Managing international employees is a growing reality for businesses everywhere — and no longer the special territory of huge multinational corporations.
According to recent employment forecast from The World Economic Forum, globally diversified, virtual teams will be one of the transformative drivers of tomorrow’s working world. Already, nearly 70% of professionals around the world work remotely for their parent company at least once a week — with some countries expected to see global hiring efforts targeting their workforces increasing by up to 76%.
Borders no longer determine career boundaries. They do, however, present new sets of managerial practices and strategies for those doing all that global hiring.
Successfully manage your global workforce with these tips and tricks — then reap the benefits of a more borderless operation.
Table of Contents
- Challenges of Managing a Global Workforce
- How to Treat Employees in Multiple Locations Fairly
- How to Make Overseas Employees Feel Connected
- Management Tactics for a Business Spanning Multiple Countries
- Globalization Partners: Your End-to-End Resource for International Workforce Management
Challenges of Managing a Global Workforce
Global workforce management does have learning curves that managers and creative business leaders must learn to navigate.
1. Onboarding Talent
Employee onboarding helps new workers understand the social, procedural, and performance aspects of their new work environment. Once onboarding is complete, a new hire should have the ability to contribute seamlessly to operations, and fully understand their part within your larger organization.
These programs are as much about learning as they are engagement. Onboarding explains core business operations, daily job routines plus essential compliance or regulatory practices pertaining to your industry.
International employees present new challenges and complexities for the traditional onboarding process. Training modules must be executed completely electronically. Any questions or concerns the new hire has might not be addressable in real time. What’s more, things like language and culture could become roadblocks to creating and implementing seamless onboarding modules.
2. Classifying International Employees
Worker misclassification is a severe compliance concern. Different countries carry different employee categories, which means varying payroll, tax, and benefits responsibilities.
Untangling these international workforce classifications can be challenging. Reports show global companies now average managing 22 payrolls across 31 human-resource systems. To stay compliant — and sane — most businesses try to cultivate country-specific classification subject matter experts within their organizations. This opens the door to overstretched and underprepared human resource departments, without the background to properly classify, document, and manage international workers.
3. Determining Salaries and Compensation Packages
Negotiating salaries or compensation packages is an inevitable part of hiring. Those new to your team, as well as seasoned, growth-oriented employees, will likely approach you at some point with compensation incentives in mind, presenting an opportunity to review their contributions to the department and overall organization.
However, global workforces can create complexities in determining salaries and other monetary rewards. For starters, culture informs views on money, status, and rank. Employees in one country may have different expectations for starting base salaries. There might be minimum wage laws in a country that influence how much you can pay employees.
In some parts of the world, negotiation might be part of the process of accepting a new job. Some candidates might be ready to speak plainly when it comes to how much they expect to earn. Or the opposite may occur, with culture dictating a new hire won’t negotiate pay at all.
Many countries practice extra compensation benefits that add sizeable amounts to an employees’ total cost-to-company. Rent or housing allowances, vehicle allowances, medical allowances, and even money to support aging parents or extended family are expectations in specific regions, not ancillary benefits. Unmet compensation could spell severe problems with employee retention or even legal action.
4. Maintaining Legal Compliance
Labor laws and employee rights are country-specific.
For example, many European countries hold laws protecting employees’ “right to disconnect.” EU workers cannot be expected to work more than 48 hours a week. Employees in France cannot be penalized for things like not checking email or missing phone calls after hours. In Japan and Brazil, terminating an employee is a legal matter, with a company having to prove thorough just cause. Other legal doctrines like at-will clauses and the definitions of employment discrimination or discriminatory practices vary widely.
Managers with employees at different levels located in different countries might simply cross their fingers, hoping everything is running textbook — or, at the very least, that no one checks. This can be dangerous, so it is important that managers understand the requirements across their teams.
5. Creating and Sustaining Workflows
Smooth, seamless, and productive workflows are a challenge even for fully in-house, single-location operations. Keeping projects aligned, activities coordinated, goals communicated, and project benchmarks checked off, then effortlessly passing them along to the next employee in line, requires keen dialogue and even keener technological resources. Ensuring everyone is following a workflow — and that the workflow even makes sense — is a frequent pain point for global workforce managers.
6. Coping with time zone differences
When your company grows internationally, time might not be on your side. While your team in Europe is starting their day, your team on the West Coast of the U.S. is likely to be sound asleep. This time difference means that if there’s an issue in Europe that needs input from the West Coast team, the European team might have to wait eight to 10 hours for a response. By that time, they might have signed off for the day. Time zone differences can affect productivity and lead to considerable delays.
When expanding abroad, you must keep the time zones in mind. You might have your European team start later in the day, such as in the late afternoon, or the U.S. team start earlier or work overnight so their schedules are aligned. Another option is to find a time that overlaps, such as first thing in the U.S. and at the end of the day in Europe, for teams to check in with each other.
7. Different cultural expectations and norms
What’s considered “good manners” in one part of the world might be rude in another. In some cultures, being direct and to the point are considered good attributes, but they can seem brash or harsh to other people. As your team grows globally, you’ll need to learn to manage different communication styles and expectations. Having your employees discuss their cultural expectations with each other can help everyone get on the same page and find a middle ground.
How to Treat Employees in Multiple Locations Fairly
Managing an international team involves tailored methods and approaches. Leverage the following best practices to maximize your global workforce’s potential and meet employees where they are:
1. Provide Equitable Benefits
Employee benefits are a way to attract top talent and remain competitive in your industry. Benefits packages can be notoriously complex and cost-prohibitive, and those for international workers are no exception.
For your global team, shape equitable benefit offerings around perks that maximize the quality of life for your employees within the context of their own culture. In other words, attractive benefits are not universal. It pays to do your homework on what benefits are most culturally and geographically valued, then offer accordingly.
Here are some of the most-valued benefits:
- Health benefits, more so in countries that don’t have government-sponsored healthcare.
- Travel or vacation benefits, especially in cultures or countries where international travel is commonplace, for example in smaller EU countries.
- Rent or housing stipends, in regions with high costs of living.
- And more culture-based benefit packages.
2. Standardize Role-Based Performance Rankings
Performance rankings should be role-specific, yes. That means their metrics and rating scales should come formulated on agreed-upon, intra-departmental needs to make reviews simple and scalable. After all, the definition of a high-performing software developer will differ from a high-performing accounts-payable bookkeeper.
However, there must be clear and consistent performance benchmarks amongst your software developers and your bookkeepers — no matter their location. Tailor peer-to-peer performance to be as unilateral as possible. Use transparent, standardized criteria. Ensure everyone on the team knows how their performance is ranked, has access to those qualifiers and understands others similar roles are compared identically.
3. Allow Scheduling Autonomy
A global workforce usually means you will have employees working across different time zones. That can introduce communication difficulties, in scheduling meetings, holding calls or completing collaborative work. When your morning is someone else’s evening, it can be difficult to coordinate hand-offs or deadlines.
The solution lies in flexibility and fairness. International workers will be most productive when they work on their own clock, tuned to their natural rhythms. When scheduling meetings, try to share the burden of off-hours commitments across the organization, rather than always requiring teams to accommodate one time zone.
The occasional after hours conference call is inevitable, of course, but allowing international remote workers to determine the majority of their work hours is fundamental to a healthy, happy team.
4. Adopt Bonuses and Perks
Studies have calculated that increasing the budget of employee-centered satisfaction and engagement perks by just 10% can boost company profits by nearly $2,500 per employee.
That rate of return is persuasive. Investing in your global employees means investing right back into your company. Stretched for incentive ideas? There are plenty of creative employee bonuses and perks to employ with your distributed team:
- Paid vacations
- Paid sick days
- Free lunch or treat deliveries
- Holiday or performance bonuses
- Paid subscriptions for industry publications or gym memberships
- Transportation stipends, such as bus or subway fare
- Sabbaticals or “ideacations“
- Tickets to local events, attractions, shows and more
5. Practice Trust and Transparency
Prevailing wisdom from remote-management thought leaders says if you don’t trust your workers to work remotely, you should contemplate why you hired them in the first place.
Additional activity trackers or productivity benchmarks may seem essential for global workforce management. Yet these tactics can quickly backfire when global employees feel micromanaged — or worse, that “Big Brother” is always watching.
Give your remote international workforce the tools and resources required to thrive in their roles, then let them do so. Lagging or unproductive team members will quickly become apparent on their own.
How to increase international employee engagement
One of the most frequently cited drawbacks to internationally distributed teams is the lost office camaraderie.
As remote teams grow, curating a sense of connection and authentic interpersonal interactions has never been more important. Managers can do so through the following tactics:
1. Engage Daily
Find a way to chat with your global employees in some way or form using digital communication tools, such as online chats or message threads. Doing so replicates the informal, organic conversations that strike at desks, around water coolers, coffee pots, and lunch tables. You’ll learn more about your employees as real people, and employees will feel cared for beyond their workloads.
2. Use Multiple Channels to Communicate
Shared collaborative document suites, phone calls, video calls, online chats, emails, work, or company forums — there have never been more tools at a manager’s communicative disposal. Test a handful and see how team members respond. Your global workforce likely has communications preferences informed by their culture, personality, and experiences. Find what works best for each without being too rigid or going overboard.
3. Schedule Regular Check-Ins
Check-ins solve three common operational pain points in managing a global workforce:
- It gives international employees a set time to have work questions answered.
- It gives managers a standard touchpoint to review workflows and relay project or task updates.
- It gives space for those all-important conversations and interpersonal investments described earlier.
Schedule these check-ins in real-time, at an hour reasonably convenient for both parties. Use a voice or video medium. Stick to the slotted time as much as possible. This establishes accountability and respects everyone’s time.
4. Hold Celebrations
Put on the same sorts of celebrations you would if your team worked in-house. Finding ways to commemorate birthdays, company or department milestones, individual awards, and globally relevant holidays might take a little more creativity. Yet the effort pays off in creating community and fostering borderless team rapport.
Additionally, you can celebrate with your team members “just because.” If people work remotely, schedule virtual happy hours or events, such as a trivia night or murder-mystery party, so everyone has the chance to connect while participating in an entertaining activity. If team members are local, you can set up informal after-work happy hours, such as every month or bi-monthly.
Another option is to have family-friendly events, such as a company picnic or holiday party. Each office or branch can plan and organize its own events based on the culture and expectations of the local employees. Providing your team with a chance to connect outside of work hours will help them feel more a part of the team and will help them build stronger relationships with their colleagues.
5. Tell Them How They’re Doing
People crave feedback. At work, feedback is the fundamental way to learn professional strengths and blind spots as well as how others view your contributions.
Consider setting up annual, semi-annual, or quarterly review sessions with your team members. These sessions will give you a chance to discuss an employee’s strengths and successes, as well as the opportunity to explore areas where there is room to grow.
Feedback loops are set protocols for employees and managers alike to draft and communicate their thoughts and ideas to relevant personnel. Consider creating formal feedback loops for your global workforce, though pick a method — or two, or even three — that’ll encourage participation. Anonymous feedback surveys may be more comfortable for workers in some cultures compared to open-ended conversations, while others might prefer going over a pre-written list of direct performance Q&As.
Management Tactics for a Business Spanning Multiple Countries
Borders don’t have to mean boundaries for business leaders. Today’s manager has more resources than ever to build a dream team, then steer them toward success with these key practices:
1. Focus on Continuous Improvement
International HR takes time and practice — plus a little flexibility. The best managers of international employees grow in their understanding that this is just how things work — and that’s okay.
Managers should put the onus on small process changes. Their mindset should be on continual improvement, not perfection, drawing the best performance and the best interactions from their employees. And forgiving themselves when there are hiccups.
Some of the ways you can focus on continuous improvement include:
- Being flexible: Being adaptable means that you see where there is room to change, and you’re willing to do it. Your management style might be perfect for a U.S.-based workplace but might not suit French or Japanese employees. Be ready to change your ways to fit the location and cultural expectations.
- Accepting feedback: Part of being willing to change involves being willing to listen to your team members. Ask your employees to give you feedback, anonymously, if preferred. Then use the comments you get to make positive changes.
- Look for ways to grow: You can also look around you to see where there’s room for improvement. Constantly being on the lookout for growth opportunities can help your business thrive as it grows internationally.
2. Outsource When You Can, Where You’re Comfortable
Being a global workforce manager means inevitably tackling global recruitment, global HR, global payrolls, and global labor regulations. It’s a lot for one set of shoulders.
Consider your alternatives. Rather than take on the work traditionally divided into four departments, you could partner with a global professional employer organization (PEO). These are businesses that professionally manage payroll, benefits, labor compliance, and more for entities with global employees.
End-to-end, international workforce management is a PEO’s sole mission. They can assist managers with:
- Automating and managing payroll expenses, so you can pay anyone from anywhere.
- Tax preparation, documentation, and filing, avoiding international fines and other legal ramifications for non-compliance.
- Benefit package procurement and administration, with competitive, culturally-informed programs.
- International recruitment and onboarding, for when you’re ready to scale.
3. Concentrate on Goals and Achievements
The best managers of remote workforces keep their sights fixed on their goals, and don’t get too bogged down in details. They set and communicate a vision, then scaffold resources and workflows, seeing it to fruition.
In other words, they focus on goal support and insight.
Global workforce managers may worry that their workforce isn’t “doing what they’re supposed to.” What’s more, they may have no way to check in instantly or hold remote employees immediately accountable. But is important to manage these feelings right alongside managing your team. When you shift your mindset from “what’s being done” to “what’s being accomplished,” you empower rather than oversee. Greater team morale and productivity follow.
4. Learn Local Customs
A country’s overall culture informs worker culture. There’s no separating the two.
When you manage workers in other countries, you have a rare opportunity to experience new cultures and new people firsthand. Those experiences then funnel into stronger management practices — and a stronger overall company.
- Geographically relevant onboarding and training for enhanced professional development.
- Improved local and regional understandings to transform business practices and protocols.
- Tailored communications to make employees feel valued in ways they’ll respond best.
- Maximized operations, to boost everyone’s efforts through pipelines and workflows that work across borders.
Globalization Partners: Your End-to-End Resource for International Workforce Management
Globalization Partners knows organizations today face two paths — go it alone when expanding abroad, and cope with whatever compliance, operational, and culture shocks lie ahead or bring onboard experts with global workforce management in their DNA.
Globalization Partners offers finance, legal, HR, and executive support for remote employees in over 187 countries, bringing peace of mind and ease of operations during companies’ most pivotal expansion moments. We’d love to do the same for you.
See for yourself what a trusted global workforce management provider can help you accomplish.
If you need help with global expansion, get in touch with us today. Globalization Partners’ full-stack global employment platform enables you to hire in more than 187 countries within days and without the need to set up costly international subsidiaries. You identify great talent anywhere in the world, and we put them on our fully compliant global payroll—lifting the burden of global corporate tax, legal, and HR matters from your shoulders to ours.
Globalization Partners: we make global expansion fast and easy.