Now, more than ever, expanding globally offers several exciting business benefits, including wider access to talent, increased market opportunities, and enhanced brand recognition. It’s why we’re seeing many businesses look beyond their borders in pursuit of fresh opportunities and competitive advantages.
However, it’s not without its challenges. Communication issues, scheduling conflicts, diverse labour laws, and varying technological standards can make the road to global expansion a bumpy one.
Strategies for effective global workforce management are vital to overcoming these challenges, ensuring dispersed, remote teams can communicate and collaborate seamlessly — and work together with reassurance, respect, and productivity.
Here are some of the biggest challenges of managing distributed teams, how to overcome them, and what the future might hold as new trends emerge.
Understanding global workforce management challenges and how to overcome them
Challenge: Cultural and language barriers
Managing global, cross-cultural teams requires an understanding that customs, values, and social norms can vary wildly from one part of the world to the next. If left unchecked, cultural barriers can spring up, hampering communication and collaboration between these teams.
Some are easy to predict and address, like differing expectations around punctuality, greetings, and dress code. Others are more nuanced. Language, in particular, can add a layer of complexity to global workforce management. Different native tongues, regional dialects, cultural colloquialisms, idioms, slang, and jargon can all result in potentially damaging misunderstandings and a lack of trust between co-workers.
Solution: Champion robust communication strategies and cross-cultural training
Smash through cultural and language barriers by establishing clear communication protocols and utilising collaboration tools. Encourage global teams to work together across the business, sharing ideas and learning from one another. And when they do, ensure they’re speaking together using jargon-free, plain language. Make it a company-wide policy to prioritise clarity over business speak, expand on abbreviations, and explain technical terms.
Furthermore, providing cultural sensitivity training will educate colleagues of different backgrounds on how things like communication style, body language, and the use of humour can vary from one culture to the next, reducing conflicts and boosting morale.
Challenge: Time zone differences
Working with distributed teams can be complicated and costly, thanks in large part to time zone differences. Whether it’s one hour, eight, or more, operating in different time zones can cause confusion, delays, and missed deadlines.
According to Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work report, 62% of remote teams are distributed across time zones, with 14% of remote workers surveyed claiming that working across time zones was their biggest struggle. If handled poorly, coordinating schedules and meetings between co-workers and clients can result in friction and resentment, particularly if one team is constantly required to be up early or stay late to accommodate the rest.
Solution: Leverage technology solutions
Cloud-based project management tools can help you coordinate schedules and give you complete visibility over employee availability. With just a few clicks, you can see who’s online, their status, and their local time zone, helping you line up conference calls and meetings when everyone is at their most productive. Alternatively, consider a time zone converter to see local information at a glance.
Once you have the tools in place, it’s good practice to rotate recurring meeting times to ensure it’s not the same person or team being asked to meet at the least convenient time. And if schedules don’t line up most virtual collaboration platforms will let you record the meeting to share it with those unable to attend.
Challenge: Legal and compliance issues
Another significant challenge of implementing a global workforce is navigating the diverse (and often complex) labour laws and regulations in new markets. Your company might be set up to operate in your own country, but those contracts and protocols won’t always translate once you cross borders.
Every country has its own unique set of HR rules, employment standards, and tax requirements. These can affect employee onboarding, benefits packages, salaries, holiday allowance, retirement and pension plans, termination policies and practices, and so much more. If you enter a new market unprepared to comply with these rules and regulations, you could find yourself tangled in red tape and on the receiving end of hefty financial penalties.
Solution: Implement a global HR strategy
When entering a new market, consistency is key. Streamlining HR processes and policies can make global expansion more predictable — and one of the most effective ways of doing that is to use an Employer of Record (EOR) service.
EOR allows businesses to outsource their employment responsibilities to a third party, helping companies expanding globally to navigate the complexities of foreign employment regulations, payroll management, tax compliance, and other HR functions. With a global EOR, businesses can efficiently hire and manage employees in different countries without the need to establish additional legal entities in each country of operation.
Challenge: Technology and infrastructure
Finally, an often-overlooked challenge of effective global workforce management is the digital divide. Defined as the gap between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to access to technology, it can prevent employees in some parts of the world from fully engaging in training or keeping pace with their counterparts in more connected countries.
According to the United Nations, around 2.9 billion people (almost half the world’s population) remain without access to the internet. This makes establishing markets in developing nations more difficult (and more expensive), as potential employees may not have the necessary hardware, software, and high-speed internet required to collaborate with colleagues or communicate with clients.
Solution: Emphasise training and development
To bridge the digital divide, you must address skills gaps within the global workforce, provide technical support and training, and ensure your employees have the necessary hardware and software to perform their jobs.
And as technology evolves, your organisation must stay ahead of the curve. Regular training and development can help your employees upskill, improving individual performance and gaining your company a competitive edge in emerging markets.
Global workforce management success stories
You don’t have to look far to find examples of global workforce management success stories. Some of the world’s biggest companies were, once upon a time, regional operators. However, with hard work, ambition, and a considered approach to global expansion, these recognisable brands are now ubiquitous the world over.
Here are a few international business pioneers and the lessons you can learn from them:
McDonald's: Founded in 1948 by brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald, the focus on efficient, repeatable processes led to a franchise model created by Ray Croc and an explosion of restaurants across North America in the 60s and 70s. Today, there are over 38,000 locations in 120 countries worldwide.
The Lesson: McDonald's succeeded through operational and brand consistency. Whether you’re in Southern California or South Korea, you can expect your Big Mac to look and taste the same. But they also adapted to local cultures, ensuring their menus reflected the tastes and preferences of their target market.
Taking a consistent approach to training and internal processes can help you roll out in new markets — but don’t be afraid to react and adapt to local customs and expectations.
HSBC: Tracing its origins to a Hong Kong trading house in 1865, HSBC is a multinational British bank and financial services company that now operates in more than 60 countries worldwide. Known for its focus on corporate and investment banking, HSBC serves 39 million customers and was ranked the 20th largest company in the world by Forbes in 2023.
The Lesson: HSBC’s cross-border success can be attributed to country-specific customer service, meeting local expectations, and solving native problems, all while navigating different regulatory environments.
Before you put boots on the ground in a new market, you must be prepared to deal with that country’s unique rules and regulations.
Uber: Launched in San Francisco in 2011, the ride-hailing app Uber set out to transform the way we book and take taxi rides. By 2012, the service had expanded to Chicago, and by 2013, it was available in 65 cities across the US. Today, thanks to its simple user interface and seamless customer experience, the company operates in approximately 70 countries and 10,500 cities worldwide, facilitating an average of 25 million trips per day.
The Lesson: Uber’s success comes from its ability to disrupt an established market. The app turned the taxi industry on its head, and instead of trying to compete with existing taxi companies in every country it entered, Uber offered a streamlined, user-friendly alternative. It’s now doing the same with food delivery and freight.
Positive disruption can only happen with the right team rolling out your product or service. Employ people who are creative, data-driven, and willing to find strategies that work in hyper-localised markets, before expanding into other neighbourhoods and cities.
Future trends in global workforce management
Emerging technologies and changes in remote work policies and practices will impact global workforce dynamics — both in the short and long term. The likes of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), 5G, and edge computing will revolutionise the way we do business and work together.
Using AI and ML, mundane tasks will be automated, freeing human workers to tackle more fulfilling and creative tasks. Meanwhile, faster network speeds and lower latency will enhance video conferencing and collaboration software, elevating the productivity levels of remote workers.
These trends combined will allow companies to tap into a significant and growing talent pool, recruiting the best and brightest from around the globe. As a result, teams become more diverse and inclusive moving forward, eliminating some of the challenges we’ve discussed above.
To recap, common global workforce challenges can be overcome with careful planning, clear communication strategies, technological solutions, and experienced partners to help you navigate complex labour laws and regulations in different countries.
As new technologies emerge and hybrid and remote working becomes more established, now’s the time to look beyond your borders and expand into new markets.
With TopSource’s global EOR services, we take care of onboarding, payroll, benefits, tax, foreign exchange, insurance, and more, and we’ll even assume the legal responsibility — leaving you to focus on growing your business as a global employer.