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Having an international remote team brings about some major challenges. Read more about the most important ones and how to overcome them.

1. Remote 'Islands'

The number one challenge of an international remote team, is that you need to collaborate from a distance, which can easily result in a culture of 'remote islands'.

The risk of this happening is higher when you mostly focus on the tasks at hand and less on the relationships  within the team. 

Soon you will have a group of 'remote islands' instead of a team. When that happens, co-workers are not really working together. And most of the contact within the team runs through the manager, which is much less efficient than direct communication between colleagues. 

culture of remote islands

How to solve this?

Make sure to provide your team with a clear common goal. Connect co-workers from different locations to work together on projects.  Don't just invest your time in content-related subjects and take time for non-work related chat. Communicate frequently and use different communication tools. Make regular use of video chat, which make conversations much more personal. This way your team will actually feel that they are a team, even from a distance. .

2. You have no overview - what exactly are they working on?

One of the other challenges that managers of an international remote team often mention, is that they don't know exactly what the different team members are working on. They are missing the overview and wonder if team members are doing what they said they would do. That can result in a feeling of being out of control. This can be especially tricky with new co-workers, who you don't know that well yet.

How to solve this?

Introduce a project management tool like Microsoft Planner, Trello or Asana. This way you, together, you can keep track of important milestones and deadlines. For the whole team, it will become very easy to keep the overview, and to work on the right things at the right time. Goals and tasks will become the property of the whole team, instead of something that is just between the manager and each individual team member.

3. International remote team challenges - Different cultures

different cultures international remote team

Having an international remote team means that you are distributed around the world. Which results in a mix of different cultures and customs. 

In some cultures for example, people find it very important to first establish relationships before diving into the content and they like to communicate in a more implicit way (high context culture). While people from other cultures appreciate direct and result oriented communication (low context culture). If, as a team, you are not aware of these kind of differences, this can easily lead to miscommunication and loss of trust.

How to solve this?

Make sure the team is aware of the cultural differences. Invest time to get to know the different customs. Whenever you have a chance to be together physically, that would be an excellent time to reflect on this theme. Share your customs with each other and make communication agreements  as a team, that take the different preferences into account.

4. Little engagement of team members

You might wonder if some of the team members they are actually engaged or not. Maybe you only see or hear them during the weekly meeting. You might miss their pro-activity and you are not sure if they are involved.

Some of these team members might have a second, local manager. Are they really putting in the effort for your team? Or is it last on their priority list? How can you get more control? And how can you make sure that the whole team is involved?

How to solve this?

To overcome this challenge, keep close connections with each of your team members. Have regular one on one meetings to discuss their goals and development. Make clear agreements on the expected results and be sure to come back to these agreements. 

Spend time building personal relationships and find out more about each team member's motivation. Try to find out what's on their mind and how to best support the different people within your team. When they notice that you are paying attention to them and you keep an eye on the results, you will see that engagement will quickly increase.

5. Isolated team members > high employee turnover

international remote team - isolation

Within international remote teams, more often than within a 'regular' team, co-workers can feel isolated. They feel that they are on their own and they miss the camaraderie of a local team. If, additionally, co-workers are working mostly from home, that can enhance the feeling of loneliness.

These people might miss the proximity and personal connections, the way they were used to in a local team. When this feeling is dominant, it can result in a high rate of employee turnover.

How to solve this?

Actively engage all co-workers, not only during meetings, but also in between. Whenever you have a team meeting, make sure to involve the more introverted colleagues.  Connect distant team members to collaborate on a project or task. Invest time in getting to know the different co-workers and maintaining a personal relationship with them.

If you have any team members, working from home, you can offer them the option to work at a co-working space in their neighbourhood. This way they can still experience the buzz and inspiration of being with 'colleagues'. 

6. Different timezones in an international remote team

different timezones international team

If you have an international team, you are dealing with different timezones. This can lead to little 'live' contact between co-workers. Often, colleagues need to work at night on a regular basis, in order to meet their colleagues on the other side of the world. 

How to solve this?

Make sure to use asynchronous communication tools. These are tools that allow people to communicate in their own time, like chat, email or a project management tool. This way you don't have to be online at the same time, and still you are able to collaborate.

Another solution would be to rotate meeting times. Sometimes in favour of one country. Another time for the other country.

To avoid misunderstandings, agree on one timezone for all of your communications.

What is your biggest challenge?

You have read about the six challenges of having an international remote team. Which of these do you recognise most?

Let me know in the comments below.

Would you like to know if I can help you with your challenges?

Click here to schedule a free introduction call with me


Saskia Langenberg

Saskia Langenberg is the founder of Mindshake. With consulting and coaching she helps managers to build great remote teams. And remote workers to have a happy and productive work-life.

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