How to manage an SME across multiple locations

Hajra Rahim
Opening a new office? Be transparent with staff about how you treat different sites

Managing offices in more than one location or country can be tricky, but fostering a sense of community is crucial to managing staff effectively.

Most small businesses start off in one location, with two or three members of staff and hopes of solid growth. Fast forward a few years and before you know it, your business is thriving and you’re managing 20 or 30 employees across several locations, maybe even in different countries.

Although growth is a sign of success, it can be a major stress point, as company owners try to juggle managing staff, maintaining a solid customer base and ensuring quality of product or service.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right mindset and structures in place, you can ensure that your company runs smoothly.

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Avoid tribes

When you have several offices, it’s natural for people to create their own culture at each one, and to identify and see teams at other offices as different to them, says Oke Eleazu, chief operating officer at insurance company, Bought By Many. With tribalism, staff may view other locations and people as more privileged or smarter.

“Break through these barriers by creating a commonality of purpose," advises Mr Eleazu. "If everyone has the same goals, they’re more likely to work effectively together."

That said, don’t try to make staff and office spaces completely identical, because they never will be. Instead, recognise their unique cultures and what they bring to the business, bringing them under a shared banner, he adds.

We're looking to introduce 'virtual’ nights, where staff can play games over messaging apps

Callum Negus-Fancey, StreetTeam

Also, be transparent about how you treat different sites, he says. Nothing fuels friction between offices more than feelings of inequality or unfairness. So if one location has new furniture, pay rises or a recruitment drive, explain the reasons why.

Make everyone feel involved

To make sure nobody feels left out, supply teacher agency, PK Education, which has five offices, sends out a monthly newsletter that includes a round-up of what has been happening in the business. Curated by company director Lee Carpenter, and with input from the different offices, it’s sent via email to all staff.

“We give a synopsis of how the company has performed in the previous month and identify a focus for the month ahead,” he says. “We also remind staff of deadlines and, importantly, invite their feedback and contribution.”

The newsletter includes an “employee of the month” award, nominated by managers and other staff. The winner is rewarded with a £50 Amazon voucher. It’s a good way to ensure that all employees, no matter their location, feel part of the wider business.

Team bonding exercises

Social media channels have been key to creating a community for peer-to-peer software company, StreetTeam, which has four global offices. Every week the company holds a town hall video conference so that everyone in the business has a chance to find out what’s going on, ask questions, and voice any concerns, says chief executive and co-founder, Callum Negus-Fancey.

It also has a party on the same day every month at each of their locations, the pictures and highlights of which are shared via the company's Slack channel. “We’re also looking to introduce 'virtual’ nights, where staff can play games, such as cards, over messaging apps such as Google Hangouts,” he adds.

StreetTeam’s overall approach means that staff feel part of the same company, and that they’re working towards the same mission, regardless of where they are. By syncing the time when staff socialise together globally, you can build a strong sense of community.


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