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STRATEGY

What If Your 16 Employees Resided in 7 Countries?

Going global isn't only for big players. How a far-flung workforce can benefit small businesses.

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When you think of multinational corporations, certain names probably pop into your head. But, there is a completely different kind of global company: the micro-multinational. Daniel Barnett founded and runs one of these companies, WorkEtc, an all-in-one business management platform.

WorkEtc's company headquarters sit in Australia, with development teams in China and Romania, a chief technical officer in Malaysia, local support in the UK, U.S. and New Zealand and a dedicated sales team in the U.S. "We operate in a 24/7 global marketplace," Barnett said, "and as a start-up the only way of staying open all hours and keeping lean is with remote teams."

Managing people on multiple continents has some difficulties, but it can be done. The first thing you have to do when hiring people who may never set foot on company property is hire way above the skill level you think you need, according to Barnett. "There is the temptation when hiring people in cheaper overseas market to hire at the same skill level or experience that you would locally. You immediately think, awesome, I can get this same quality person for half the going rate downtown! It never works out like that. You inevitably lose some productivity to time zone differences and often non-native English speakers require additional instruction. But hire above the level you were looking for and you can easily recover this and then some."

Hiring can be difficult as well. WorkEtc often recruits people who have been end users of the software, which caters to business owners, so most of the employees know what it's like to run their own business and work independently. Even so, no one is hired straight out. Barnett gives a three month trial period to see if the person really can handle being part of a global team while working completely independently. Barnett says the three months really aren't necessary: He can tell if it will work out within the first two weeks.

And what are the keys to success? It's not technical skill, as everyone who begins the three month trial has that. It's the ability to become part of the team--not an easy task when you never meet your team members. WorkEtc uses a "Daily Report" to make sure everyone is on the same page and as a tool to get to know each other. At the end of each employee's workday, everyone--including Barnett--must fill out the daily report. This isn't some sort of complicated, technical report. It's just four items:

  • What I worked on today
  • What are the challenges I have
  • How I overcame those challenges
  • What I'm working on tomorrow

While the main focus of the answers are business related, employees are encouraged to mention other areas of their lives as well. This helps build relationships among team members who may never meet. And while this report seems simple, several people in the trial periods have been unable or unwilling to write up daily document; they don't stay on after the trial period.

When a trial period is unsuccessful it can be painful on all sides, Barnett says: "One person, a year ago, was late to Skype meetings, and missed one or two daily reports. I had to give them the hard news. The person was not entirely shocked, they knew they hadn't met expectations.

These kind of things become very, very important in a remote environment. I mean it's not like you can just lean over the cubicle wall and pull someone into a meeting if they're late or have forgotten."

Another thing that you need to think about with a multinational workforce is that everyone needs good communication skills--including telephone skills. Often people who are brilliant at complex technical work are uncomfortable getting on a live call and talking. Email and IM are great tools, but actually talking with your team can solve problems in half the time. So, it's a skill Barnett screens for.

What are the advantages of having a micro-multinational over a regular small business? Well, for one, the employees love their independence and telecommuting. One employee in Los Angeles was able to give up a daily 60 minute commute each way. Another employee in the UK has a disability that makes regular trips to an office difficult. A third, who is Australian, was able to keep his job even after he relocated to Malaysia to be near his wife's family. Definitely a benefit for the employees.

Not everyone is suited to this type of job, but for those who are, the micro-multinational can be a successful small business model.

IMAGE: susnybergh/Flickr
Last updated: May 17, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.
@RealEvilHRLady




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