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May 9, 2023

From Cultural Differences to Global Connection: Nurturing Trust in Remote Work

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Meet Kate Lister, President of Global Workforce Analytics:

With a diverse background in banking and running unique businesses such as flying vintage airplanes from World War II and the 1920s, Kate Lister from Global Workforce Analytics has spent the last two decades helping organizations implement remote work policies and strategies. As a pioneer in the field, she has been instrumental in shaping the industry. She has assisted countless companies in navigating the challenges and opportunities associated with remote work, including the recent return-to-office efforts.

Watch Now: Kate Lister‘s In-Depth Talk with Vit Koval

Quick Read: Kate Lister, President of Global Workforce Analytics, Interview Highlights

How can companies manage distributed teams and build trust, especially with different cultural expectations and norms?

Building trust is a critical aspect of managing remote teams, and it can be challenging when dealing with different cultural norms and expectations. According to Kate, one way to approach this issue is to celebrate differences and create social bonds among team members. To achieve this, it is essential to have cross-cultural teams and ensure everyone feels free to talk about their cultural differences. Respecting time zones is also important; having team norms and agreements can help with this. Additionally, creating common interest groups such as games, gardening, or sports can help team members see the other side of their colleagues. Kate suggests that stories and role-playing also play a significant role in building trust and fostering these social bonds takes a lot of intentionalities. Kate shared some examples, such as a monthly culture day where employees spend half a day doing something representing their culture and then bring back photos to share with the team. Building trust and creating social bonds takes time and effort but can significantly impact team performance and employee well-being.

How can companies create opportunities for employees to develop strong ties in the context of global hiring and international teams?

Kate cited research showing that despite leaders feeling like culture and innovation are suffering due to remote work, it’s the opposite. Connection to culture during the pandemic went up, and it’s higher for hybrid or remote employees than for those on-site. In terms of innovation, global patents and venture capital investment went up during the pandemic, indicating that remote work doesn’t necessarily hurt innovation. However, Kate emphasized the importance of measuring these factors to understand if it’s a problem before spending resources to address it.

Kate also discussed the impact of remote work on strong and weak ties. During the pandemic, strong ties got stronger while weak ties got weaker. Kate suggested that intentionality is key to developing and maintaining these relationships, whether through assigned virtual speed dating, local or regional get-togethers, or shared experiences outside of work such as volunteering. She said:

“It doesn’t take a lot of time being together to create those trust bonds and to maintain them is much easier than people think. But it does help to have that in-person presence and to spend that time doing things that are not work and create shared experiences, go out and paint a barn or do some charity work.”

She also stressed the importance of cross-cultural connections for innovation and suggested measuring the frequency of interactions with people outside of one’s group or culture.

What specific metrics should companies implement to ensure remote work works for them?

For Kate, it depends on what companies want to achieve through remote work. If attracting and retaining talent is their goal, then that is what they should measure. From a cultural perspective, companies should focus on metrics that assess their cross-cultural capabilities. For instance, they could track the number of cross-cultural team members and their engagement levels. They should also ensure that their processes and practices are cross-cultural friendly, and make use of translation services for meeting transcripts.

Additionally, celebrating each other’s holidays and creating asynchronous documents that allow people to participate from different time zones can help foster a more inclusive and collaborative work environment. Asynchronous documents, for example, “allow people all over the world to participate without having to be online at two in the morning,” as I like to say.

Kate suggests that “companies should focus on metrics that assess their cross-cultural capabilities” and “celebrating each other’s holidays and creating asynchronous documents that allow people to participate from different time zones can help foster a more inclusive and collaborative work environment.”

As a founder of a global company, what can you suggest for hiring and managing employees in different cultures and time zones?

Don’t be afraid of hiring someone outside of your culture or geography; that’s what Kate said. Look for someone with a global understanding, such as an HR person or a director of culture. This person can do the vetting and make sure the candidate fits within the organization. Onboarding should include an introduction to the team and an understanding how the candidate likes to work with others. As remote work is becoming more common, organizations must ensure that they have policies and procedures to manage remote employees effectively. As Kate said, “let’s just assume everybody’s okay with remote working to begin with.”

It’s important to understand the employment compliance and employment law of each country where employees are located. Having a good understanding of employment contracting and employment laws in these locations is crucial. If necessary, companies should work with local lawyers to ensure they comply with all relevant laws and regulations.

Kate emphasized the importance of building a culture of trust and communication in remote teams. “It’s important to have good communication channels, set expectations early on, and then trust your employees,” she said. Trusting employees means giving them autonomy to do their work without micromanagement and also being open to feedback and suggestions from them.

Overall, it’s important for companies to have a global perspective when it comes to hiring and managing employees. This includes understanding different cultures, time zones, and employment laws and building a culture of trust and communication.

How can companies ensure that their remote workers comply with employment law and employment regulations, especially when working across different countries?

As for Kate, first and foremost, companies must familiarize themselves with the employment regulations and labor laws of the countries where they have employees. One of the biggest challenges is that employment regulations are different in every country, so it’s essential to have a solid understanding of these regulations. Additionally, companies can work with global employment organizations that specialize in compliance and can help navigate the complexity of global employment regulations. Another way to ensure compliance is to work with local lawyers in each country where you have employees. They can help you understand the legal requirements of each country and ensure that your policies and procedures are compliant. It’s also essential to have clear policies and procedures, such as contracts and employee handbooks, that outline the expectations for remote workers. And finally, companies should consider implementing training programs that educate remote workers on their legal obligations and how to maintain compliance with the regulations of their respective countries.

“One of the biggest challenges is that employment regulations are different in every country, so it’s essential to have a solid understanding of them.”

What significant challenges do managers and team leaders face when supporting distributed teams, and how can they address them?

Managers often struggle with managing remote teams because they’re used to managing by the back of the head, assuming that if someone is physically present, they must be productive. However, telework doesn’t create management problems, it reveals them. The pandemic has shown us that managers need to manage by results and that remote work requires a different approach to management. This is where manager training and employee training become essential to learn how to manage up and be visible. It’s important to have cascading goals that come from the organization’s values and trickle down to every level so that everyone understands the company’s purpose and how they contribute to it. This is how virtual teams should be measured, based on whether they meet their goals, regardless of how or when they did it. Remote work requires a change in practices and processes to be effective and efficient.

“Even if you have everybody in the office, implementing a remote-first approach will make you better prepared to operate wherever you are.”

As Kate pointed out, managers need to learn how to manage results instead of assuming productivity based on physical presence. This requires training for both managers and employees to learn how to manage up and be visible. Communication is also essential, including daily check-ins and establishing communication and collaboration norms. To effectively manage remote teams, cascading goals that come from the organization’s values should be established so that everyone understands the company’s purpose and how they contribute to it. Remote work requires a change in practices and processes to be effective and efficient, and even if all employees are in the office, implementing a remote-first approach will make them better prepared to operate wherever they are.

Are there any industries or companies that you think cannot work remotely due to their nature of work?

At first glance, it may seem like there are certain industries or companies that cannot work remotely, but I believe that almost every industry can find ways to incorporate remote work. Even in manufacturing, as virtual technologies improve, fewer people will be required to work on the shop floor. Industries like healthcare, finance, and education already have a high component of remote work. However, I have noticed that some cultures are not as accepting of remote work due to their strong emphasis on being together in person. For example, France has a very strong in-person culture. Additionally, different states within the US also have different levels of acceptance for remote work. For instance, Texas has a much higher return to office level than other states. In terms of industries that cannot work remotely, it’s difficult to think of any as even essential workers or on-site workers can be offered flexibility in terms of start and end times, job sharing, and time off. It’s important to recognize that about 20% of the workforce prefers to work in person and would not want to work remotely as younger people may not have conducive workspaces at home.

One direct quote from Kate is:

“Industries like healthcare, finance, and education already have a high component of remote work.”

How can companies ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations in different regions or countries where their employees are located?

When you have employees working from different states or countries, you must comply with different employment laws and regulations, which can be a real headache for HR teams. And then there’s the issue of contracting and contractors. When hiring someone to work remotely, you need to ensure you have the right contracts in place to protect both the company and the contractor. And that can be a bit tricky, especially when you’re dealing with contractors from different countries. But these challenges can be overcome with the right legal and HR support. Kate also said:

“It’s important to remember that employment law is not one-size-fits-all. States and countries have different laws and regulations that companies must comply with. So, it’s important to work with legal and HR experts to make sure you’re doing everything by the book.”

Listen Up: Kate Lister, President of Global Workforce Analytics, Full Podcast Episode on Spotify

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