Managing tasks in a multinational company comes with a special set of challenges – communication, cultural sensitivity and task allocation can become fraught with difficulties when your team is dotted across the globe.
With operations based in Cambodia, Laos and Kenya, the “impact sourcing” company Digital Divide Data has been providing digital content services to clients for more than 10 years, while training and giving work experience to low-income students.
We spoke to Elida Delbourg, the vice president for operations, and Sopheap Im, the associate vice president of operations, to see how they manage in a global context.
Photo: Elida Delbourg, President of Digital Divide Data & Sopheap Im, associate president of Digital Divide Data
What tasks does your role include?
Elida: I’m in charge of the projects. When sales agree with a client they come to me, and I decide how the project will be implemented by the operation teams. I work with a team of seven project managers and three service line managers to deliver the services to our clients. I also build capacity and coach my team so they achieve a higher level of independence on their work. I also work with Sopheap on any changes which can improve our operations.
Sopheap: My work is all on the human side. I oversee around 370 operators. Elida is the front man and I’m at the back making sure we have enough people allocated to projects and get them trained properly. I’m also in charge of performance manage- ment and the incentive payments to our operators if they per- form well. I also provide coaching to the supervisors to do their job properly and support them in conflict resolutions.
How much day-to-day contact do you personally have with your international sister branches?
Elida: We talk every day. Especially with the Laos branch: we some- times exchange projects when we are under capacity, and even send staff to train.
Sopheap: I’m not in regular contact, but I have some public relations tasks, so sometimes I work with the senior management in the US.
How do you deal with language barriers?
Elida: Everyone uses English – it’s the easy way! We have many different nationalities in our company. But as I am working with more than 400 Cambodian staff, it gives me motivation to learn the Khmer language.
Sopheap: Sometimes we have to be patient on a call when it’s not clear. The best way is writing – it gives us a good, clear way to explain things. Communicating with foreign staff who work in the same office is much easier because we can talk face to face and provide more clarification as soon as it is necessary.
How much conflict or misunderstanding arises from different cultural practices within the company?
Elida: When I arrived in Cambodia eight years ago, I was coming from rude, aggressive Paris and was expecting everyone would be used to this. But when I behaved like that here, people just froze. So I started to develop a positive way to manage people. It really improves staff performance and creates strong working relationships.
Sopheap: Within our office it’s a mixture of individual and sharing cultures – Cambodian culture values sharing, caring and treating each other like family members and paying respect to seniors. Western people are more about their jobs and targets than making each other happy. However, at the end of the day we have the same goal to make DDD stronger.
Is it difficult establishing communication within the whole team when you are too far apart to have face-to-face meetings? What communications strategies do you use?
Elida: We have regular planned meetings. Other branches can’t see the real situation on the ground, so the more information we share, the better understanding we get. To me, email and Skype are the best inventions in the world as we can quickly sort out problems.
Sopheap: Sometimes problems arise if we are approached by different people or if the situation changes very quickly. It can be challenging to keep up with who to go to, and what information to rely on.
Text & Photograph by Eve Watling