Avoiding the “Fringe Dweller Syndrome”

So your company is re expanding its operations out of Australia – that’s a big achievement, particularly in today’s super-volatile environment.

Whether the business is opening a manufacturing plant in China, a service center in Europe, or a sales office in India, it’s an exciting step up to the global stage.

However, that step will create some major challenges for the person charged with IT – whether their job description says “IT Manager”,  “Operations Manager” or “business owner”.

If that’s you – whether your title is IT Manager or something else –  then there are some things we think you need to know – immediately.  We’ve been delivering Global Support Desk services since ???, and this is what we’ve learned.

There’s a key question you need to consider well before you hit the ground – and it will save a whole lot of running around firefighting:


“Do you have the strategies in place to ensure your international team members are really part of your business? “


Many businesses think they’re doing OK – the office is up and running, or their production equipment is commissioned and signed off in their new plant. 

Then someone – typically the IT Manager – starts to get the feeling that something’s not right –  odd discrepancies develop, tasks don’t get done, simple things take lots of time,  standards don’t get followed. 

Your IT systems work fine in Australia – but the people overseas aren’t using them.  You can sense there are cracks developing.


What’s actually going on?

international IT supportYour company is not just opening another location.  

Your job also requires you to manage a new workforce in a different country, in a different time zone, operating within a different culture and likely with a different first language  – using technology as your primary enabler.

On top of that, you’re introducing foreign applications and new, potentially poorly performing systems, usually hosted thousands of miles away.  That multiplies the language challenges and the cultural differences. 

In those circumstances, it will be all too easy for “fringe-dweller syndrome” to develop. That could put your expansion plans – and even your business – at risk.

You won’t have the visibility that you have in your local operations – and you won’t have the connections that might increase your visibility.


It’s a whole different world…

This is what we know.

From the start, your overseas people will feel ignored and they will feel like 2nd class citizens – simply because they’re human beings who know they’re on the fringe of your operation.  If you don’t have a robust solution, then fringe dweller syndrome will emerge.

The consequences of this syndrome are many, varied AND can be very expensive.

Why? Most people don’t like operating on the fringe, so isolation leads to disengagement, churn and poor morale.   That opens the door to problems such as “shadow” IT (and worse).

In our years of helping Australian businesses succeed globally – often businesses who were struggling to manage fringe dweller syndrome –  we’ve heard all sorts of “war stories”.


Let’s start with “shadow” IT

Shadow IT could be someone in the London office running a spreadsheet to do contact management, or a Singapore staffer using a personal Gmail address rather than their business email account.  Or a sales rep in India spinning up Salesforce on their personal credit card.

That doesn’t sound too bad to some people at first – until they think through the possible consequences.

data protection solutionsA hacked personal email account almost lost one company we know of $50,000 – because cybercriminals were able to get into a personal Gmail account and change a bank account number to redirect a big payment.  The only reason they didn’t lose the money was that their bank stopped the transaction because it looked suspicious.

At a minimum, you lose efficiency as processes are duplicated.  

Plus there are extra glitches problems because your core systems are no longer “a common source of truth”.

Shadow IT also puts your business security at risk.  Imagine if confidential information gets stolen from insecure spreadsheets or cloud apps?   Your expensive International security accreditation is invalidated – and your reputation goes down the tubes.


It can get worse, too

The ability to opt-out of any sort of change management is greatest out on the edges. As people on the fringes get frustrated, they go their own way AND resist what they perceive as “unreasonable decrees from on high”.

You get inefficiency, you get churn, you get big security risks, you get compliance failures, you get poor change management and you get resistance to innovation.  No team culture develops.network virus protection

We’ve even seen a situation where half one company’s Asian office – including the computers –  was rented out by a local “entrepreneur” to bitcoin miners.  It was a BIG surprise to management when that came out.

Often, the people at the head office in these situations honestly thought they were in control. 

Then they found out the hard way that things were happening that were putting their business at risk.  Some went and looked – others were lucky that a third party reported to them on what was really going on.


The preconditions for “fringe dweller syndrome”

In and of itself, distance creates isolation – because humans are human.

So, as I said, from Day One your overseas people will feel ignored and they will feel like 2nd class citizens – simply because they know they’re on the fringe of your operation.  Your challenge is to turn that around.

“Flying solo” will suit SOME people – the entrepreneurial types who like doing things their own way.  But for most, it doesn’t suit them – they HATE it.    That’s almost always a given.

On top of the isolation factor, you also have cultural differences, language differences, and time zone differences to manage.

It’s a recipe for chaos if you’re not well-prepared and well-resourced.


Command and control is tempting – but ineffective

managed service providerWhat we’ve seen repeatedly is that command and control do not work in this situation. If you try to do command and control then bad behavior like shadow IT will actually multiply even faster.

It’s a difficult line to tread – you need the discipline to maximize your security, but the more you “lay down the law”, the more people on the fringe will feel disenfranchised.  

They don’t know you, so they receive your instructions as an edict from a remote, impersonal “emperor” – and all too often they keep on doing their own thing to get their job done more easily.


Knowledge is power

We’ve helped many businesses successfully expand overseas – often because we’re called in to fix the problems they weren’t prepared for. 

What we’ve seen again and again is that there are some key issues that need to be planned for. Understand them and deal with them, and you will ensure success when you start-up operations in a new country (or countries) with different time zones, cultures, and languages.

Once you understand them, these challenges are:

  1. Avoidable; and/or
  2. Fixable

There’s some extra good news, too

The resources and tools that prevent fringe dweller syndrome aren’t just a cost, they’re an investment in your future. 

Why? What our successful, globally-operating clients have also found is that their whole business benefits when they step up to their “international” challenges.

You get international input, ideas, and feedback

You open up to the insights and feedback of your international workforce – and that insight is super valuable as you transition from being an Australian business to being a global business.

Their ideas and perspectives are a potential goldmine of business improvement and innovation IF you can engage them and harness their ideas and energy.

Understanding is the first step

The hub and spoke structure of ANY global expansion are such that the people on the fringe of your operations will ALWAYS feel left out at the beginning.  


Distance creates isolation – automatically

As I said earlier, in and of itself, distance creates isolation – because humans are human. 

So from the start, you need to know and plan for this reality:

Your overseas people will feel ignored and they will feel like 2nd class citizens – simply because they know they’re on the fringe of your operation.


cybersecurity consultancy

Cultural differences multiply the physical isolation

We’ve worked with several Asian companies set up operations in Australia, which are used to supporting Asian businesses.  What we’ve seen are some key cultural differences. The most important cultural difference is in the understanding of urgency.  

Time is not expensive in Asia, so waiting 2-3 days is not a problem.   In Australia, time is expensive.  Time costs lots of money –  and waiting days for solutions is just too expensive (firstly in currency, but also in human patience and engagement).

This is one of a number of differences that need to be managed.

Language differences increase the challenge

A further barrier is the language.  What happens if you’re someone in China, dealing in Mandarin with a local supplier also speaking Mandarin? How much can your English-only manager understand your issues?

Time zones differences further multiply isolation

If you’re on the other side of the world and you know that your bosses are all sleeping while you have to make a decision on how to deal with something, you’ll automatically feel isolated and abandoned.

(This happens in isolated outposts of any operation where there’s a difference, whether it’s Melbourne/Perth, Bangkok/Brisbane, or Sydney/New York.)

To operate successfully and integrate overseas staff into your business, you need to deal with the isolation and time zone differences as well as culture and language.


What works? Discipline through belonging

It’s hard to feel like a fringe dweller when you’re getting white-glove support in YOUR language on YOUR systems in YOUR time zone from people who understand YOUR culture.

In our years of international experience, the thing that makes your budding global business successful is –  a quality Global Support Desk.  

It sounds too simple – but what makes a business successful in the third decade of the 21st century is technology – technology that’s well-integrated and well-supported.

White glove support creates belonging and engagement – and with belonging and engagement you get discipline “the easy way”.

It’s next-to-impossible to feel like an outsider when everybody in your timezone experiences the same high level of support from the same people – whether they’re in an Australian head office, a Shanghai factory, or a Singapore service center.

So the way to ensure your success and multiply the results of your budding global business is the right Global Support Desk.

How can a Global Support Desk help build your global business?

A truly effective Global Support Desk says “YES”:

  • Yes, we can speak your language.  
  • Yes, we CAN support your desktop in the language it’s in.
  • Yes, we know the apps you use.
  • Yes, we are available when YOU need support – you won’t have to wait 24 hours for a response.
  • Yes, we have the tools and processes in place to understand your business – your standards, your business practices, your business technology, and your business culture.

The right Global Support Desk has a small team who are assigned to all your operations in your time zone.  The people who respond to calls from your Brisbane accountant or your Melbourne distribution center ALSO answer the phone to your manufacturing plant in Bangkok or Taiwan.

An effective Global Support Desk is super easy to communicate with. They use a wide range of flexible and adaptable options across multiple languages and apps,  including:

  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Scheduled call back system, when people can choose their time (and KEEP the call time)
  • A chat system – whether it’s through texts or chat options, including video chat 

global service deskAn effective Global Support Desk has a multilingual, multi-cultural team who are global business players, not just phone operators.

This is the sort of support team who can be valuable facilitators – people who smooth the way because they’re able to pick up on common gripes and convey them neutrally.

This sort of support team – one that keeps the service high and the relationships healthy – is the support that enables you to build a robust culture because your people feel cared for.

It’s the support that actively enables improvement and innovation, so you can grow your business instead of endlessly fighting fires.

How do you choose that support team?

If you’re an Australian business starting the process of going global, you’re probably NOT going to be able to deliver this support in-house.

So here’s a list of the important features to look for.

  • A support service based in a multi-lingual, multicultural country in Asia. Not one based in Asia because it’s “cheap” – but one based there because that’s where there’s a big workforce rich in tech-savvy, multi-lingual, multi-cultural educated people.
  • A support service with a high percentage of staff who have overseas qualifications from institutions in Australia, the US, or Europe.
  • A support service where you have an allocated team of specialists that you get to know – and who get to know your business and your people.  One where you call back on a problem, you’re likely to get the same person you spoke to originally.

global service desk

  • A support service where your allocated support team serves ALL your operations in that time zone – across multiple countries and cities.  So the same person who answers your Hobart staff is also talking to your Bangkok people.
  • A support service that supports multiple businesses with operations in Australia and across Asia, including China, Thailand, India, Singapore, and Indonesia.  So they’re not learning by practicing on you.
  • A support team with in-depth disciplines, tools, and practices to provide seamless support to your business.
  • A support team that’s managed from Australia, and that understands Australian business costs, priorities, and urgency.
  • A support team that can manage the local vendors for each of your locations, with onsite support where required.
  • A support team that’s big enough to be resilient, but small enough that it has no silos.


Gain visibility, close the communications loop, and grow your business

To deliver global business success, you need visibility.  You need to close the feedback loop between your central head office and your decentralized fringes. 

The most cost-effective way to do this is to invest in a Global Service Desk that offers multilingual, multicultural, multi-time zone service to your whole business, along with the processes, structure, and a bottom-up feedback loop.

You’re making an investment in ongoing business innovation and improvement as well as increased success in the global marketplace.



If you need assistance to transition your business to succeed on the global stage, we may be able to help you level up.

For more information check out our Global Service Desk Performance.



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