Few Australian businesses have been unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But for those with offshore operations, there’s the additional challenge of managing globally dispersed teams. Against a backdrop of flight suspensions, travel bans and closed borders, on top of social distancing measures, how do you keep teams safe, connected and motivated to move your business forward?
With eight offices across five countries, including three in China, cross-cultural marketing agency Digital Crew felt the impact of this new reality earlier than most. Its experience with the initial outbreak, combined with established technology, put the agency in a good position to respond as the crisis evolved. Here, we speak to director and co-founder Ophenia Liang about some of the ways global businesses can adapt.
What are the main ways this crisis has impacted your operations?
We’re lucky in one respect because we’ve been able to learn from the experiences of our colleagues in China. We knew what to expect and moved all our teams to remote working..
The main impact has been due to the travel restrictions. We’ve had to cancel all our inter-office activities, including trips colleagues were scheduled to make to our offices in China and India. Another big downside is that we can’t physically meet our clients and we’ve had to limit local contact between colleagues.
What are you doing in place of face-to-face meetings?
We’re conducting more video meetings and are making the most of project management and collaboration software. There are plenty of online tools available like Zoom, Google Drive and Microsoft Teams. If you can share files and talk to people via video, it’s a good substitute for having a regular meeting. Before the crisis we used Zoom to make video calls but it’s also great for screen sharing, chatting and collaborating.
How are you helping your teams cope with the lack of in-person contact?
You do need to replace that human touch with more frequent communication. We have a whole company meeting every Monday and we’re constantly talking – in our experience, email can create misunderstandings, so if it’s something you can call about, then call instead.
These regular catch-ups are good for morale, motivation and productivity and have helped to keep everyone informed and feeling more comfortable during this crisis, particularly our colleagues in China who only have access to Chinese media.
How do you maintain productivity with all your teams working remotely?
Companies need to be flexible and realistic – you should expect some drop in productivity, particularly for people not used to working from home. We don’t have a culture of punching in and out, but at the same time it’s important to set clear expectations to help workers stay disciplined and motivated.
Your team needs to know what they’re accountable for and what deadlines you expect to be met. And, of course, they need to feel supported, so it’s important to ask them what they need from you in order to take on that responsibility.
What else are you doing to keep your teams focused and driven?
Times of crisis usually come with opportunities – it’s about having the mindset to adapt and make the most out of a situation. For example, we shifted our new business focus away from tourism to industries that are in high demand in the current situation, such as online education and remote learning.
With international travel starting to open up again in China, we’re also planning for recovery and sharing our plans with all our crew members, so they know exactly what we’re doing this month and next month.
Even without this crisis, transparency is the only way for us to work together as a global team. As a result, no one is panicking – we’re actually preparing everything, and when we get the green light we’ll be ahead of our competitors.
To learn more about preparing your business for the changing times ahead, visit our free online guide.