How To Manage Global Employees (In-house And Outsourced)
Working with international colleagues opens up so many opportunities to succeed in today’s business environment. Being geographically diverse means that we can connect with many talents and cultures around the world. Moreover, these international workers can also bring their local knowledge and varied perspectives to the table. They help businesses eliminate the risk of not properly understanding the local business environment. All of this helps multinational businesses compete better and thrive in the highly globalized modern world.
However, everything comes at a cost. There are a lot of challenges that come along with the value these workers provide.
For example, there can be vast differences between the cultures of the global workers, which may lead to misunderstanding and friction in the workflow. Worse, they can lead to conflict between the employees, harming the overall productivity and happiness. Other HR-related nuances – such as recruitment, onboarding, payroll, benefits, and a lot more – can be quite difficult to navigate and manage.
As a manager, your goal is to mediate these differences and ensure that the global workers are happy and committed to their job.
Fortunately, these problems are not at all hard to overcome. In this article, we attempt to point out the outstanding challenges that a lot of managers face with the global workforce, and then suggest solutions. As we are dealing with the most sophisticated and unpredictable factor of business – people – we have to be sensitive and diplomatic. Communicating the differences and resolving these issues requires a lot of emotional and cultural intelligence. It is a long journey to take, but realizing that is already a huge step to take.
1. Handle major communication challenges
Problem 1: Cultural differences
Communication is a major obstacle that global workers all have to face. It is not simply about understanding what the other is saying, but also about understanding their cultures. Each culture has different nuances that even the natives don’t know that they are behaving in such ways. In other words, they are subconsciously following their culture. When different cultures encounter each other in the workplace, these differences make the interactions a bit unnatural, and nobody knows why.
For example, you can have a look at this article where we analyze the major cultural differences between Americans and Mexicans. It is quite an interesting case to look at. Although the US and Mexico are neighboring countries, they have almost opposing cultural values. This is because the Americans are influenced by European values, while Mexicans are influenced by Latino values. These differences can make their way into the workplace, and create unnecessary misunderstanding.
This difference will always be there, so the only thing we can do to overcome it is to develop cultural intelligence in the workplace.
Cultural intelligence is about accepting and understanding others’ cultures, and flexibly adjusting one’s behaviors to ensure a harmonious work environment. To create this understanding, employers have to focus on bridging the gap between cultures.
The first step is to nourish a diversity mindset in the global employees. Managers should create an environment where employees feel natural to communicate with each other about their expectations of the workplace. Sometimes, it is better to just straight up ask employees from that culture to teach you their culture’s norms. Approach and ask them questions in a casual and friendly manner, which also demonstrates that you respect and care about their backgrounds. Make it as if you are eager to learn about the exciting aspects of their nations. Of course, you will also want to choose someone that seems to have a good grasp of their country’s culture and doesn’t have too much bias. A few questions you can ask:
- What are some differences between your country and this country?
- What are some interesting things about your culture that you can’t find here?
- What do people in your culture do in the New Year/Christmas/other festivals?
- Do your co-workers understand your culture?
This should give you a better understanding of their culture, and it is also a wonderful way to spark a connection. If possible, engage other employees in the conversation, too, and encourage them to exchange cultural facts. If they are from a unique and different culture from you (for example, China and US), then you also have a chance to learn more about an unfamiliar world you might haven’t stepped on.
Normally, managers who have rich experience of managing internationally have really a deep cultural understanding. They can provide invaluable consultation on these subtle but powerful cultural norms that help you and your co-workers co-operate better at work.
If you can’t receive insights from your managers due to various reasons (poor international experience, lack of communication between levels of management, etc.), you can always rely on the Internet. The Internet is a vast resource for these kinds of things. It won’t take you long to carry out a research of the major cultural differences between the countries. For example, you can find international travel forums, expatriate forums, or other national culture forums and post questions there. Find a forum where there are active moderators that can filter out false, misleading information. These forums are filled with authentic, real-life, real-time responses that can help you see through those frictions in communication at work.
Also, try to be more observant and understanding. All of the research will be of no value if you don’t take them into practice. Do not put yourself or people from the same culture with you above others. Try to observe conversations where you are not involved. When standing from a third-person view, you should be able to spot cultural cues better. Do not make any judgments, but rather, be objective. Find out how each culture acts, and how it differs from the other. Over time, you will be able to understand them better and develop suitable reactions to each culture.
If you are truly interested in the cultures of the people you are working with, try reading books, watching movies, and even documentaries about the place. Once you truly go deep into the culture, you will start to learn about the stereotypes, the people, and the smallest details of how people treat each other there. It will be an enlightening journey.
The TED talk below shows an interesting and light-hearted view of cultures. Even the slightest and most basic gesture of saying “Hello” varies between countries, and knowing it is valuable if you work in international environments.
However, before you are faced with cultural differences, you first have to face the language differences. Usually, co-workers in global companies all have to use the same language to communicate, in most cases, is English). The main struggle comes from the accent.
Problem 2: Language difference
One’s accent is something that won’t go away unless the person stays and communicates a lot for a few years. A heavy accent causes more frustration than most, and that frustration will turn into a series of problems if not resolved properly.
In these cases, we propose an approach known as “simplification”. Simplification is all about minimizing the amount of information you want to communicate to only major details. If verbal communication is too difficult, you can always resort to other means of communication, such as writing, symbolizing, or even drawing. These methods of communication allow you to simplify the languages into something more universal and understandable.
If you want to read more about the method, here it is. In this article, we proposed many ways to overcome the language barriers in the global workplace, and simplification is among them. Try to make it as simple as possible, so that even a child understands it, but don’t omit the important details.
When you find yourself in a difficult conversation due to the language barriers, prepare the important details of the things you want to say in your head. Emphasize them and ensure that the other person knows what you mean. Of course, you also should encourage the global co-workers to adopt the same method when they have something to convey.
Of course, this method also has a high risk of misunderstanding. To ensure that it won’t happen, you should ask the people in the conversation to confirm the message you told them.
2. Time zones and expectations towards schedule
When working with a global workforce, especially an outsourced workforce, you should pay attention to the time zone. It is not a big problem to hold meetings with in-house international workers. Outsourced workers, however, can’t possibly keep up with the schedule if it is against their time zones.
Countries have really varied notions of how time is supposed to be spent and used. Some have really strict and tight time control, while some are more relaxed, almost to an annoying level. Therefore, it is important to know the appropriate time to communicate with them, and what to expect from them. In some cases, employees from different time zones might not be available when they are needed the most.
The first thing that managers need to do when deciding to use an outsourced workforce is to set clear boundaries. You should have an idea of how these workers manage their time and how their time zones overlap with yours. By setting everything clear from the beginning, you won’t have to face the scenario where they aren’t available when you need them the most. If need to, you can hire workers who work in a similar time zone to yours to avoid unavailability.
Also, outsourced workers don’t work solely for you. They work on a contract basis, and there might be a lot of other projects that they are working on at the same time. This can affect the delivery time and sometimes even the quality of the work done. If your project is not on the top of their priority list, you may fall into this scenario. It is better to agree with the workers all along that they should only take on one or two projects at the same time. That will allow them to better focus on the task and submit it by the deadline.
The notion with time differs by country, and you can’t really know this unless you work with them for a long enough time. However, you can remember some of their basic characteristics.
For example, countries like Mexico and other Latino cultures have a really relaxed opinion about time. They think that time is the richest resource that we have in life, and there is no reason to rush. It is better to take time and let things be.
If you work with Mexicans or Spanish, you will see that they don’t follow deadlines as tightly as the Americans. Being a bit late to them is totally fine. The Americans, on the other hand, show a much more rushed attitude to time. They believe that time is gold, so they want to take advantage of it all. This attitude is fitting with the straightforward and get-go attitude that they are portrayed as.
The German and Japanese are punctual, as we have always stereotyped them. ”Accuracy” and “exactness” are 2 good words to describe their attitude towards time. To them, being only a bit slow is already unacceptable. If these cultures collide with the Mexican culture, some conflicts may inevitably arise.
When facing these vast and opposing cultural differences, it is better to flexible. We can embrace them by understanding and adjusting schedules and expectations to fit with these cultures. However, managers should also set boundaries. Other business partners won’t want to adjust their schedules only to fit with your global workforce. Let your outsourced workers know what you expect from them. Set clear boundaries on time and work attitude. The employees have to flexibly adjust themselves to the environment they are in. It is all about finding a common ground.
3. HR-related nuances when working with an international workforce
Problem 1: Cross-border payroll
Payroll is already a sensitive topic when working with local employees. When working with global employees, it can become even more complex. When you hire a team of remote workers, you have to pay them cross-border. Some of the big problems that arise when it comes to international payroll include:
- Which payment method to use?
- Is there any local regulations and requirements regarding payment?
- Will we face returned or failed payment?
- What is the tax law there?
- How long will it take to pay? How long will it take to receive?
- Is there any major fees involved? What is the most cost-effective one?
In the interconnected world today, paying for overseas employees is really common. These employees don’t come from one single country. They come from all five continents, and researching the way to pay takes tons of time. That is not to mention organizational and legislative changes that they don’t have enough time to update on. Due to these problems, fast-growing companies expanding internationally can only rely on a partner to help them.
Usually, companies have to find a vendor who can deliver cross-border payroll. It is more than transferring money to the people who completed the work. It is about automated payroll, with integration into the employees’ data of the company. A quick research on Google can bring you a lot of information about these vendors.
Problem 2: Benefits package
There are many things to consider in a benefits package, including healthcare, holidays, and other perks. However, the idea of benefits is not the same from country to country. For example, in countries like India or other countries with a lot of skilled labor, a free lunch is usually expected. However, in countries like the UK and US, people are more concerned about their retirement plans and savings. These differences in culture create different expectations from both employers and employees.
Before entering a new region, learning about cultural expectations is really important. Ensure that the interactions with your employees align with the norm there. With outsourced workers, the consideration for culture is not as emphasized, but in-house workers demand a lot of that. The benefits package also has to align with the region’s regulations and requirements. Without this local knowledge, you may unknowingly fall behind the local competitors.
The main solution to this is to consult local businesses or hire a team of local consultants. These consultants who are familiar with the local business landscape can give you powerful insights into the labor market and the expectations there. These consultants can also help you source quality workers and kickstart your expanding business in an unfamiliar country.
3. The main rules to manage your global workforce
No matter if you are working with in-house or outsourced workers, the main rule is still to pay attention to the culture.
Establish your goals clearly from the start. That should give you a clear understanding of how to work with your international team. Regardless of their background, make sure to be united. Do not let the diversity divide your organization, but instead, seek to connect them.
Allow the workers to communicate freely with each other and exchange information beyond all cultural borders. Try to be flexible and understanding of the unavoidable cultural nuances, and seek to find a common ground.
And of course, partner up with a local business that understands deeply the expectation of the people there. Together, you will help to create a more diversified workplace where people come to exchange ideas and inspire each other without any borders.
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