Values in Global Virtual Teams

first published on www.sietar.ch.

by @angieweinberger

Values are the foundation of your global virtual team. Values are what clients feel instantly when they work with your team. They feel the connection because true values come from the heart.

If you are a leader of a global virtual team you have probably faced many intercultural challenges until your team was ready to perform. You might have underestimated the challenges of global communication under pressure or you have taken promises at face value.

When you bring your team together for an offsite you have probably already developed the team vision, mission and brand statement but have you considered your values? I am not talking about the value statement you read in the corporate magazine. I am talking about the values you and your team members all share and the ones that your clients feel.

We recently developed ten values in an intercultural team intervention. In intercultural settings values could be expected to go into various directions but when you break them down you will see that there are similarities or universal values that we all share. Research by Schwartz and Bilsky (1990) suggests that we have universal values although they research was mainly conducted in Western cultures (and Hongkong).

achievement, enjoyment, maturity, prosocial, restrictive conformity, security, self-direction

From values you can derive team principles of communication and of working together. Then in case of conflict you have principles to base your decisions on.

When working with my clients in 1:1 career or executive sessions I always build in a session on values at work. What I felt are the seven most commonly cited (this is anecdotal, not academic data) are these:

  1. Quality
  2. Client Service
  3. Collaboration
  4. Integrity
  5. Relationships
  6. Sustainability
  7. Leadership.

Let’s assume these seven values form the basis around the globe for excellence. My clients come from all continents so I am hoping there is no cultural bias here.

If you are now thinking about working on this basis with your global virtual team I’d love this approach. You just have to remember that the meaning behind these words is culturally different so in a team setting you should ask your team how they show these values at work. Ask them for examples and stories. You might get different views on Leadership and Integrity but having the discussion or collecting stories will help the team see those differences.

►Building principles

Before you can formulate team principles ensure that you are all on the same page. Suggest every team member to contribute their wording. Even if it is messy. Create a team page or social media space where you can share your wording for values.

When you develop team principles it is important that you word them in the form of „We do…“ (active and positve). Example „We support each other achieve excellent quality by giving honest feedback.“

►Take photos, videos and allow images

When you see the values at work take photos and allow your team members to create videos or graphics. Put them on your coffee cups or shared file area. Be creative.

►Aligning language of your global virtual team

When you start this exercise you might notice that the language of your team members is not always aligned. They might say similar things with different words. Aligning the language of your global virtual team means that you come up with definitions, quotes and images. I often hear people telling me they work hard but I need to understand what in means in their context. In Switzerland working hard means getting up at 5 AM and being in the office at 7 AM and leaving the office at 5 PM to work in the community fire brigade or study in the evenings or raise four kids. In the US working hard might mean working 80 hours per week no matter when. In India „working hard“ might mean coming to the office even if you are unwell or even if your family needs you at home.

►Drop the assumptions

The more I work with global virtual teams the more I would advise you to drop your assumptions or at least to critically reflect them. You might only have a glimpse of understanding of the values of your team members until you have a personal conversation at a business conference at 2 AM in the morning. Sharing values requires trust and that is only built over time by people who show their values towards their colleagues constantly.

Why Gender is Not a Factor in Hiring a Remote Employee

Guest post by ANGELINE LICERIO

Discrimination of any kind should be unacceptable in any given situation. Gender discrimination, on the other hand, takes this to another notch, especially in the workplace. The sad reality is that gender discrimination still happens in most hiring processes. I found this surprising, and no wonder if you’re shocked too: in light of our new global situation, those who work remotely also experience gender discrimination. An article published by Harvard Business Review has highlighted that women are viewed by employers to be carrying out more domestic responsibilities, while men are seen to be more career-oriented and likely to expand their work spheres. Another article published by Forbes suggests that men are more likely to put in extra overtime on work tasks, while women pick up the slack with more domestic duties.

So, is gender a factor when hiring a remote employee? The short and definitive answer is “no”. The decision to hire a worker should be based on how they fit the role and how they can contribute to the growth of the organisation. Hiring an employee, especially for a remote position, should always be based on merits, qualifications, and skills.

Is Gender Discrimination Still Happening?

Gender issues in the workplace still happen, and it’s a proven fact. Women and men both get discriminated against when it comes to work, especially remotely. Some employers would often put in their job posting that they only hire women or men for specific roles. This is not illegal just across the whole European Union (Directive 2006/54/EC), but also in many other more authoritarian countries and notably less egalitarian countries. Hence, you might be shocked to read this. Human Rights Watch spotted “men only”, “suitable for men” or the like on thousands of job descriptions in China, despite this being illegal there as well. Read the report here.

While this may be the case, we should also highlight that there are a lot of companies that look past gender differences and many leaders genuinely respect a person for his or her achievements at work. More people have the utmost respect for both women and men in the workplace because of their contributions to their respective fields.

A Different Approach

Hiring remote employees, whether a single one or a full team, requires not only the right skill sets but their ability to work in an unsupervised working environment. Remote work has a lot of merits. At the top of that is more savings timewise and moneywise, which makes this option very attractive to both employers and employees. Remote workers are also not bound by geographic locations, which means that an employer looking to hire has a massive pool of talent at his disposal. 

Let’s now look at the skills that make remote workers more employable regardless of their genders.

Self-discipline

A remote employee needs to be able to work with minimal supervision, and being male or female has no bearing on this whatsoever.  Remote workers need to block and manage their time for and focus their energy on work when it is time to. Great employees need to be on the clock without anyone telling them to do so, and this should be among the top considerations when looking to hire remote workers. This quality is never gender-related – it is either a person has self-discipline or not.

Strong, Above-average Communication Skills

Having average communication skills will never be enough for a remote worker because communication is a crucial element for a successful remote-based work. In this case, a person can have excellent communication skills regardless of sex. There is no workaround for not having above-average communication skills in a remote working environment. 

For one, a remote employee would need to be in constant communication with their teammates and their direct supervisors. Instructions will likely be over calls, emails, and video conferences. Average communication skills help when you’re working with someone face to face, but you will need to be an excellent communicator to thrive in the remote work environment.

Remote workers need to have the extra sensitivity to listen and hear what is actually being said in an email or telephone conversation. It would take above average communication skills to read between the lines of an email and to pick up the nuances in a conversation.

Troubleshooting Skills

The ability to troubleshoot not only work-related problems concerning clients but also technical and business continuity problems are crucial when it comes to working remotely. Remember that when a person works remotely, there is no IT department to support them round the clock. A remote worker should, at the very least, have rudimentary troubleshooting skills when it comes to networks and computers. Without this, simple installation or a simple network problem can cause delays in their deliverables.

Troubleshooting does not always mean technical problems, but it is also about finding out the root cause of a problem. We need not to reiterate it, but troubleshooting skills are never dependent on the gender of the employee.

Have Reliable Judgment

Some would say that this is part of having troubleshooting skills, but for us, having a reliable judgment is completely separate. It comes very handy whenever decisions have to be made without the help of a team or a committee. A person who has great judgement, whether male or female, can make decisions that will affect the business he or she is representing as a whole.

The ability to rely on themselves and weigh their options well is one rare but necessary skill to have as a remote worker. 

In Closing

Hiring remote employees brings a lot of benefits to the table. Apart from more productivity and motivation, the company can save money and get higher quality output in the long run. This is why gender should never be a cause for someone’s disqualification.

It is unfortunate that this topic even exists and that we feel the need to enumerate the right qualifications for hiring a remote employee. Gender ultimately has no bearing on the effectiveness of a remote worker to do their jobs well. Any company that uses gender to segregate their employees should rethink their hiring process if they want to thrive in their chosen industry. Being male or female has nothing to do with a person’s ability to succeed in their jobs, be it remote or not.

How the Author Defines a Remote Worker

In this article, the author refers to remote workers as anyone who works outside of a traditional office environment. They can be working from home, working from a coworking space, at a coffee shop, etc.

Resources and further reading

Guest post by ANGELINE LICERIO

Discrimination of any kind should be unacceptable in any given situation. Gender discrimination, on the other hand, takes this to another notch, especially in the workplace. The sad reality is that gender discrimination still happens in most hiring processes. I found this surprising, and no wonder if you’re shocked too: in light of our new global situation, those who work remotely also experience gender discrimination. An article published by Harvard Business Review has highlighted that women are viewed by employers to be carrying out more domestic responsibilities, while men are seen to be more career-oriented and likely to expand their work spheres. Another article published by Forbes suggests that men are more likely to put in extra overtime on work tasks, while women pick up the slack with more domestic duties.

So, is gender a factor when hiring a remote employee? The short and definitive answer is “no”. The decision to hire a worker should be based on how they fit the role and how they can contribute to the growth of the organisation. Hiring an employee, especially for a remote position, should always be based on merits, qualifications, and skills.

Is Gender Discrimination Still Happening?

Gender issues in the workplace still happen, and it’s a proven fact. Women and men both get discriminated against when it comes to work, especially remotely. Some employers would often put in their job posting that they only hire women or men for specific roles. This is not illegal just across the whole European Union (Directive 2006/54/EC), but also in many other more authoritarian countries and notably less egalitarian countries. Hence, you might be shocked to read this. Human Rights Watch spotted “men only”, “suitable for men” or the like on thousands of job descriptions in China, despite this being illegal there as well. Read the report here.

While this may be the case, we should also highlight that there are a lot of companies that look past gender differences and many leaders genuinely respect a person for his or her achievements at work. More people have the utmost respect for both women and men in the workplace because of their contributions to their respective fields.

A Different Approach

Hiring remote employees, whether a single one or a full team, requires not only the right skill sets but their ability to work in an unsupervised working environment. Remote work has a lot of merits. At the top of that is more savings timewise and moneywise, which makes this option very attractive to both employers and employees. Remote workers are also not bound by geographic locations, which means that an employer looking to hire has a massive pool of talent at his disposal.

Let’s now look at the skills that make remote workers more employable regardless of their genders.

Self-discipline

A remote employee needs to be able to work with minimal supervision, and being male or female has no bearing on this whatsoever.  Remote workers need to block and manage their time for and focus their energy on work when it is time to. Great employees need to be on the clock without anyone telling them to do so, and this should be among the top considerations when looking to hire remote workers. This quality is never gender-related – it is either a person has self-discipline or not.

Strong, Above-average Communication Skills

Having average communication skills will never be enough for a remote worker because communication is a crucial element for a successful remote-based work. In this case, a person can have excellent communication skills regardless of sex. There is no workaround for not having above-average communication skills in a remote working environment.

For one, a remote employee would need to be in constant communication with their teammates and their direct supervisors. Instructions will likely be over calls, emails, and video conferences. Average communication skills help when you’re working with someone face to face, but you will need to be an excellent communicator to thrive in the remote work environment.

Remote workers need to have the extra sensitivity to listen and hear what is actually being said in an email or telephone conversation. It would take above average communication skills to read between the lines of an email and to pick up the nuances in a conversation.

Troubleshooting Skills

The ability to troubleshoot not only work-related problems concerning clients but also technical and business continuity problems are crucial when it comes to working remotely. Remember that when a person works remotely, there is no IT department to support them round the clock. A remote worker should, at the very least, have rudimentary troubleshooting skills when it comes to networks and computers. Without this, simple installation or a simple network problem can cause delays in their deliverables.

Troubleshooting does not always mean technical problems, but it is also about finding out the root cause of a problem. We need not to reiterate it, but troubleshooting skills are never dependent on the gender of the employee.

Have Reliable Judgment

Some would say that this is part of having troubleshooting skills, but for us, having a reliable judgment is completely separate. It comes very handy whenever decisions have to be made without the help of a team or a committee. A person who has great judgement, whether male or female, can make decisions that will affect the business he or she is representing as a whole.

The ability to rely on themselves and weigh their options well is one rare but necessary skill to have as a remote worker.

In Closing

Hiring remote employees brings a lot of benefits to the table. Apart from more productivity and motivation, the company can save money and get higher quality output in the long run. This is why gender should never be a cause for someone’s disqualification.

It is unfortunate that this topic even exists and that we feel the need to enumerate the right qualifications for hiring a remote employee. Gender ultimately has no bearing on the effectiveness of a remote worker to do their jobs well. Any company that uses gender to segregate their employees should rethink their hiring process if they want to thrive in their chosen industry. Being male or female has nothing to do with a person’s ability to succeed in their jobs, be it remote or not.

How the Author Defines a Remote Worker

In this article, the author refers to remote workers as anyone who works outside of a traditional office environment. They can be working from home, working from a coworking space, at a coffee shop, etc.

Resources and further reading

Read the insights of the 4th edition of the Advance and HSG Gender Intelligence Report.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=Tips+for+Managing+an+International+Workforce

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=Values+in+Global+Virtual+Teams

https://cdn.gendereconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-and-gender-GATE-policy-brief-.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11205-018-2025-x

References 

Ibarra H., Gillard J., Chamorro-Premuzic T. (2020, July 16). ‘Why WFH isn’t necessarily good for women’. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 14, 2020 from https://hbr.org/2020/07/why-wfh-isnt-necessarily-good-for-women

Stauffer, B. (2018, April 23). ‘Only Men Apply’, Human Rights Watch. Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/04/23/only-men-need-apply/gender-discrimination-job-advertisements-china

Gaskell A. (2020, April 1). ‘Breaking Down The Gender Divide To Survive Working From Home’. Forbes. Retrieved 2020, August 14 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2020/04/01/breaking-down-the-gender-divide-to-survive-working-from-home/#7996063720cf

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=Tips+for+Managing+an+International+Workforce

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=Values+in+Global+Virtual+Teams

https://cdn.gendereconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/COVID-and-gender-GATE-policy-brief-.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11205-018-2025-x

References 

Ibarra H., Gillard J., Chamorro-Premuzic T. (2020, July 16). ‘Why WFH isn’t necessarily good for women’. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 14, 2020 from https://hbr.org/2020/07/why-wfh-isnt-necessarily-good-for-women

Stauffer, B. (2018, April 23). ‘Only Men Apply’, Human Rights Watch. Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/04/23/only-men-need-apply/gender-discrimination-job-advertisements-china

Gaskell A. (2020, April 1). ‘Breaking Down The Gender Divide To Survive Working From Home’. Forbes. Retrieved 2020, August 14 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2020/04/01/breaking-down-the-gender-divide-to-survive-working-from-home/#7996063720cf 

Author’s Bio

Author's headshotAngeline Licerio is a content writer for Elevate Corporate Training. Like the rest of her teammates at Elevate, Angeline believes that she can help create better bottom lines, happier and healthier staff and build communities where people engage with each other in high functioning relationships.  

Here is her LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/angeline-licerio-2a3406107/

Giving Feedback Across Cultures

Dr. Jens Schmidt, A German Executive in Shanghai

Dr. Jens Schmidt is an expat. The company’s corporate headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, assigned him  to improve efficiency at the company’s manufacturing plant in Shangai, China. During his first 90 days he came up with a list of quality issues and he shared this list with three of his direct reports (Mr. Zhu, Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping). 

He asked them for input on how to mitigate the issues within the next 90 days and what the “low hanging fruit” were. He emailed them on Friday evening and asked them to respond by Monday morning, enough time to review over the weekend. While Dr. Jens Schmidt was sorting out his moving goods that finally arrived from Stuttgart and settled into his apartment, Mr. Zhu, Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping went for lunch. They did not appreciate that they had to leave their families on the weekend but they knew this was important. On Sunday night Mr. Cao, the most senior, eldest and most experienced manager responded to the email.

“Dear Dr. Schmidt, thank you for the trust you are giving to your senior managers by sharing this report with us before sending it to the headquarters. We are fully on board with you and we think you and the quality assurance team in the headquarters will give good guidance on how to mitigate the issues presented in the report. We kindly ask that you inform us of any changes once you have discussed this report with the headquarters. With kind regards, Mr. Cao”.

On Monday, when Dr. Schmidt came back to the office, Mr. Zhu handed in his resignation. Two weeks later Mr. Cao and Mrs. Ping also resigned.

Now, Dr. Schmidt had to lead 50 engineers directly. He was using everything he knew that worked in Germany — especially in terms of performance appraisal, and yet the Chinese employees seemed to be losing efficiency and effectiveness by the week. After 90 days, many engineers had moved to other companies and Dr. Schmidt had a hard time to explain to HR why he needed to hire new engineers and managers in the middle of a global crisis. His 180 days report looked bleak. The quality issues had become worse and Dr. Schmidt had nothing to show for but failure.

It took quite some time and effort on Dr. Schmidt’s part to recognize that what worked in Germany in terms of critical and to-the-point feedback was actually demotivating to the Chinese employees, who were used to more positive reinforcement than pure critique. These positive comments motivated them to increase productivity and put forth that extra, discretionary effort. Once Dr. Schmidt changed his feedback and his communication style in general he noticed that productivity improved again. He was also able to win the managers and some of the employees back once he understood the importance of relationships and the concept of “face” in the Chinese culture.

Three years later he managed to leave the country with a good feeling. 

Feedback is Completely Misconstrued

According to the original mechanistic definition feedback occurs when an environment reacts to an action or behavior. For example, ‘customer feedback’ is the buyer’s reaction to a firm’s products and policies, and ‘operational feedback’ is the internally generated information on a firm’s performance. 

Originally, the idea was that feedback changes behavior. Criticism or praise is considered  feedback only if it brings about a lasting change in the recipient’s behavior. While I am generally critical of this assumption, I would like to explain here three major feedback styles that I have seen over my career. Often they work in a monocultural setting or when they are framed well. For example, critiques work well for writers and bloggers, the sandwich works well in an Anglo-Saxon environment and Hindi-style generally works well in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

One major issue is that feedback often is NOT delivered well. Another issue is that often it is full of projections and that it has to be abused to justify why a good performer was not promoted. That is one of the key issues with feedback. For the next three styles we will assume that the feedback is well delivered, the feedback receiver asked for feedback and the feedback is not used as a justification for non-promotion or a performance rating.

German-Style: Pure Direct Critique

The German Style
The German Style

Clearly, people in Germany do not generally provide and receive feedback in the same way that people in China are used to doing. In fact, appraisal feedback can be very different across different cultures. Although not many like to do it, we know that critiquing – in a constructive and empowering way – others’ work is a crucial part of a manager’s job. However, critiquing someone often brings unwanted results and ends up hurting others even when this wasn’t the initial goal. This generally happens because criticism embodies two of the things that human beings hate the most, i.e. it calls for submission and it devalues. 

With a focus on what needs to be improved, this method works extremely well for writers, bloggers and co-creators. In many instances, authors actually request it. It’s also often used in educational circumstances, training contexts and examinations. Here it is important to focus on the work, instead of the person. For example, “In this report, capitalization is not applied consistently.” or “This paragraph is hard to understand because it contains a lot of passive constructions.” Germans love “Sachlichkeit” so the focus here is on the object, the piece of art, the work output, rather than the person delivering the work. The intention here is to improve the overall quality of the work output.

US-Style: The Sandwich Feedback

The original sandwich feedback technique entails something positive to warm up the discussion, followed by some criticism which is the real feedback one wants to give, and it wraps up with more praise, i.e. again something positive to soften the actual feedback. In other words, the sandwich feedback method involves discussing corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise.

There are two ways to put the sandwich feedback technique in practice: 

  1. You start off with a positive comment, add constructive feedback with an explanation of how to improve, and end with another positive comment. 
  2. You begin with a contextual statement (I liked…because…Now/Next time…) and conclude with an interactive statement, e.g. a question based on the work done.
The Sandwich Feedback Model
The Sandwich Feedback Model

This method is particularly helpful to managers when they want to discuss problems with the employee’s behavior. It is especially useful for those managers who find it difficult to deliver corrective feedback. It is important to note that you need to ask for permission to give feedback and also find examples of where you observe what you find worth changing. Here you should focus on behavior, rather than the person and soften it with “tend to” and “I observed” and “what this does with me…”. Speak about how it affects you. This approach takes the name of Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and it was developed by the  American psychologist M. Rosenberg.

Hindi-Style: Focus on the Positive

Thumb Up
The Hindi Style Feedback

In Bangalore, I learned another feedback style which I call “Hindi-Style Feedback”. Basically, here you focus on the positive and remain silent on the negative. In order to save face you don’t confront the person you are addressing directly. If you have negative feedback you would tell this to an intermediary who then decides about how to approach the topic with the person.

This method works well in the Asian context or when you generally already have a high-performing team and nothing major goes wrong. Focussing and reinforcing the strengths and the positive behavior will lift employees up and encourage them to do more of this behavior. Also, I think it is important to build a personal relationship before delivering feedback and better to deliver it 1:1. If you are only correcting errors and you have agreed a more direct style to do that it is acceptable if you have a good relationship with your team members.

In the SIETAR conference in Dublin in a pre-congress workshop my colleague Adrienne Rubatos and I co-created a feedback map with the participants.

The Feedback Map
The Feedback Map (Rubatos, Weinberger, 2017)

We also suggested that feedback usually creates more harm than support and as humanistic coaches we therefore would propose to stop using performance management systems, Management by Objectives and certainly feedback. Where we feel feedback is helpful ONLY would be in learning situations, transitions and when it is explicitly demanded by the feedback-receiver.

I’m aware that this is a complete paradigm shift and that it will change our approaches to promotions, compensation, benefits, hierarchy and basically completely turn around how we work in organizations.

We are demanding a new approach to feedback. We promote an approach that is mindful, supportive and transcultural. 

Delivering Feedback like a Global Virtual Leader

Even if in a new cultural setting it’s useful to learn the cultural rules, perhaps through a cultural mentor, don’t assume that “going native” is always and necessarily successful. Most of the time, you will have to adjust your feedback style and create a blend with which you feel comfortable enough in the given setting and with the person you have in front of you. 

More and more often teams are global virtual teams (GVT) and there are no rules other than the rules the teams co-create.  We have vast experience working within global, virtual teams and you find further blog posts via https://globalpeopletransitions.com/?s=global+virtual+teams.

Alternatively, you can join our RockMe! program or the RockMeRetreat where we discuss these matters based on your leadership challenges.

Bringing the “Human Touch” Back in the Impending Age of AI and Digitization

“Human Touch” is Critical to the Future of Global Mobility.

We are robots. At least you could get this impression when you deal with us. Virginia Robot is an observer in our “Global Mobility Academy”. They* comment regularly on our work. For example, when we analyze the process landscape or helping expats with their immigration process Virginia butts in with a comment how AI could do all that faster, better and cheaper.

For the last three years we’ve been experimenting with digital global mobility coaching and transition support with you.

We are in a good position to criticize the digitalization buzz and AI hype. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of new and shiny tech tools and I get excited about apps, but somewhere down the line, they usually disappoint me. For example, on Saturday I tried to book a flight via my Swissair App while on a train. It seems I just entered another country when…the process failed. Now, I’m trying to find out if my booking was saved in an “interrupted” cart or something and haven’t had a response for 48 hours. When you are an entrepreneur time and health are your most critical assets and it frustrates me when I “waste” time.

In 1999, when I called our global tax provider I either received an answer right away or they would call back within 24 hours, because that was considered good client service. Now, when I call I often don’t get a chance to leave voicemail and when I email, I can be happy if I receive a response within seven days. In my book, that’s not good enough. Let alone, that contracts have typos all over and tax declarations need to be corrected. I’m not even a tax advisor but it seems that I smell errors.

My contracts aren’t perfect either. I blame that on the fact that I haven’t really learned basic administrative tasks as usually I would have an assistant supporting me. I can draft, comment and edit, but I don’t really have the energy to make it look perfect.

A few years back the “Executive Assistant”  had been replaced by HR Software and “manager self service”. BUT what if you are building a new team or function? Wouldn’t it help to have admin support or an outsourced virtual assistant sitting at a desk in a home office in Burkina Faso or Bangkok?

So yes, I am interested in exploring working with a colleague such as Virginia Robot as long as they don’t outsmart me in front of my clients. They will probably be better at cost projections while mine may  have formula errors and miss social security data. Virginia will also work 24/7. Maybe they have design skills and a knack for perfect templates.

And they won’t catch a coronavirus, or strain a leg in a skiing accident. At some point they could probably replace our assistant and maybe us as well.

Still, when I look at reality I’m not really worried.

Why we don’t jump on the AI Hype just yet


You may have noticed this yourself too, but in the past few years, Global Mobility has revolved around process segmentation, outsourcing and offshoring.

While this has resulted in tremendous optimization and cost saving, it has also  had the unintended but unfortunate effect of giving this perception and reputation of being “robotic” and “fragmented”.

Before we can teach AI we need to get our digitalization teething issues sorted out globally. On our wishlist is the “holy grail”, the site that rules them all. Disruptors  in this field such as INEOMobility, Topia, ReloTalent, VendiumGlobal, Benivo are racing for developing collaborative sites that speak to each other through API codes.

It is therefore up to us as Global Mobility professionals to bring back the “human touch” to our industry.

Our assumption is that through digitalization we will cut down on the middle person and establish more direct relationships between you and the vendors. We recommend to Global Mobility Professionals to have a personal meeting with you and your spouse before the move and one debriefing meeting after the return. Ideally, a personal catch-up during the home leave also helps.

Even if we cannot imagine a robot filing tax returns, sending social security applications and reviewing immigration documents, because of the complexity of the overall topics, we have to see that essentially we are dealing with data.

When I look at my current reality, I often feel thrown back to 1999 when I started in the field and we moved from net calculations on paper to excel. Due to IT security, GDPR and connectivity issues, I can use my hours on data distribution and entry essentially.

I prefer to sit down with clients in person and talk face-to-face, because then I feel productive. My team of researchers and I thought we should be open to innovation while also looking at risks especially through the intercultural, diversity and inclusion glasses.

Focus on Making Constructive Advances in AI

On the subject of improving Global Mobility, we would also like to discuss possible ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be integrated into Global Mobility in a positive and constructive manner.

Before we begin, it is important to realize that the technologies that we usually discuss under the label of AI are actually not examples of Artificial Intelligence, but a specific subfield called “machine learning”. Because the latter does not sound as exciting, the general term of AI continues to be used interchangeably, though they shouldn’t be.

We also found more real-life examples related to global recruiting where in the past “Application Tracking Systems” left a lot of broken shards and many applicants felt as if their applications went into a black hole.

One possible way to bring AI to Global Mobility, and something that is already being researched, is integrating recruitment with an algorithm. This algorithm would not be constrained by human biases of any sort – such as sexism or racism – and could focus solely on pertinent skills, qualifications and experience.

Unfortunately, as with all new technologies, we must tread carefully. AI is created by and trained on human values, experiences and examples and can take up our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Some issues reared their heads recently with Google’s AI misbehaving and an AI art project turning racist due to bad training being input to the algorithms. So much of modern technology is influenced, primarily through various funding channels, by the elite of the world and they exert their beliefs and biases on controlling the direction the development and usage takes. In fact, their economic, skin-colour and gender privileges are often visible in these creations.

When the original Kinect was released, it had difficulty recognizing people with darker skin. It was discovered that the early code measured the contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. So, without optimal lighting conditions, that algorithm was failing to detect people without white or light skin. Later iterations of the product fixed this issue, and worked in sub-optimal light as well.

Another example of AI-gone-wrong was revealed with Amazon scrapping its internal AI-based hiring tool after it was revealed that it was somehow biased against women. Again, because the current AI is actually just machine learning, the recruitment tool learned from the historical data given to it. The professional workplace, like most other aspects of life, was male-dominated and the AI learned to be biased against women’s resumes as a result. Not a good look for AI, and Amazon.

Careful nurturing of this new technology will definitely have benefits not just for Global Mobility, but all aspects of work as we know it.
AI-powered digital spaces are already enabling whole groups of professionals to interact more efficiently and effectively, every social platform utilizes algorithmic data feeds and machine learning of your usage habits to connect you to relevant professionals. That is how thriving communities of artists form on Instagram, writing groups on Twitter and digital marketers on LinkedIn.

This technology has also made its way, to some degree, into strategic workforce planning and even transforming workspaces. The flip side, again, is that businesses need to be wary of adopting these changes too fast, or without any feedback from the employees who will be impacted. In fact, a frequent pushback to such decisions is the employees desire to have a suitable workplace that promotes comfort and familiarity for them, such as break spaces, meeting rooms and workstations.

This brings me full circle to my initial point: the “human touch”. That will be the determining factor to the success or failure of AI adoption. It is critical to maintain the human touch while transitioning processes and systems to AI. So as we rethink our business core and competencies to align with AI and technology, we should do our best to remember that at the heart of our work in Global Mobility are people, with emotions, feelings, skills and abilities, who are diverse and unique and deserve to thrive in the best work conditions. At least for a few years, parts of our brain aren’t yet reproducible according to this neuropsychologist.

At this point, there are no easy solutions as most companies are treading new grounds in adoption and optimization. However, one thing organisations, businesses and Global Mobility Teams can do is to remember to make this shift in a way that aligns with business needs and the needs of the people.

“Think Global People” ran a detailed discussion on this subject which you can read here to increase your knowledge, as AI adoption will soon become the hot topic in Global Mobility.

What’s your experience and preference when dealing with Global Mobility Professionals? How would you feel if you received an automated but personalized email from your colleague in HR instead of a phone call? 

References and further reading:

*They is considered the new default neutral pronoun. We decided to use it for our non-human friends as well as we learned that ‘They’ was called the word of the year for 2019, for this reason that it was inclusive of all genderfluid, humanoid or otherwise beings.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/sep/17/merriam-webster-they-nonbinary-pronoun

https://mindmatters.ai/2020/01/ai-in-the-courtroom-will-a-robot-sentence-you/

https://www.nzz.ch/zuerich/mensch-oder-maschine-interview-mit-neuropsychologe-lutz-jaencke-ld.1502927

https://www.un.org/en/gender-inclusive-language/guidelines.shtml

Any experience with these disruptors?

Topia

https://www.topia.com/

INEO

https://www.ineomobility.com/

Vendium Global

https://www.vendiumglobal.com/

Benivo 

https://www.benivo.com/global-mobility-teams

ReloTalent

https://www.relotalent.com/

VendiumGlobal

https://www.vendiumglobal.com/about

Mention in comments below

Tips for Managing an International Workforce

by Brooke Faulkner via @faulknercreek

The worldwide web has also led to a more worldwide economy, and despite recent political manoeuvrings and issues with trade, that situation is not likely to change anytime soon. Many companies have moved toward not only a remote workforce, but one that is international as well.

Think of the social media sharing app Buffer. The company has a 100 percent remote workforce with no physical home office. Employees and often their spouses are treated to a once-a-year retreat paid for with the money the company saves on infrastructure. Employees work around the world, in many different places and environments.

How do they manage this workforce? How do other countries do it? What does it take to manage employees across the globe and from various cultures who speak different languages? It is challenging, but for many companies, it is not only worth it, but it is a necessary evil.

Understanding Culture

One of the first challenges you will face is maintaining company culture when a different societal culture defines the country where your employees are located. When any company is looking to expand globally, it is important to maintain vision, mission, and values. This involves some important steps in cross-cultural management.

Send Experienced Teams to Establish New Teams

No matter how great a leader you might be, you cannot instil company culture by yourself. Typically, as a company grows, the company culture becomes a blend of employees and management working together. Assemble a small, experienced team to help set up and manage remote teams even if they do so virtually. This will assure that mission and vision are communicated properly.

Understand and Honor Local Customs and Traditions

You cannot establish a workforce presence in another country without understanding and respecting local customs and traditions including holidays, religious restrictions, and other cultural differences. To work with these things, you will have to think outside the box and have alternative holidays and other considerations.

This translates to many different areas, including the location and layout of offices, necessary break times, and even dress codes if you have one. Your team must work to align your company culture with that of your host country.

Work at Cultural Alignment

This cultural alignment will take work. There are several important aspects of aligning your company culture globally, and it will not happen organically. Here are some points to consider.

  • Direction and purpose: What is your “why” and how does it translate to a new culture?
  • Supervisor support: What does management support mean, and how can it be achieved remotely or globally?
  • Learning and growth: Are there opportunities for growth even globally? Are training materials available in the native language and are they relevant?
  • Relationships and team performance: Relationships must be developed outside of employees’ and management’s comfort zones, but the end result is rewarding. Pick team members who are willing to do this.
  • Make feedback into influence: Your global team members are more than just employees and will have ideas of how to make your company work in their culture. Welcome their influence and implement their feedback.
  • Recognition and rewards: These may look different in another culture, but they are still necessary and relevant.

By making the alignment of your company culture a priority and following these steps, you will increase the value of your global presence.

Managing Remote Teams

Like Buffer, many global teams are remote, and managing remote workers has additional challenges. While there are many advantages to a remote team such as global talent, saving the cost of relocation, and the addition of diversity, there are also some drawbacks. One of those is that they can be more difficult to manage.

LIke cultural alignment, there are some general guidelines for managing virtual teams that apply nearly universally.

  • Build trust: Your team must trust that you have their best interests at heart, just as you do those of your customers. You have to follow through with what you say you will do, and give them the support they need to accomplish the tasks you set for them.
  • Have clear goals, standards, and rules: A part of this building of trust is to have clear and consistent expectations and goals. Work must be done to a standard regardless of where in the world your employee is.
  • Communicate clearly and constantly: Communication is the key, and while this can be challenging in different time zones and across the world, it still can be done. As a leader, it is your responsibility to align your schedule with theirs, not for them to inconvenience themselves to accommodate you.
  • Build a team rhythm: Consistency is also key. Develop a rhythm and a schedule your team can adhere to, and that works for all of you. Develop and stick to consistent workflows to keep everyone at their most productive.

To manage a remote team, you will need a more flexible company culture, especially worldwide. Be conscious of this, and don’t micromanage no matter where in the world your employees are. Your management style must be consistent and predictable, too. Managing people is much different than managing spreadsheets and numbers, no matter how far removed from your office they are.

Remember, you are the leader, and the satisfaction of the employees and, in the end, the customer is your responsibility.

Providing Your Team with Tools

One of the key elements to working globally is to have tools that translate to everyone and are available in a variety of languages and formats for different countries. There are several tools that do this in different categories.

There are other ways to support your team as well. Tablets or laptops are the most common platforms, but you may want to provide remote teams with phones or pay their cell phone service costs for them. Both physical tools and software are important and should be a consideration. Managing their devices makes it easier to manage the team overall.

Traveling Both Ways

Face it, if you expand globally, you will be doing more travel, and you may want to bring in your remote employees from time to time, or like Buffer, have some kind of annual gathering.

While video meetings and chat are good, there is something to be said for meeting face to face. There are many ways to manage your international business travel, from rewards cards to mileage programs, and rewards programs can save you substantial money, especially when traveling abroad. Don’t be afraid to bring employees to you too, for annual reviews or other special events. Make this a positive experience for them, and use the time to connect and build a deeper relationship.

Global management and handling an international workforce comes with a number of challenges, but in the end, the diversity, the relationships you develop, and the broader presence of your company will be worth all of the work.