Manage a global team

Manage a global team

Every year, Jeff Zamluk gets dozens of goods designed, manufactured and shipped in a globe-spanning process all managed from his home office in Victoria, B.C. He works with as many as 40 subcontractors, mostly engineers and designers, and numerous factories and logistics companies to run Swell Source, which manufactures four sports product lines, including paddleboards and snowboards, and helps about 60 outside clients transform ideas into manufactured goods. Here’s his advice on how to run a company with scattered staff

Communicate

Swell Source projects get broken down, task by task, including deadlines and links to technical specs, on spreadsheets shared over Dropbox or Google Drive. “Clarity is key,” says Zamluk. While faraway people working on the same project can leave notes for each other in the files, Zamluk knows it’s on him to make sure work gets done. He’s on e-mail constantly, keeping tabs and issuing reminders. Early mornings and late nights are the norm, due to everyone being in different time zones.

Forget the phone

“I hate calling people and I hate talking on the phone,” says Zamluk, ironically, in a phone interview. With phone calls, there’s no record of promises made, specs outlined or deadlines created. E-mail leaves a trail. Zamluk also visits his overseas team members to build a personal connection. On the ground, he asks about family and hobbies. In China, that means lots of nights out doing karaoke.

Adjust your style

Zamluk works with people in China, Thailand, New Zealand, Austria, Hawaii and closer to home. There are radically different working styles between, say, the terse, fact-driven approach in China and the more laid-back small talk with colleagues Down Under. So he adjusts his communication approach and expectations. But sometimes he forgets to switch gears. “If I’m just back from China, and I go up to a Canadian and ‘say I need this done by this date and that’s it,’ they’ll push back and say, ‘That was short and kind of rude.’”

Make the right connections

Zamluk has been manufacturing products with overseas partners for more than a decade. He has a set way of doing business, and he can tell if a potential new subcontractor is a fit. “I think the same vibe you get in the office develops in the virtual world, too. Through e-mails you can get information and a sense of a person and how good a worker they are.”

Innovate at home

“All that remote managing is good for getting tasks and projects done,” says Zamluk. “However, working with people one-on-one is more effective for coming up with ad hoc ideas, campaigns or even business direction.” So Zamluk often taps into his local network of friends and colleagues to help flesh out ideas. His best ideas come when he’s out with his buddies, using his own products on the water or the slopes, he says. Sometimes, nothing beats close to home.

- Diane Peters / Illustration by: Graham Roumieu