As global competition increases and technology makes it easier to do business from anywhere at any time, companies are staking out ground overseas. That’s no easy task, though. It means hiring new employees and sustaining a local base someplace unfamiliar, then keeping things running across oceans and time zones, languages and cultures. It’s no small challenge for any company but can be especially daunting for small and midsize businesses dipping their toes into global commerce for the first time. Here are five tactics for a company of any size looking to build a global workforce.
Picking a place to operate is step one–and sometimes it can be the trickiest. Start small and choose wisely. Consider whether you want to build or lease an office in a big city, where talented workers will be in greater supply but where you’ll also be competing for talent with bigger, better-established companies.
Or, on the other hand, would you rather locate first to a smaller city and draw a more stable workforce from a more modest talent pool? Your employees there might be more committed to staying put for the long-term, and lower costs of living, office rent, and overhead might keep your investments in check.
Here at StayInFront, we weighed these questions before opening an office in Turkey, which we saw as a gateway to emerging markets with an educated workforce available at competitive rates. Still, we started cautiously with just a two-person staff in Istanbul, keeping an eye on Turkey’s sometimes uncertain domestic political scene and its position in a tumultuous region. It can also help to start outsourcing certain roles first, then when your operations in the country grow, you’ll have a base around which to open a new office.
It goes without saying that doing your homework first is key. The U.S. Commercial Service Market Research Library, which is run by the U.S. Department of Commerce, offers fairly comprehensive reports on the costs of doing business in different countries and regions. It also provides commercial guides to a given country’s political and economic conditions, its leading industries for export and investment, trade regulations, and other challenges and opportunities. Contacting trade groups in a given country can yield similarly valuable information on how to conduct business overseas.
Employment laws, contract negotiations, and customs vary widely across the globe. Non-compete laws, union rules, working hours, holidays and sick leave, severance and leave policies are only a few hiring considerations that differ tremendously from those in the U.S.
For example, while an American employee can give two weeks’ notice before leaving or be dismissed with relatively short notice, hiring and termination policies tend to be longer overseas. My company recently hired a database expert for our India office, but he couldn’t start until three months after we hired him. In that country, it’s considered a courtesy to give an employer much more advance notice. So our hands were tied–we just had to wait until that period had passed.
Unfortunately, the U.S. offers considerably less family and vacation time than most other countries do. Operating overseas simply requires companies to be more flexible in order to comply. Consular websites, employment agencies, and international staffing consultants can help navigate some of those complexities.
Hiring employees in another country shouldn’t be much different than doing so at home. Ideally, you should start by recruiting from within–consider current employees and consult your existing contacts in the region, especially those who already understand your company’s mission and culture.
If those channels prove fruitless, try advertising in the local market. Research the best resources in the area for your field–whether it’s a trade publication, a LinkedIn group, or an industry organization based in the place you’re looking to hire. In addition to letting you post listings, those outlets can also give you some broader insights into the local job market for the roles you’re aiming to fill. Over time, you may be able to hire an HR manager with expertise in a particular region.
With employees spread across the globe, keeping everyone in lockstep can be a challenge. Make sure you have an employee handbook or training program to instill the company’s vision, goals, and culture in all your employees, no matter where they work. And communicate those things regularly–whether on an internal social network, team-building programs, or even a regular newsletter to share company news and ideas.
Our own organization has a standard global employee handbook that’s modified for local markets. Among other things, it includes a confidentiality agreement and an employee contract adapted to local laws. It also outlines our values, vision, and employee expectations, ensuring that even though we’re all dispersed around the world, we’re in it together when it comes moving the business forward.
If you’ve got employees in Sydney, London, New Delhi, and Los Angeles, you’re never going to have a 9-to-5 day. For managers, that means expecting to work some Sunday evenings, when it’s already Monday morning in some parts of the world. Figure out which lines of communication need to be open when, and set expectations clearly.
Flexibility is essential for everyone. If you prepare to have work conversations on some weekends and holidays, you should also prepare for periods when you can pull back and others can do the same. Change conference call times so you don’t put anyone out (including yourself).
Give employees autonomy. Let them work out the schedules that work best for them to handle their responsibilities as they see fit. As long as the right framework and expectations are in place, employees shouldn’t require burdensome oversight.
Building a global workforce is not easy feat, but it can pay off. One upshot of having employees spread across the world is the rich and varied group of people you’ll have working in your company. Managers should take the lead by learning about their team members’ traditions, language, and customs and sharing that knowledge throughout the company. After all, diversity and strong interpersonal relationships are great for teamwork, no matter how far-flung the team.
Thomas Buckley is the CEO of StayInFront, a leading global provider of mobile, cloud-based field force effectiveness and customer relationship management solutions for consumer goods and life sciences organizations.