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Best Practices for Managing a Global Workforce

9 min read
The best practices for managing a global workforce

With the rise of remote working, more and more organisations’ horizons are broadening, allowing them to jump on the international bandwagon for greater market reach.

Globalisation has led to organisations recruiting talent internally to stay ahead of the curve and sharpen their competitive edge. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), nearly two-thirds of UK businesses (63%) currently recruit from outside the UK or plan to do so in the future.

However, it’s not as easy as emailing across a contract and pressing ‘go’. Managing a global workforce comes with its own unique set of challenges. From communication barriers to cultural differences and regulatory compliance, employers need to know how to navigate a range of obstacles in their way. Otherwise, there’s a good chance their international workforce may be short-lived.

In this article, we will explore the best practices for managing a global workforce, including practical tips and advice to help you succeed in the global marketplace. Whether you are an experienced global manager or new to operating a global team, this article will provide the insights you need to build a high-performing global workforce that drives business success.

In this article, we cover:

What Does Having a ‘Global Workforce’ Mean?

A global workforce refers to a group of employees who work for an organisation located in different parts of the world and across different time zones and cultures.

As well as having workers who work from an office, global organisations may employ individuals who work from home or satellite offices in various countries. On top of that, workers may also travel regularly for work purposes.

A global workforce is often diverse, with workers from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages. This can make it extremely hard to manage, especially when managers are located in different countries too.

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What are the Challenges of Leading a Global Team?

Managing a global workforce can bring many benefits, such as access to diverse talent, a broader reach, and increased flexibility in business operations. However, it also comes with several challenges that can make it difficult for managers to manage their teams effectively.

Some of the key challenges of managing a workforce in different locations:

Communication barriers

Communication is crucial in any workplace, but language barriers and time differences can make it challenging to ensure effective communication when dealing with a global workforce.

Cultural differences

Every culture has its own unique set of values, customs, and beliefs. These differences can affect how team members interact, communicate, and work together. Differences in culture can often become cultural barriers, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts.

Legal and regulatory compliance

When working across borders, companies must comply with a range of local and international laws and regulations, including tax laws, employment laws, and data protection laws. Failure to comply can result in fines, legal liability, and reputational damage. This can be challenging to continually monitor without having boots on the ground.

Technology challenges

Technology is critical in managing a global workforce but can also be another source of challenges. Technical difficulties, differences in software and hardware, and security issues can all make it difficult to manage a global workforce effectively.

Time zone differences

Managing a global workforce means working across different time zones, making scheduling meetings and deadlines difficult and impacting effective management. This can also lead to team members working outside regular working hours, impacting work-life balance.

Coordination and collaboration

With team members in different regions, coordination and collaboration can become problematic. Ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goals and objectives can be an issue, and misunderstandings can arise if team members must work together effectively.

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Benefits of a Global Workforce

There are many benefits to having a global workforce, from recruitment to cost savings. Ultimately, the way the world is working is shifting. Since 2021, the number of individuals choosing to work remotely has increased by 24%, and this style of working, without a doubt, lends itself to building international teams.

Here are some of the key advantages of having workers across the globe:

Access to a larger talent pool

Companies can tap into a wider talent pool through global hiring, including individuals with diverse backgrounds, skills, and experience.

According to a survey by McKinsey, 82% of executives believe that their organisations will need to seek new talent pools internationally to meet growth targets. On top of that, 70% of global leaders say their companies have difficulty attracting critical-skill workers.

Lower costs

In some cases, companies may reduce labour costs by utilising international teams with lower wages and salaries across different countries. This can help companies stay competitive in their respective industries.

A study by Deloitte found that UK companies can save up to 60% on labour costs by outsourcing jobs to countries such as India and the Philippines.

Increased flexibility

A global workforce allows companies to operate around the clock, as workers in different time zones can work on projects and tasks at different times. This can help speed up project timelines and improve productivity.

On top of that, having a global workforce can often encourage employers to be more flexible in their approach and allow workers, who might not have previously, to work remotely. Being able to offer remote work, in turn, will build trust and a culture of accountability by showing that you trust each individual to get their work done.

Greater market reach

By having workers in different regions, companies can better understand local markets and customer preferences. This can help companies tailor their products and services to meet customers’ needs in different areas.

Cultural diversity

A global workforce can bring together individuals from different cultures, languages, and backgrounds, which can lead to a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Having international workers can help companies generate new ideas, see different perspectives, and foster a culture of innovation.

Boosted employee satisfaction

Further to having a more diverse team, research also tells us that diversity in workforces actually boosts employee satisfaction, which is a significant benefit of having a global team.

According to a report by Harvard Business Review, workers in diverse and inclusive teams reported higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement. The report found that employees in inclusive teams were 17% more likely to feel valued and heard, and 20% more likely to feel like they could be themselves at work.

Increased Innovation

A diverse and global workforce can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to the table, leading to increased innovation and creativity in problem-solving and product development.

In a study by Deloitte, workers in diverse teams were six times more likely to be more innovative, which can lead to outside-of-the-box ideas and better business performance.

Enhanced customer services

Other benefits of having a global workforce include providing companies with the ability to offer customer service in multiple languages, improving customer satisfaction and expanding their customer base.

According to a survey by YouGov, 70% of UK consumers expect companies to offer customer service outside of traditional working hours. With a global workforce, organisations can operate around the clock in different time zones, providing customers with 24/7 support.

The best practices for managing a global workforce

Tips For Managing International Employees

Managing a global workforce can be daunting, especially in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape. With different cultures, time zones, and communication barriers, ensuring everyone is working towards the same goals and objectives can take time. However, it can be a seamless and productive experience with the right strategies and tools.

But how can we master the art of global workforce management? Let’s look at what organisations need to do to succeed:

1. Establish Clear Communication Channels

Effective communication is critical when managing a global workforce. It’s important to establish clear communication channels that everyone can access easily. This includes video calling, instant messaging, and email. Ensure everyone is comfortable using these tools and provide training if necessary. Additionally, set up regular team meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page.

2. Respect Different Cultures

When managing a global workforce, it’s essential to respect different cultures. This includes understanding cultural differences in communication, work styles, and workplace etiquette. Be aware of the holidays celebrated in different countries and make sure to acknowledge them. Avoid making assumptions or stereotyping based on cultural differences; instead, take the time to learn and appreciate them.

3. Be Flexible with Time Zones

Global workforces often operate in different time zones, which can be challenging when scheduling meetings or deadlines. To manage this, be flexible with your schedule and try to find a time that works for everyone. Alternatively, consider dividing work into smaller, manageable tasks that can be completed independently and asynchronously. Global organisations must refrain from creating a culture of being available 24/7. Otherwise, you will likely find your team quickly burnt out.

4. Encourage Collaboration

Encouraging collaboration is essential when managing workers who live in different countries. It can be challenging for colleagues to work together when working in different time zones. Encouraging collaboration includes promoting teamwork, sharing knowledge and expertise, and encouraging open communication. Encourage employees to collaborate on projects and share their ideas and insights.

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5. Embrace Diversity

Diversity is a crucial aspect of managing a global workforce. Embrace and celebrate the diversity of your team members, including their different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This can bring fresh ideas and innovative solutions to your organisation. Ensure your company policies and practices are inclusive and that everyone feels valued and respected.

6. Provide Professional Development Opportunities

Professional development opportunities are essential for workers, particularly in a global workforce. Offering training programmes and development opportunities can help employees stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and developments. Additionally, it can help them acquire new skills and competencies that can benefit your business.

7. Utilise technology

Utilise technology to facilitate communication and collaboration. This includes video conferencing and instant messaging. Ultimately, this is how you’ll be interacting with your international employees. Consider what technology you need in your stack to support all aspects of business, both from a customer perspective and from an employee experience perspective. Technology should be fit for purpose and make sure your employees aren’t experiencing glitches, leading to lowered productivity.

8. Use Project Management Tools

Project management tools are crucial when managing a global workforce. They can help you manage deadlines, track progress, and collaborate with team members. Consider using tools such as Asana or Trello to streamline project management and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

9. Hire Local Talent

When expanding your business globally, consider hiring local talent. Local employees can provide invaluable insight into local customs, business practices, and market trends. Additionally, they can help you establish a local presence and connect with customers in the region.

The best practices for managing a global workforce

10. Ensure Data Security

Data security is critical when managing a global workforce. And what makes things even trickier is that data protection laws often look different in each country. Ensure that your company policies and practices comply with these local data protection laws. Additionally, provide employees with training on how to handle sensitive data and ensure that they are using secure communication channels.

11. Be Responsive

Managers should be mindful that they won’t be contactable for some of the working hours of international team members, so not having essential information to hand or the right resources will be frustrating and will inevitably slow productivity. As a result, it’s important to be responsive to your employees’ needs and concerns. Make sure that they have the resources and support they need to be successful in their roles. Be available to answer questions when you are online and provide guidance as needed.

12. Set Clear Expectations

There is nothing worse than feeling unsure about how you fit into the larger organisation. So, be sure to set clear expectations for your global workforce, including deadlines, and performance goals. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same objectives. International employees will also feel a greater sense of belonging if they can see how their responsibilities are helping others in different locations.

13. Recognise and Reward Your Team

Focus on recognising and rewarding success, regardless of where it occurs. This can help motivate your employees working in different countries and foster a sense of unity and collaboration.

Rewarding or recognising an employee doesn’t need to look a certain way – it could be as simple as shouting out about a piece of work they’ve completed on your team communication channels.

14. Foster a sense of belonging

It’s important to make your global workforce feel like they are part of the team. Create opportunities for virtual social events and team-building activities, and encourage employees to get to know each other on a personal level.

15. Set up local support

If you have employees in different regions, consider setting up local support teams to help with any issues that may arise. This can help ensure that employees receive the support they need when they need it. You could even consider creating satellite offices for clusters of individuals who work closely to each other.

16. Be aware of local laws and regulations

In addition to data protection regulations, it’s also important to be aware of other local laws and regulations that may impact your employees. For example, this might include employment laws, tax regulations, and data privacy laws.

It’s always a good idea to engage with local advisers who can act as policy makers and ensure the employee experience is in line with local labor laws. It may be easier to utilise an Employer of Record to ensure you are compliant.

17. Encourage feedback

Encourage your global workforce to provide feedback and suggestions about their experiences and suggest improvements to processes and practices. This could be anything from their experience of the onboarding process to their thoughts on the technology used in your organisation. Listening to feedback can help you identify areas for improvement and make changes that benefit the entire team.

18. Schedule regular check-ins

Good communication with your team members who live in different locations and work remotely is a key element to the effective management of global teams. Managers should never underestimate the power of a 1:1 with one of their team members. Dedicated time to check that your employee is happy will do wonders for engagement.

19. Be transparent

Lastly, it’s imperative that employers are transparent with their international employees. Transparency about company decisions and changes can help build trust and keep everyone informed and engaged.

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Amy is a knowledgeable People professional with over a decade of experience across a variety of private and public sector organisations. With a particular interest in employee engagement, Amy is an advocate for employee-centric approaches in all areas of HR which is reflected in her writing. Before a career in HR, Amy read English and Creative Writing at university and later studied for her CIPD, HR Management.

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