I have worked in global roles off and on for about 20 years. Apart from the annoying fact that you regularly have to get up early to do calls that align with one time zone or another only to then have to do the same thing all over again later that day for yet another time zone, there is the whole challenge around management by phone call – that how can you be sure you got the message across type challenge? Given that you can’t be in 2 places at once (or 3 or 4 or 5 for that matter!), the nature of a global role generally includes large amounts of time on the phone or skype/zoom or similar. In a global corporation this is the nature of the beast and most people simply deal with it is as fact with the mitigating notion being that every now and then someone will hop on a plane and there will be at least a little face-to-face time.
Having moved on from those corporate days I am now managing my own digital business called MyManuscripts (whilst at the same time doing some consulting for a London based software house) and I strangely find myself back in a very similar position. In my digital world I have built (or sort of inherited) a team of people geographically dispersed and the very nature of a digital business means that your client base can literally be anywhere in the world. I currently have team members in England, Scotland, Portugal and the Ukraine. Whilst most of these in are in quite favourable time-zones the principle remains, how to manage a team when you rarely meet face-to-face? Now let me let you in on a little secret – I have not actually met a single one of my team members face-to-face! In some cases, these are people that I have been working with for over 12 months! Yet as I said, my customer base is worldwide and offering things such as an on-line chat function means there is both an expectation and desire to try and respond to queries and cries for help no matter what time of the day it is.
In terms of the consulting work I am doing, I currently have 4 customers with 2 principle contacts for each customer and in this case of the 8 people I am in very regular contact with, I have only met 1 of them face-to-face! Thankfully each of the pieces of work involves customers who are in exactly the same time zone. So I at least this is one place where the hours are a more traditional 9 to 5 but our communications rely entirely upon conference calls and emails.
So, how are things faring? How would I rate the way things have gone given these challenges?
The answer is that they have gone surprisingly good. The digital business is up and running and does not seem to have suffered from a lack of face-to-face contact with the team. We do use Skype and Zoom regularly and these are almost always audio and video. We know each other’s faces and we are able at least to some degree to read body language. The work does not seem to have suffered.
In terms of customers, as the product does not have real-time expectation most of those who have reached out for assistance are happy to leave a message and as long as they get a response in a reasonable time will continue using the service.
So what would I recommend for someone looking to run a small, global business? What are my thoughts on running things such as operations and projects where very little if any face to face meetings between key people occurs? Can these run successfully?
The answer is, of course. If possible, at least 1 face-to-face meeting very early in the project or operation would be beneficial. Short of this, a Skype or Zoom with video is the next best thing. To mitigate juttering, stuttering video calls try and ensure you have the best speed of internet you can – that clarity of voice and certainly image, makes a big, big difference. Its not the same as face-to-face but a sharp, stable skype or zoom or similar call with audio and video is the next best thing. Further, try and have regular, ad-hoc short touch base meetings. In some respects these make up for the lack of ‘accidental’ benefits that often occur when you are physically with people for longer periods of times – you know those ‘hey I have just had a thought’ or watercooler conversations as Americans often refer to them.
Yet I wonder if the same answer might have applied 25 years ago? I wonder if with the incredible shrinking of the world and the prevalence of global organisations and operations that have come about in the last 25 years has led to the fact that we now seem to easily cope with a lack of face to face contact in our regular lives? Has it become the norm to operate this way?
So to answer my own question that started all this, yes I do believe it is possible to successfully run a global business without meeting those people working with you face to face. The real question perhaps is why, if you could avoid this, wouldn’t you?! Life, unfortunately, is never that simple!
For more information about me and my business visit www.mymanuscripts.com