogy is a bit
unfair, but many of the managers, project leaders, and others leading or overseeing remote employees seem to wish the underlying
principles were the same: once you put proper systems in place, communication becomes a snap and results are predictable.
Naturally, it does not work that way with people.
Communicating effectively and getting results requires constant work, especially when leading team members located in other
countries who belong to different cultures. Let us look at some of the toughest leadership challenges remote managers
in international settings are facing:
No matter whether a team is local or remote, it is vital to define
clear objectives for and expectations of their work, setting goals and selecting metrics that will be used to determine goal
attain- ment and to assess performance. Managing objectives requires more than these initial steps, though: on an ongoing
basis, leader and team need to review their progress, change goals or metrics if needed, agree on corrective actions where
appropriate, and so on. In a dynamic competitive environment, this is a continuous pro- cess.
This process will not look much different with local or remote
employees. When working across cultures and language barriers, there may be a few added complications due to communication
challenges, but to the most part, the process remains the same. Cultural differences do not represent big hurdles in this
For remote management, the primary communication purpose is to
facilitate team coordination and alignment by creating feedback loops among team leader and members. Inevitably,
communi- cating with people becomes more difficult in remote settings. Traveling for face-to-face meetings costs time and
money, phone or video conferencing cuts out most non-verbal communication, and the limitations of email frequently cause
misunderstandings. In international teams, two factors further complicate the commu- nication: language barriers and cultural
In a world where English has become the universal language of
business and where young people in almost any country seem to speak it well, some may view language issues “a thing of the
past”. Make no mistake: they are still the #1 reason for misun- derstandings. Studies have repeatedly shown that
conversations in English between proficient speakers whose native languages are different, especially when conducted over the
phone, regularly reach far less than 50% efficiency: most of the content is lost. Slowing down and speaking in simple,
jargon-free terms helps a little. Over-communicating and frequently repeating key mes- sages are important, too.
The cultural difference that usually affects communication the
most is the directness or indirectness of a certain culture. In some, such as Germany, the Netherlands, or Israel, people
may be overly direct, at least to U.S. standards; others, including many Asians and Latin Americans, may be very diplomatic,
making it difficult to determine the message they intend to deliver. Effective remote managers carefully listen and
watch for subtle messages, ask questions in an open and non-threatening manner, and frequently re-verify whether own and
others’ messages have been correctly understood.
For Americans remotely managing international teams, building and
maintaining relationships can be a tough challenge. There are two conflicting forces:
1. The greater the cultural distance, the more important
rela- tionship building becomes. This means that people need to get together, ideally on a regular base.
Employees in some cultures perform poorly on international teams unless they are given opportunities to meet and get to
know the team’s leader and other members. The desire to develop close personal relationships is much stronger in
many other countries, in particular in Asia, than it is in the United States.
2. The greater the physical distances involved, the harder it gets
to spend face time with remote team members. As a conse- quence, people rarely get to meet in person.
Typical indicators of underdeveloped relationships are low team
motivation and commitment, a general lack of trust, and a sense that team members have hidden agendas of their own. These
effects may get attributed to other factors. However, smart remote managers know that in many cultures, personal
rela- tionships can make or break a team’s success.