A Guide to Managing Overseas Employees

With communications so well developed and more organizations conducting business all over the world, employing overseas employees is becoming more common.

There are many advantages here of course; not least of which is the ability to have someone local on the scene who is familiar with the area, culture and commercial landscape compared to having to transfer someone to that country and allow time for acclimatization.

The ability to talk to anyone just about anywhere for free or at least inexpensively using Skype, FaceTime or cheap international phone calls and generate secure payments using accounting software with tamper proof checks makes working with people all over the globe easily possible.

But there are considerations:

Strong communication

Good communication is, of course, important even when employees are a few feet away in the same office, more so when working with staff overseas.

Since much communication may well be in a written form, such as via email, it’s important to ensure information and instructions can be understood easily. Due to time differences, if your overseas staffer receives an email they don’t fully understand it may be some time before you receive their reply saying this – and then another delay as your reply gets read.

As a result, time is wasted and maybe a deadline is missed.

If you don’t share a common language, keep written communications clear and simple so things don’t get misunderstood in translation.

Be concise and clear in communications when speaking on the phone or via Skype or similar; you may only have an hour or two when you’re both ‘at work’ so don’t waste time – that said a few social pleasantries won’t go amiss.

Cultural differences

The more you know about the culture and customs in countries where you have employees, the easier it will be to understand their work methods and routines.

You can’t be expected to become an expert on various different nations’ culture, but some basic background knowledge is worth having.

The human touch

It can become easy to fall into a routine of purely exchanging dry and formal business emails; there’s nothing wrong with this if it gets the job done of course, but remember to mix it up occasionally with the odd phone or Skype call.

Hearing a voice and seeing someone – even if it’s via a computer screen – does make a difference in forging good working relationships.

Perhaps look to have a phone or Skype call once every two weeks, or at least monthly, along with the routine email correspondence.

If possible, it’s worth considering visiting them in their country or setting up occasional visits to you. This effort will go a long way in strengthening working relationships and make them feel part of your staff team as opposed to the worker ‘out in the field’.

When choosing times to talk live, don’t always expect your overseas staff member to talk when convenient for your time zone. Perhaps offer to alternate so, for example, the weekly Skype call is during their work time one week and yours the week after and so on.

Make use of technology

Modern tech makes it easy to stay in touch all over the globe, and as mentioned earlier – along with email – various methods exist to make communications a bit more personal such as Skype with many being free.

Google Apps – the search giant offers a raft of apps – mostly free – for communicating and keeping in touch and scheduling work with staff. Tools such as calendars, document sharing and live communication are all available.

Skype and Zoom – just two platforms that enable video and group calls.

Basecamp and Trello – two project management tools for effective and clear worldwide communication.

Internet phone calls – a welter of apps and platforms exist to make free calls online.

Be supportive and inclusive

It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating overseas staff a bit like hired hands; it’s important to make them feel part of the whole, so try and include them in company matters such as explaining your aims and objectives and showing how their efforts contribute.

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