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Today, it's not uncommon for business owners to have employees across the globe - and rightfully so. Hiring foreign employees can help an international business tap into new markets, source new materials and cut costs.
Sixty percent of businesses have increased their use of virtual workspaces - which are workplaces connected by technology rather than a physical space - in the past three years, and that number is likely to grow. Employee management can be difficult when business owners expand to foreign countries, so they have to be aware of what it takes to virtually manage those teams successfully.
"Virtual team leadership is an art," says Phil Montero, CEO of Montero Consulting in Port Saint Lucie, Fla., and co-author of The Anywhere Office blog. "You can't micromanage a virtual team."
— Phil Montero, CEO of Montero Consulting, and co-author of The Anywhere Office blog
Because remote teams aren't face to face, communication has to be more intentional, and as leaders, business owners have to set expectations for when and how teams meet and share information.
Montero regularly hosts projects and workshops with members from the U.K., India, Ireland, Australia and Canada participating together. To be sure everyone understands what's expected of them, he brings them all together at the beginning of each project - either online or over the phone - to talk about the tools they will use to communicate, how often meetings will take place and what information they should be prepared to share. "Unless you make these expectations clear up front, communication will quickly break down," he says.
Fortunately, small business owners today can take advantage of inexpensive and even free online meeting technology to bring virtual teams together, and share documents so that everyone has the same information. Video-enabled Skype and online meeting tools also enable far-flung workers to meet face to face, which can be an important part of relationship building, says Wayne Turmel, president of GreatWebMeetings.com.
In cases where an employer does want to invest in specific technology that enables collaboration - such as webcams - it's wise to rely on a trusted online foreign exchange service. In addition to having low markups, online FX services offer helpful tools such as a free currency converter and email market-rate alerts so business owners know when it's time to capture the best exchange rate for large technology purchases.
As with all meetings, the technology alone isn't enough. A leader has to create a communication style that fosters give-and-take communication and lets everyone have an opportunity to speak.
"If one person does all the talking and everyone else is checking their email, that is not a good meeting," Turmel says. When Turmel runs a virtual meeting, he makes it clear from the beginning that he expects everyone to speak up and that if he doesn't hear from someone he will call on them.
Finally, "you have to build time in for the team to get to know each other and their work," Turmel says. "Take time during a meeting for this, but it should be done sparingly. Maybe highlight a different person or team on each call so it doesn't become an endless 'show and tell' session."
The benefits of an effective remote team can be abundant. The key to building that effective remote team is solid communication.
 "Rethinking Human Resources in a Changing World," Sept. 27, 2012, The Economist Intelligence Unit and KPMG International
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