Managing Hybrid Localization Teams
In this guest blog post, Localization Leader, Mimi Hills recaps the LocWorld48 Silicon Valley panel discussion, Managing the Hybrid Localization Team.
After two years of working virtually, it was a joy to come together with colleagues, partners, and friends at LocWorld48 in Silicon Valley. The conference reaffirmed to me that people are at the heart of localization work on both the vendor and the client sides. I felt especially fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in a LocWorld panel, “Managing the Hybrid Localization Team” where we discussed the challenges of geographically dispersed and diverse teams and how hybrid localization teams can be most effective.
My co-panelists have unique insights on running hybrid teams. Tuyen Ho leads corporate development, compliance, and legal operations for Welocalize, and in that role drives mergers and acquisitions (M&A), for which she’s often considering how to best welcome and integrate newly acquired teams. Daniel Sullivan leads globalization growth at Shopify, which includes programs, enablement, R&D, and analytics that spur international expansion.
The week before LocWorld, Welocalize ran a poll on LinkedIn to find out how people in localization were working during the pandemic.
As the poll results show, over 50% of respondents work from home all the time now, demonstrating that remote teams are here to stay.
We started our discussion from the premise that localization teams are typically leaders of diverse, dispersed, and hybrid teams. We typically hire employees with language skills. To find that talent, we often hire in-country, and sometimes in remote locations. Our teams are often dispersed by definition, and our experience with diverse teams often put us in a position of leading by example, especially when the pandemic hit.
At the start of our panel I asked Tuyen to reflect on one thing she had learned from the pandemic. Tuyen replied, “The power and practice of kindness can get you through the unexpected or disruptive workday situations.” Tuyen shared that in M&A, as in other team dynamics, it’s the quality of human interactions that build trust over time. The culture of a team or company is demonstrated in small yet consistent behaviors of kindness, like listening to understand, following up and following through on commitments.
A Wall Street Journal article by Ben Cohen describes how the workplace can be like an offsite or an event space—individual work can be done alone, but group work is best done collectively. We agreed that some things are done best in person. Daniel opened his contribution with a story of research in graduate school. Working in the “stacks” (the shelves of books throughout the library), he would go “down the rabbit hole” to follow paths through research. This work helped him think creatively, and is hard to duplicate in a remote setting, though certainly research posted on the web helps.
We discussed how it’s hard to make connections for people that are hired and work remotely and have never met any of their colleagues in person. A structured virtual onboarding process is useful, with time set aside for meeting team members.
I quoted a story in the San Jose Mercury News that mentioned a survey by Vyopta Inc., which found that many managers don’t trust most staffers’ ability to work remotely. Tuyen and Daniel firmly disagreed with the leaders who were surveyed. They made it clear that communication is a key component of managing remote teams, and that it’s the manager’s role to lead that communication. Both held firmly to the belief that weekly one-on-one meetings are critical to establishing trust. Daniel uses his one-on-one time to have conversations that touch on how an employee is doing as a whole, before he discusses their weekly work.
Tuyen went further in covering how trust was built during an acquisition at Welocalize, which was conducted almost entirely remotely, with cameras on during virtual discussions. For the final signing, only one person from the company being acquired was present with lawyers for signatures—and everyone joined for the celebration, even with their families. It was heartwarming to see the screen shot of all the teams holding up glasses to celebrate (though Tuyen pointed out that the content of the glasses varied by time zone, since it was evening in Europe and early morning on the west coast of the U.S.).
We showed a slide showing the latest vocabulary for how people work, including “digital nomad,” “bleisure travelers” (part business and leisure travel), “workation,” and the “great resignation.” My favorite new term, though, comes from Shopify: the “Burst.” As Daniel explains, “Shopify’s solution for offsetting 100%-remote challenges with Bursts—intentional and focused in-person offsites—has done wonders for helping the team feel engaged and connected. They are one part intensive work sessions and one part family reunion. Two thumbs up from extroverts and introverts alike.”
We also discussed the phenomena of “quiet quitting,” which has been described as the equivalent of sleeping at your desk. Tuyen showed Gallup’s data on the percentage of actively disengaged U.S. employees. There’s an uptick from 2020 to 2022—but the numbers have varied from 12 to 30 percent over the past 22 years. Disengagement has always been there. We all agreed that those weekly one-on-one meetings are critical for employee engagement.
From the number of hands raised for questions from the audience, I could tell our subject resonated with them. I certainly learned from my panelists. I teach a Master Class on Localization Teams for the Localization Institute. I picked up some new ideas to include in my class next time—and also some techniques to use when I’m teaching virtually. What a joy to be learning in person again—even as we are talking of virtual teams.
About Mimi Hills
Mimi Hills has worked extensively in globalization and localization. She’s the former Director of Global Information Experience at VMWare, Inc. and has also led globalization teams at BlackBerry and Sun Microsystems. She recently founded Hillstra Associates, a consultancy focused on strategy and education in localization. Mimi is a passionate advocate for the non-English speaking user!