How to Manage Foreign Employees

Managing foreign employees presents a host of challenges to experienced and novice managers alike.  While some rules of management still apply for local and global management, monitoring the performance of employees on the other side of the world presents a unique set of challenges.

Before getting too involved in a discussion of management, make sure that you as a manager and your company as an employer are aware of the differing legal requirements between the United States and the country your foreign employees are working in.

Strong Communication

Strong communication skills are essential for managing foreign employees.  You want to write clear and efficient emails when communicating with your employees overseas.  If you do not share a common native language, clarity is especially important.  As a side note, avoid idioms or any slang that may not translate well.

Also, because you may only have a few hours in the business day where both you and your foreign employees are both sitting at your desks, communication may take a bit longer.  Since you may have to send important emails before closing your office and won’t be able to get a response until you come in the next morning, make sure your emails are highly effective with clear assignments and objectives.

Flow of Communication

Establish clear avenues for the flow of communication.  If there is an urgent question on a project that has a quickly-approaching deadline, you might be asleep while your foreign employees are working.  Establish someone who can speak with authority in your absence.  Establish a clear chain of command.  Have your employees email this person, and copy you on the email.  When you return to the office, send a response even if the question has been satisfactorily addressed, so that employees know you are aware of the issue.

Cultural Differences

Be aware of the main cultural differences between the United States and your foreign employees’ culture.  Some workforces are much more literal than others.  Be clear about how much freedom employees have with specific tasks.  When it comes to deadlines, let your employees know what the hard deadline is, but give them a suggested timeframe, if necessary.  Again, clarity is important here.  You may need to explain the difference between these two deadlines.

In general, it is wise to get to know the culture you are working with to reduce the hang-ups that can slow business or break deadlines with clients.  The more you know about a culture, the more effective you can be with your communication.

Establish a Plan

If your employees are working in unstable regions, decide on a plan well in advance of what your business will do in the event of natural or political disaster.  Knowing what will happen in advance will provide you and your team with a sense of security.  Also, it can help get your business back on its feet as quickly as possible after things settle down.  If you establish one person in the country (usually a foreign manager) to contact you in the event of a disaster, your other employees can be relieved of duties to care for themselves and family members.

Know what circumstances you will wait for before resuming business operations.  Incentivizing your foreign manager with additional cash reward for remaining in the country as a contact in the event of disaster can save your company from ruin.

Foreign employees can be a wonderful resource.  Focusing on strong, effective communication, being aware of cultural differences, and having a disaster plan and sticking with it can make the most of your experience managing employees overseas.