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Managing Culturally Diverse Remote Teams

Scaling Team
Handling Promotion
Remote
Onboarding
Hiring
Cultural Differences

11 May, 2022

Tom Hill
Tom Hill

Engineering Manager at Torii

Tom Hill, Engineering Manager at Globality, Inc., shares how he works with a culturally diverse team based within a thirteen-hour time gap.

Managing and Hiring a Fully Distributed Team

My transition to manager spawned when I was the lead software architect for front-end development. When the transition occurred, I was given some free reign to hire a team to support my various visions.

The hiring approach I decided to take was to hire the best candidates for the job, regardless of where they were based. Due to the highly technical nature of the role, the talent pool was rather small, and restricting it to a specific area would only lessen the number of candidates.

Fast-forwarding to the future, the teams I work with are located from Azerbaijan, to the west coast of the United States. There’s a thirteen-hour time difference between my team members based in eight different countries and five continents.

Location Agnostic Hiring Practices

Communicative Cultural Differences:

Throughout the process, I learned that I really needed to focus on understanding the cultural differences between locations. One of my core values is transparency; I am very candid in leading my team.

I’ve noticed that Americans are less so; they are much more likely to say things meant to please another – especially those in authority positions. Eastern European and Latin team members were just as direct as I and spoke transparently.

Not being aware of some of these cultural differences may affect internal communication within a team and organization. Those that are less blunt may think other team members are speaking down to them. At this point, it becomes a cultural balancing game of making sure you’re aware of who’s on your team, how they communicate, and how to facilitate healthy conversations between team members from different cultures.

One of the key ways I mitigated this problem was by starting a buddy problem. Whenever there’s a new team member, I partner them with another employee from another team – ideally from another background or culture. The deliberate idea here was that when two team members get to know each other personally, communicative differences were less likely to occur – as they formed a trusting relationship.

Onboarding is Critical:

Without the office environment, it can take more time for a team member to ramp up. Without an office, team members don’t have the inherent ability to overhear or get involved in a sidebar conversation.

Due to this challenge, leaders have to be well aware of all the centralized knowledge that new team members should know. This information should be added to the onboarding process involving team members from all across the organization.

For example, in my first round of onboarding, I focused on the technical side of things. What became a common pattern with the remote-based engineers was that they felt very comfortable technically but uncomfortable with the product.

Team members would be expected to connect with the product team and collaborate with them in the office. However, when individuals were in their office separate from everyone else, they would need to seek answers through Slack or another communication platform.

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