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I cofounded a $30 billion company with offices in 10 countries. Here are 5 best practices that have helped us tremendously with international growth.

Published by Business Insider on Tue, 06 Apr 2021


<p><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/606c84f770954f0019195687-2400/Frederic Kerrest Official Headshot.jpg" border="0" alt="Frederic Kerrest Official Headshot" data-mce-source="Okta" data-mce-caption="Frederic Kerrest."></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>A year into the pandemic, I'd wager most companies don't have a fully-formed remote or hybrid work strategy; some companies will never fully shift to remote work.&nbsp;</p><p>Our company was lucky we had started planning for a dynamic workplace before the pandemic began, which helped us transition to a remote global workforce quickly.</p><p>We opened our first international office in London in 2013 and now have offices in 10 countries. Most recently, in September 2020, we opened a new office in Japan. It was a very different experience from our pre-pandemic expansions and we learned first-hand how tough it is to onboard a new international team when you can't visit them in person.</p><p>Travel restrictions are an obvious pandemic-related challenge, and shouldn't be overlooked: inter-office travel and facetime with customers and teams are very important when they can be done safely.&nbsp;</p><p>Understanding cultural differences is another challenge international companies facea challenge that only increased this year. Employees in global offices might not interpret your company's benefits and traditions in the same way as your HQ team.</p><h2>We made this mistake at Okta years ago.</h2><p>Our employees in the US have always enjoyed catered lunches in the office (of course, we can't do that at the moment while we're working remotely, but it used to be a big hit). But when we offered in-office lunches to our team in Paris in 2018, it floppedgoing out to lunch is a big part of French work culture, and our team didn't like feeling obligated to eat in the office.</p><p>It was easy enough to address and change our approach when we could discuss it in person, but cross-cultural challenges that come up remotely have an added layer of nuance and are even more difficult to navigate.</p><h2>Remote challenges can be particularly burdensome for growing global companies.</h2><p>If your business is static and the number of team members isn't changing, it's easier to get to know everyone. But when your company is expanding into new markets, that dynamic is continuously changing as new people join.</p><p>Getting to know a growing team is particularly challenging when the only way you can meet people is through digital collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom.</p><p>We learned a few important lessons that could be valuable for other growing businesses or startups contemplating international expansion now or after the pandemic.</p><p>Here are five best practices we've learned that help us make the most of the current virtual environment:</p><h2>1. Make the effort to get up at 2:00 AM</h2><p>Even though you can't get on an airplane to attend a new office opening or visit international colleagues, prospects, partners, investors, and press in person, you can still engage with your local stakeholders on their time zone remotely via Zoom and the old-fashioned phone.</p><p>Getting up at 2:00 AM in your local time zone to join a virtual gathering can be challenging, but doing so will go a long way toward showing your commitment, establishing credibility, and making a great impressionthree key early pieces of the puzzle to opening and investing in a new region.</p><h2>2. Assign virtual flag bearers</h2><p>Before the pandemic, "flag bearers" from our HQ would typically visit or move to offices in new regions.</p><p>For example, when we opened offices in London and Sydney, two salespeople from our San Francisco HQ moved to the new regions to help get the sales teams off the ground and infuse the new team with our culture.</p><p>Inter-office travel and transfers are nearly impossible during a pandemic, but you can still assign someone the virtual flag bearer role. They can lead the charge on connecting with new team members virtually, helping answer their questions, and directing them to resources they need.</p><h2>3. Bring international office culture back to HQ</h2><p>Your international offices shouldn't be the ones doing all of the adaptingworking with a global team is an unparalleled learning opportunity for the entire organization. When your employees come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, it brings highly valuable perspective, creativity, and depth of knowledge to your team.&nbsp;</p><p>One easy, but effective way to bring global office culture into the broader company is to give regional leaders dedicated time to share updates on their office with the whole team.</p><p>We do this at our All Hands meetings: leaders from our offices in the EMEA and APAC regions present on their progressoften while weaving in futbol references and playing up friendly rivalries.</p><p>We also hold an annual leadership summit for leaders from around the world to discuss priorities and craft the company-wide strategy together; the summit used to be in person but worked well virtually this year.</p><h2>4. Take the time to create cheat sheets and resource hubs for new teams</h2><p>When a new team member is onboarding, they don't always know who to call or how the company's typical processes workespecially when everything is virtual. And there's the added challenge when the new team is in a different timezone.</p><p>You should address this situation head-on and offer new employees all the resources and support they need when they join the team.</p><p>We have a program called Oktavate where new hires spend two full days with leaders from across the organization to learn about the company's vision, strategy, platform and products, tools we use for remote communication, and more.</p><h2>5. Always think about and prioritize global team needs</h2><p>Cultural integration doesn't just happen at a macro, management level. Every person on your team should be taking steps to make global teams feel at home at the company.</p><p>I always tell HQ employees to respond to messages they get from the furthest time zone first. Tactically, this gives the person on the other end more time to ask follow-up questions if their work hours are different from yours, and it also will show them they are a top priority.&nbsp;</p><p>Onboarding a team in a new country is a big undertaking at any time, but has been especially daunting during a pandemic. There are many tools your team can use and steps you can take to make it easier to manage remote global teams, but it's okay to recognize that some things will be different when travel isn't possible.</p><p>When that's the case, look for silver liningsa few things we've learned and adapted over the past year will continue to help our remote and international teams in a post-pandemic world, making us collectively a more unified and diverse company.</p><p><em>Frederic Kerrest is executive vice chairman, COO, and cofounder at Okta.</em></p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/okta-frederic-kerrest-global-international-office-growth-expansion-2021-4#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/racist-origins-marijuana-prohibition-legalization-2018-2">How racism contributed to marijuana prohibition in the US</a></p>
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