‘Look at this.’
It’s the simplest of requests and one you’ll ask your office colleagues on a daily basis. But it’s not so simple when your colleagues are in an office across the ocean:
- Time zones. Big or small, time differences make it hard to collaborate in real-time. What time should you schedule a meeting when midday in your office is midnight in theirs? How will you stay responsive when your overseas colleagues send you emails outside of your business hours?
- Information silos. If your team have to keep emailing files to each other, progress will be slow. Worse, this annoyance will push teams away from each other, encouraging them to divide workloads and create information silos.
- Cultural differences. Left unchecked, cultural barriers slow down IT management, complicate communication and create divisions between international teams.
These barriers are substantial, but not insurmountable. Check out these four ways to make it easier to collaborate with your international office.
A simple way to counter a culture of information silos is to store data on a cloud service such as Dropbox Business that all teams can access, any time. That alone though, won’t encourage collaboration between international offices.
Collaboration software, such as Basecamp or Active Collab, allows disparate teams to assign tasks, respond to new information and collaborate all in one place, accessible any time. Tools like these reclaim the ‘come take a look at this’ feeling of small offices.
2. Dial in
Conference call systems have a bit of a bad reputation:
But, pick the right system and get a professional to configure it, and it’ll bring everyone into the same room. Zoom, Skype for Business and GoToMeeting are all good choices. Whatever you decide on though, make sure it includes:
- Video so that people can see who they’re talking to, maintain concentration and read each other’s body language.
- Screen sharing so each office can ‘show and tell’.
- Recording so colleagues don’t have to take minutes and anyone in an awkward time zone can catch up easily.
3. Stay social
Without informal chatter, the bonds between your international offices will be weak and easily broken.
Rather than clogging your colleagues’ inboxes with informal conversations, use an instant messenger app. Or, consider office social media platforms such as Slack or the upcoming Facebook at Work. They make conversations easy, communal and - most importantly - fun.
4. Set guidelines
There’s no one communication app to rule them all. It all depends what you need to communicate about, when and why. But with multiple systems available, you need to agree on how and when you use each to collaborate with your international office.
- What’s the best channel to use if you need an urgent response?
- How far in advance should you organise conference calls?
- What information, if any, should only be accessible by certain colleagues?
Keep in touch
It’s simple. To effectively collaborate with your international office, you have to make an effort. And deployed right, technology can be the glue that holds your disparate teams together.