Doing Business Remotely: Does it work?
MBAs from Bradford University, Cranfield University and St. Gallen have had mixed experiences of working remotely
The idea of doing business remotely is becoming more prevalent but does it really work?
Doing business remotely can involve having team members based in different time zones, and interacting through a host of new technologies and apps that are supposed to make your life easier, until they crash!
We asked three MBAs whether doing business remotely can ever be successful. They all seem to agree that it can be, as long as you're prepared for a tough slog and sticking to strict schedules. Read on to find out more!
Larte Badom, Nigeria, Bradford University School of Management Accelerated MBA 2012
I am involved in running three businesses while doing a full-time MBA. It is really not easy to do and you have to be a big priorotizer and very disciplined.
For the first business, whereyoudey.com, which advertises Nigerian companies online, my other partners are based in the different parts of the US. We are all in different time zones but we make it a point to speak twice a week. We do this on Monday and Thursday mornings. We can catch all the members of our team and discuss our plans for the week. When we speak on Thursday, we use the time to evaluate our progress. For my other company, I speak with them on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The third one is a holding company so my daily involvement is not required.
Even with all the conference calls, I still end up doing a lot of travelling. I’ve had to shuttle between Nigeria and the UK every two months. There is still a high level of insubordination among the staff when there isn’t someone senior to supervise them. People don’t take their work very seriously even when you’re paying them a lot of money. If I wasn’t making those trips I don’t know where things would be. Doing business remotely is easy if you are committed. You can get over things like time difference or hiccups in communication. True commitment is really key and money isn’t enough to get people’s commitment.
Daniel Markward, Switzerland, University of St. Gallen full-time MBA 2012
I’m going to say it's possible to successfully do business remotely but it depends on the culture of the people you’re doing business with. I found it easy in Switzerland and Germany but not in India. I’m in India doing my MBA project with Infosys and I’ll be rounding up in a few days so I can tell you of my experience here. Its important to connect on a personal level in India, and I found that you get more information from meeting with people even if its just for a coffee.
When I started this project, the original plan was to head straight to Bangalore but I insisted on spending a week in London because I wanted to meet with some of the key stakeholders in the UK. This was a good plan because by the time I got to India, I didn’t even have a desk in Bangalore. I was working from my hotel room for a week and I found it a real struggle to set up meetings. As time went on, I discovered that once you meet the person things become a lot easier. I had laid out milestones for the first two weeks but couldn’t achieve any of them but things picked up as soon as I made the necessary one-to-one connections.
Paulo Roberto Froehner, Brazil, Cranfield University full-time MBA, 2012
Success in doing business remotely is possible but it demands a great deal of awareness of who you are dealing with as well as the clarity of plans for future transactions. Along with other factors, the three main aspects that must be considered in doing business remotely are: the culture and backgrounds of the different parties; the type of relationship that the parties intend on building; and thirdly, ensuring that technology does not become an obstacle to that personal touch.
There are a variety of studies that discuss the impact of different cultures and backgrounds on business. The most referenced and also criticised is the research performed by Prof. Geert Hofstede at IBM, interviewing people in different countries within the same company, hence supposedly working by a similar set of rules and procedures.
Regardless of the scientific accuracy of this study, a point we can take from it is that some cultures will naturally require much more interaction and personal contact than others. For instance, professionals from Germany may suggest having a drink after signing a contract or closing a deal to learn more about the new partner, whereas professionals from Latin American are very likely to engage some sort of social interaction, namely a drink or lunch, before even sitting together to negotiate a deal. These are of course very superficial generalisations of these cultures, but these nuances in behaviour surely affect the impact of doing business remotely.
Moreover, the communication channels are a key success factor to business. The impressive amount of information flowing by email and social media is paradoxically bringing people together at the same time as it is setting them apart. The appeal of potential cost reductions through virtual teams as well the possibility of reaching unexplored markets are perhaps tempting decision makers to believe that everything is possible through technology. However, the culture and background of a virtual team or a new commercial partner must be thoroughly understood before deciding whether to plan meetings in person or how often a team must meet.
In summary, doing business remotely is inevitable and feasible nowadays. However it is very unlikely that these virtual teams or a commercial partnership would reach top performance compared to the traditional face-to-face experience. The decision that a manager must make is how much he or she will sacrifice from the final outcome and motivation of people, to engage this model of operation.
Read more about students doing an MBA in Europe here
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