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How globalisation is changing the workplace

Who could fail to envy parts of the work culture depicted in Mad Men? Don Draper knocks back a few whiskies, has a nap on his office couch, goes for a long lunch followed by coffee and a chat with one of his female co-workers and ends the day coming up with some awesome creative idea.

Work culture in the West has moved on dramatically from those days into 12-14 hour days, no drinking or napping on the job, where lunch consists of a sandwich or salad staring at a computer screen. And as for a chat afterwards, who has time for that? 

Yet, practices such as siestas, power naps and long boozy lunches, still form part of the work cultures of other countries and though by no means a major issue, is nonetheless an important factor among the myriad of challenges organisations must take into account when creating a global workforce. 

On top of differing work and recruitment practices, there are societal and religious customs, language barriers, time differences, logistics, effective communication and technologies, wage differentials and legal complexities to contend with.

Sounds like a lot of hassle. The thing is, globalisation is not something that can be avoided or resisted. But the freedom of movement, goods, services, capital and people is a train that has already left the station, even outside of that bastion of the Four Freedoms, the European Union.

No country can be an island any longer when it comes to international trade.

Global interdependency, fuelled by the demands of emerging economies for goods and services, coupled with chronic labour shortages in the West as new recruit numbers fail to replace Baby-Boomer retirement levels, and the technology unimaginable to the employees in Mad Men, show how much the world has moved on in a mere 50 years compared with any other era in history. 

A global mindset: new ways of recruiting

Today HR management must not only strategise for the needs of changing workforce wherever based, but also to become more flexible, agile, innovative and focused in seeking out new ways to recruit and new talent pools to draw from. Luckily the means exist to do exactly that.

There’s a much-used phrase these days 'Think globally, act locally', which emerged from the environmental movement but can just as easily be applied to HR strategies for managing a global workforce. As long as an organisation has universal values embedded into its culture, which are imparted to its global team, the rest is about making the necessary adjustments on a local level. It’s worth bearing in mind that even though you may have a global HR management strategy in place, you're not only competing with other Western organisations for talent on a global scale but also with developing economies themselves as they grow and the talent pool becomes even more difficult to access. 

In terms of thinking globally, each company or organisation's strategy will differ according to its needs and the markets it's targeting. But the first step should be to have that 'global mindset' followed by a bit of self-reflection as to your current culture, and especially on diversity. If you're not already 'there' in that respect, then it would be like sending a Stone Age hunter with a club to recruit a space alien. The more diverse your team already is, the easier it will be to communicate with and relate on a personal level to customers and thus to advance recruitment in target markets, knowing what makes them tick. 

Diversity is not only about hiring as a global strategy though. It also signals that your organisation already has that global mindset and operates under universal values of equality and fairness. The more you manage to integrate the diverse 'home' workforce into a cohesive unit, the easier it will be to both promote and manage the global one.

However, just hiring for diversity without everyone on board aligning with a common culture despite their differences, will make it hard to pass on the company's core values to a localised workforce abroad.

Teamwork across the globe

Those core values will be the glue that keeps all employees aligned with business outcomes despite whatever adjustments need to be made at a local level when it comes to work practices and customs.  Similarly, the 'home' team must be made aware of the cultural sensitivities of dealing with the global faction of the workforce, and to cultivate a sense of teamwork across time zones and cultural barriers through frequent interactions on a personal level. It's important for remote teams to know they’re being treated the same way in terms of opportunity and progression and rewards as if they were working out of head office.

Each employee at HQ should act as if the remote staffer is in the next room and not actually half a continent away by knowing who they are and what they do, and not reduce remote employees to 'Our guy in India' for instance.

The more interaction, the better performance, morale and trust will be on a global level. Technology makes this easy to achieve, instant messaging, internal web profiles on staff or videos of them talking about themselves or their lives, social media contact, or Skype chats. So there is no excuse for people on both ends not to get to know each other on more than just a professional level.

Teams should be encouraged to communicate as much as possible but fixed sessions taking into account time differences should be mandatory.

There is always a point in the day when one part of a team has just arrived at work while another is on the point of going home. These times can be scheduled for communicating, even if it's once a week. 

On a local level, it's a matter of knowing and understanding the customs, society, religion, laws, and language issues in the target market despite the difficulties they may bring logistically. Siestas in southern Mediterranean countries, cat-napping at your desk in Japan or lax timekeeping in some countries that best remain nameless, can be an issue and that’s why it's important for an organisaton to communicate clear business targets that need to be met and to monitor productivity while at the same time offering the same training, flexibility and agile working options as would be offered to employees at head office. Again, constant communication is the key to keeping track. Bi-lingual employees are an absolute must here so that there are no misunderstandings. If this is not feasible, then locally-contracted translators and interpreters are also a good option when needed for wider team meetings or visits by management to the host country. Ditto for recruiting abroad.

Requirements for HR

One of the most important functions for HR in recruiting globally is to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of labour and wage laws across jurisdictions. A UK company may recruit abroad and pay UK wage levels but only if they are better terms than what's paid locally. Most 'foreign companies' and international organisations pay and offer benefits at local levels. Local public holidays must also be observed, tax laws, minimum wage levels, discrimination laws and working hours, which can differ wildly even within the EU. This is the one aspect of globalisation that actually has a compelling moral component and fuels some of the strongest opposition to it from social justice advocates, especially if wages in a developing country are say ten times lower than those in a developed country. This is a debate that is not likely to go away anytime soon.

An organisation that values its brand when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees abroad might well take this into serious consideration as the global war for talent can only grow as trade barriers continue to diminish even more in the coming years.

The biggest contributor to globalisation however is technology, without which the phenomenon could never have achieved its current level. Without the right technology, no company or organisation can hope to operate on a global scale, to communicate and collaborate, share information, data, plans, targets instantly, and to build the team necessary to accomplish all of it from mobile devices to cloud storage where employees in any corner of the globe have access to what and who they need at any time and where any organisation can reach a global market through a multilingual website or social media outlet.

The advent of AI and Virtual Reality in the medium-term will bring the global workforce even closer, in some instance as those employees from afar were literally in the same room at head office, just popping in for a holographic team meeting. To go a step further, teleportation when it arrives could even mean waking up and going to sleep every day in sunny Bora Bora while working in a London office under grey skies. Now that would be something. 

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