Global workforce management can pose a range of strategic, logistical and legal challenges for employers as teams and projects span various locations, cultures, time zones, languages and working styles.
As organisations strive for business growth through global talent management, we examine some of the areas of risk and opportunity for employers to develop, retain and recruit on an international scale, while remaining legally compliant, controlling costs and delivering organisational value.
Global workforce management: Collaboration & engagement
For organisations that bring together personnel from different cultures, with different work experiences and perspectives on market and organisational challenges, the potential to achieve advantage and deliver stakeholder value is compelling.
But with an internationally diverse workforce comes cultural differences which can equally act as a source of negativity, where communication is ineffective, misunderstandings can ensue and cooperation can degenerate into distrust. It is common for employees that travel frequently or teams that are physically separated geographically to struggle with developing effective interactions and building trust and congeniality among colleagues. Together, this impacts both commercial performance and the bottom line.
What is needed is an approach that acknowledges and is open about cultural differences across the global workforce and aims to build a sense of community and improved employee engagement. Cultural differences matter at all levels, from leadership styles that may work in the home country but do not transfer well into a host culture, through to everyday interactions and relationship building with colleagues and clients. Self-awareness of individuals within global teams is critical to ensuring a culture of tolerance and an acceptance of differences.
An area of particular concern is where presumptions about dominance arise in respect of teams operating in specific locations. Where there is a larger cohort in on location – this may be a headquarters – operating alongside smaller ‘outposts’ or sole representatives within a region, perceptions can emerge of a power imbalance towards the larger group, who are seen as the hub of activity with enviable access to senior management. It falls to management and team leaders to ensure such gaps are bridged. A clear and consistent focus on common corporate goals among the cross-border team is critical, with frequent reminders of this shared purpose and the contribution being made by all parts of the team in meeting these objectives.
Global workforce management: Developing & retaining talent
The international experience as a whole can help develop and prepare employees for leadership roles, as well as providing invaluable insight and new industry knowledge that can be leveraged for enhanced organisational productivity and efficiency.
While some employees may be open to overseas assignments, others may be less so, not least where this involves moving away from family and friends for significant periods of time, and especially where the host destination presents a particularly challenging environment or extensive cultural differences.
One issue within global talent management of highly mobile employees is career mentorship. Global nomads who tend to feel responsible for their own carer development can be at a higher risk of leaving the business in the pursuit of new challenges, and attrition levels among employees returning from overseas assignment remain high across the board.
As such, careful consideration will need to be given to the incentives that you are prepared to offer to potential candidates, particularly in respect of overseas assignments, from relocation and compensation packages to the promise of future promotion.
A well-thought-out, consistent pay structure can increase a company’s ability to attract, motivate and retain talent. Establishing global pay strategies and structures for key international talent typically involves setting pay levels by role, taking into account internal business considerations and competitive market rates. The impact of tax and regulatory environments in local geographies should also be considered in order to operate a globally harmonised and competitive model.
A key driver for many employees in taking on an overseas assignment is the enhanced skills, relationships and insight they will gain through the experience. Returning employees may expect to be rewarded following an assignment with a promotion or some degree of clarity in career progression. Failure to discuss career opportunities or to recognise and acknowledge the employee’s enhanced offering could see the individual leave the organisation, potentially taking their knowledge and insight to a competitor.
Successful repatriation not only depends on the offer of a suitable job role to return to, but can also depend on the level of support offered to the employee (and their family if they also relocated) during the resettlement period. Reverse culture shock is common, and can see employees struggle to settle back into life back home without adequate support.
Close alignment between mobility management and talent management on repatriation can help to reduce employee resettlement issues and potential attrition post-assignment. Discussing the terms of repatriation, including the specific role that the individual will be returning to, will help to manage the employee’s expectations as to their immediate return and future ambitions for career progression.
Staying competitive in attracting and retaining global talent is one of the key challenges that multinational organisations face. Employers need to be open to new approaches when it comes to recruiting and retaining talented employees, especially when deploying them on overseas assignments but equally looking to retain them once repatriated and back in their home country.
Global workforce management: Deployment models
With increased workforce mobility comes increased regulation and legal requirements.
Generally the greater the number of home-host country combinations, the more administratively burdensome the management of compliance such as immigration, exchange controls, employment laws, tax, social security and compensation rules.
For employers, the imperative is to reduce the number of legislative combinations which need to be addressed to reduce governance costs and improve compliance while minimising risk.
Where employees are operating internationally and across borders and jurisdictions, the fundamentals of the working relationship and terms should be agreed and documented, to provide clarity of rights and responsibilities and to manage expectations of all parties.
A number of deployment models exist which organisations can leverage as required to suit the organisation’s specific and changing cross border mobility needs:
- Global Employment Company (GEC) – the employment contract is with the GEC and assigned to the host country.
- Regional Employment Company (REC) - the employment contract with the REC and assigned to the host country.
- Regional Office Headquarters (ROH) - individuals are contracted into the ROH and subsequently assigned to the host country.
- Home employment – individuals remain employed by the home country and are assigned to the host country.
- Host employment – employment contract is with the host country.
- Optimised status quo – use existing group company structure to employ individuals.
Establishing or changing an employment company may involve cancelling or varying existing employment contracts and creating new contracts under the new corporate entity.
Taking professional advice can ensure you consider all options against your business drivers and desired outcomes to optimise global mobility service delivery.
Employers should continually review local immigration rules and policy, and plan for imminent changes within each relevant jurisdiction where they operate.
This includes, but is by no means limited to, the different types of permissions that may be required, from work visas to residency permits, and the restrictions these place on permissible activity and visa validity.
Inevitably costs considerations will need to be carefully reviewed across the workforce management piece.
In some cases, where there is a scarcity of talent, you may need to heavily incentivise talent from abroad with lucrative salary and benefit packages. In other cases, you may be able to deploy existing talent to carry out the work, albeit factoring in the cost of relocation, compensation and repatriation where that work is based overseas.
You could also consider how savings can be made in alternative ways, for example, the use of short-term assignments rather than permanent relocations, or making administrative savings through different remuneration packages using either a home-based or host-based approach.
By varying the approach to cost-control based on each assignment type, this may help to make overseas assignments more cost-effective.
However, when it comes to balancing the cost of an overseas assignment, or the recruitment of overseas talent, this must always be carefully balanced against the need to attract and retain top talent to ensure the continuity and success of your business.
The success or failure of global projects rests on effective collaboration and as such, it is crucial that teams are able to communicate and collaborate easily and efficiently. This means working on the same platforms and software, working with the same calendars and schedules and communicating via the same channels. It is no good having one team set up on Skype and another on WebEx – communication will just not be efficient. When it comes to project management and tracking it is again, vital that all teams are working from the same programme and seeing everything in real time.
It can be challenging for organisations to remain competitive where disparate, legacy HR systems are in place, lacking integration and offering inadequate analytics or where in-house systems and manual processes are still relied on.
When scheduling meetings with direct reports, opt for methods of communication that facilitate real-time conversation and information sharing, such as videoconferencing. In addition, try to find time to periodically travel to international office locations,
Even with the wealth of communication tools at your hands, you still want to get face time with these workers. It’s hard enough instilling company culture in a local office, let alone multiple offices scattered around the globe.
Improving collaboration can be as fundamental as ensuring time zones are accounted for when scheduling calls, setting deadlines and expectations around response times to emails. Finding the right time to talk, collaborate or discuss work is logistically challenging. Organisations are increasingly turning to technology to help map times across locations and time zones to help teams better connect.
The use of the technology, where implemented effectively and used correctly, can significantly ease the administrative pressures and enhance efficiencies and communication when managing a global workforce.
Integrated workforce management systems bring accuracy and simplicity to mobility management by automating a variety of technical, administrative, and analytics tasks and supporting informed decision-making and predictive insights- invaluable for profitable business growth and ensuring full compliance.
Innovation and adaptability are cornerstones in international business. Failure to evolve and initiate change across your workforce can have devastating impact on performance, and advantage as competitors outmanoeuvre. Regardless of location, all personnel should feel they have a voice in the organisation and their ideas will be heard and recognised.
Global workforce management advice
From identifying and developing talent, enabling personnel mobility and deployment and facilitating information and knowledge dissemination and supporting collaboration and teamwork.
Where organisational growth ambitions rely on global expansion, underpinned by an international workforce, the precision and consistency with which talent management capabilities, HR policies and leadership development are approached must be improved.
At DavidsonMorris, we work with employers to support the management and development of a diverse and high performing global workforce.
Our experienced consultants advise on leading practices and technology solutions that deliver cost effective risk reduction and compliance across your mobility portfolio.