There are multiple factors that can influence your remote team members, such as time zones and salary schedules. How you navigate them can improve your managerial impact.
Being an engineering manager to a team of developers requires establishing effective communication, processes, and technological tools for the group. Those aspects are a necessity no matter where your team members are located. To successfully lead a team of individuals who are not in the same location, country, or continent, and speak different languages, requires an understanding of nuance.
The challenges of remote leadership
Remote management introduces various complexities that are not present with in-person management. One of the first things that comes to mind is the lack of in-person communication, replaced by video calls and asynchronous offline communication. This fact alone cuts out real-time reactions and body language cues.
But, while these immediate side-effects of asynchronous working are well-known to many, remote management can bring other issues to the table. Awareness of geography, politics, labor law, holidays, and timezone/workweek structure of your employees are all important factors you must calculate as well. It might not sound immediately relevant, but gaining a basic understanding of these topics is useful to remote managers.
The below examples are of my managerial experiences at a completely remote org. While some topics might sound more applicable to HR than engineering, as a direct manager of remote employees, there is a big chance you will be tackling them sooner and more often than the HR representative working with your department.
1. Political considerations
There is a broad understanding that talking about politics in a workplace is not desirable.
However, as managers, you need to understand the political climate in your team members’ countries and regions, as these factors have heavy implications for your employees.
For example, there could be an election day or demonstrations that your employees are entitled to participate in without deducting it from their vacation days. They could also be called up for military reserve. Or, there could be military actions, terror attacks, crime, and various forms of violence that influence their safety, stress levels, and availability.
Managers must be able to understand where their team members are located in terms of proximity to the office, taking into consideration the climate and weather conditions.
For example, assigning an employee to an office in their country via the company system when they’re a three-hour flight away from it may cause them to lose remote worker benefits.
Weather conditions are just as relevant. In some locations, snow storms (and other weather extremes) can cause electricity outages, cutting off internet connection and impeding their access to work. Other elements such as school closures will require those employees who are parents to pick up their children earlier than planned affecting their day-to-day lives and their ability to commute to the office.
3. Communication in different timezones
Be aware of your employee’s timezone and workweek schedule. There may be individuals who work Monday to Friday, but there also might be those who work Sunday to Thursday. Knowing the times and days your team members are available mitigates you from scheduling a meeting at midnight in their timezone or on a day that they aren’t meant to be working.
Selecting the right communication tool is paramount, as there will be certain mediums that aren’t optimal for the team setup. For instance, with a big timezone gap, video calls or meetings would not be the best option. Instead, choose something more suitable for your team setup such as async communication i.e., email or a chat system that keeps history.
You should also be mindful of confusing messaging. For example, avoid sending a message to someone who lives in a timezone 7-8 hours ahead of yours, asking “Are you free to talk this morning?” while your Wednesday is just starting and theirs is ending. The same applies when asking, “Does Tuesday morning work as a deadline?” Without a specified date and time e.g., October 31, 10 am EDT, mistakes can ensue.
4. Salary schedule
While all your employees earn a salary, there could be differences in the way and frequency they receive their paycheck, as well as the benefits accompanying the paycheck.
For example, there are countries where the paycheck is paid on a monthly basis, but in some countries, the paycheck is paid every two weeks. And even in a monthly cycle, there are differences when the paycheck is transferred.
Paying attention to these niche elements will be useful when conversations about salary raises or bonuses arise. Namely, knowing when to schedule those conversations so they happen before the transaction occurs. When paying bonuses, it’s also good to know if it will be paid in a lump sum at the end of the month or equally divided across a different payment cadence i.e., every two weeks.
While talking about salaries, remember that there are different currencies in different countries, and even if all amounts appear in USD in your company's tools, they will still be transferred in the local currency. It’s useful for you to prepare the conversion and communicate these relevant amounts with local currency in mind to your reports when having these conversations.
5. Labor laws
While labor laws are complex and typically left to HR and legal teams, getting some basic understanding of them will help you plan and communicate better with your employees.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the rules of parental leave for both parties and keep on top of legislation changes that may occur to understand how long someone will be absent. This will help you when it comes to making precise plans for knowledge transfer and work capacity before parental leave. Understanding that in some places a maternity leave policy can be a month, while in other places the norm for the leave is a year, can also help you plan how to address this in your conversation.
Taking other work-related policies into account such as working overtime or sending/responding to emails after work hours is important.
Learning about your team and their circumstances helps you to better understand the people you work with. In turn, this awareness builds a stronger relationship with them leading to higher employee satisfaction and psychological safety.
From a business perspective, providing the right support and leadership will also lead to less attrition and better-performing teams.
Acknowledging the diversity of your team’s life experience will enrich your own experience as a remote manager, ensuring a thriving team in an ever-evolving global work environment.