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Last week I spoke to a manager in New York who was having a one-on-one with a member of her team. That team member lives in India. They seemed tired and distracted during this particular call. The manager thought it was general work-from-home fatigue. She was totally unaware that parts of India are in major crisis with lack of oxygen, lack of vaccines, and rising cases of COVID-19. In this case, the particular team member was actually experiencing extreme anxiety about the health of elderly family members.
If you’re like most managers, though you naturally care about all the human beings in your company, you have only really needed to formulate a detailed understanding of people who live in the same part of the world as you.
The thing is, with more organizations going hybrid and remote, you are increasingly likely to find yourself managing someone in another country. That weekly check-in with someone in the office in California might become a weekly check-in with someone living in Kyiv.
How much do you know about what happened last week in Oslo, Hyderabad, or Edinburgh? The fact is, as a manager — heck, as a human — you don’t have nearly enough bandwidth to keep up with all the major news from every country in the world in real-time (let alone sift out what’s most likely to affect the people in your care).
So what should you do in lieu of patching Google and Twitter directly into your cerebral cortex? Here are some thoughts.
- Lay the foundations: Do some groundwork for each person in your care. What’s their location in the world, and what are their living circumstances like? What is their timezone? What are the weather and seasons like where they are? What are some major holidays celebrated in that location? What are some notable cultural norms for them?
- Connect deeply: Approach your one-on-ones with care and begin with a check-in. Always assume something may be going on — be it political, social, medical, or even meteorological. Find out how the person is feeling and what environmental things are on their mind.
- Crowdsource awareness: Leaders in specific locales often have a good read on the most impactful local events. Start a Slack channel for #global-awareness and ask leaders to post anything they’d like their global colleagues to be aware of. To keep things organized, try a format like “City, Area, Country / Date / Event / Key-Hashtags / Info-link.”
- Be proactive: When you're aware of a situation, reach out. If you’re not sure whether the power outage (or snow, or outbreak...) has affected your colleague, just ask. “I heard there was heavy snow in Toronto, is that an issue for you in Port Hope? Let me know if you need support.”
- Consider non-locality: It’s also important not to make assumptions about whether someone might be affected by a situation based purely on their geography. The reaction to the murder of George Floyd wasn’t purely an American phenomenon. Further, there were British expats all over the world who were deeply affected by Brexit. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be both a shared global experience and one with unique local consequences.
- Learn from failure: Recognize that you’re going to get all of this wrong sometimes and that there is often very useful learning that you can share from that experience. Talk with other leaders about how you accidentally put your foot in your mouth because you weren’t aware of something happening in another part of the world. Share what steps could have helped you avoid that problem. Grow together.
Supporting a global team is going to become more and more common in the coming years. Where managers used to be able to rely on their organic knowledge of a locale, they will now increasingly have to take deliberate steps to keep up.
The sooner we all start understanding that global awareness is now a core part of a leader’s toolkit, the sooner we’ll develop systems, tools and habits to foster that awareness. As the Dutch say, “Het getij wacht op niemand.”