When I joined NetSuite I knew that besides being a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ exchange it is also a multi-national corporation. If you have been in similar workplaces you will know that having offices in different locations, time zones and cultures brings many benefits as well as a unique set of problems. With a global, distributed workforce how can you maintain the tight, focused communication needed for the company to succeed?
NetSuite recognizes this problem and has put in place a number of mechanisms to help bridge this gap. At the most basic level we use a company wide web-conferencing system to enable communication between different locations. When a meeting requires employees from Waterloo, Brno, Manila, and Austin to participate they will have the same channel to participate on.
Being able to speak on the phone with someone is really the bare minimum however. Phone communication can be fraught with difficulty and people from different cultures may build assumptions about other people without face-to-face communication. In order to combat this NetSuite has a very comprehensive travel policy that allows people to travel for meetings with others employees whenever needed. This can take the form of visits of a few days for meetings or for a longer period of time to help another office out. For example, a developer from San Mateo office came to our Waterloo office for 4 months to help building new teams here. Having him here really helped us to ramp up faster and to achieve goals that we could have not managed without him being in our office.
NetSuite also understands the value in bringing people together from different offices for team building events. Since the whole product team is spread across globe NetSuite regularly hosts product team hackathons that allow people from across the world to meet each other. That is a great opportunity for developers from different offices to talk technology and build relationships. In the hackathon last year people from the Waterloo office hosted a whisky-tasting event that was attended by people from many other offices. In the event people quickly made friends with those who they never met but ever talked virtually. I find it very helpful in future conversations with those people, because a smiley face or sad face in emails will not be awkward.
Another way to help bring people together from a distributed workforce is to allow people from one location to work in another, either temporarily or even permanently. The company has an open policy of allowing people from one office to work from another. This could be to fulfill a short-term business need, to allow an employee to try out life in another location before committing to a move or to enable someone who is moving between countries to stay in the company. Some offices also have special programs to enable employees to work in another office on a semi-permanent basis. An example of this is the ‘Maple Syrup’ program that enables employees from Manila to work in NetSuite’s Toronto office for 2-3 years. This program started recently and aims to offer the International experience to up to 4 employees per year. It has been a great success and is aiming to continue over the coming years.
NetSuite recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities that having a global distributed workforce can present. Through the programs discussed here the company helps to ensure that good communication and collaboration never suffers despite the fact that co-workers can live thousands of miles and many time zones apart.
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