Nicholas Roi: Engaging a geographically dispersed workforce

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remoteworkingAs remote working is on the rise, more businesses are forced to manage a geographically dispersed workforce. In order to effectively engage employees across a range of geographies there are some basic rules which should be followed. Businesses that fail to do so risk cultivating an unhappy, unmotivated and unproductive workforce.

Engaging a dispersed labour force falls into three key stages; onboarding, learning and performance. To maximise productivity the company’s HR team must have excellent engagement systems in place throughout. While the techniques undertaken at each stage may initially appear separate, when executed properly, they come together to enhance staff motivation throughout their employee lifecycle.

Start at the beginning
Staff engagement begins during the recruitment and onboarding process. An onboarding programme that isn’t properly managed results in unhappy employees that are unlikely to stick around much longer than their probationary period. However, if staff are properly engaged during onboarding, they are likely to remain with the company for eighteen months or more.

For onboarding to be considered effective across territories it must remain consistent; it’s this consistency in approach that should be communicated to staff managers. They should be adequately trained in the onboarding process and should understand the inextricable link between onboarding and productivity with regards to effective engagement.

Embrace diversity
International corporations shouldn’t be intimidated or worried by the language and cultural differences that come as a result of a global workforce. Diversity should be respected and taken into consideration by the central office when planning any staff programme – including onboarding. If an exacting system is in place and managers are properly trained to deliver programmes, then cultural and linguistic variety can only benefit an organisation – they certainly shouldn’t hinder business productivity in any way. Programmes can be delivered in a uniform manner while remaining flexible enough to meet differing cultural needs.

Promote goals
When fostering engagement, understanding those that make up the workforce is crucial. This is particularly true for HR teams working in multi-national corporations. The larger the company, the easier it can be for employees to get lost in the mechanics of a business. In order for everyone to feel engaged they must feel they are treated as individuals, rather than as cogs in a machine. To achieve this, employees need to understand how their daily actions positively impact the overall business. A person that understands this will feel more driven to achieve their own goals as well as those of the company.

Communicate using technology
As part of this, managers need to make sure that the company’s mission statement is shared, and that the long-term vision for the business is known. Any changes to either must also be conveyed if everyone is going to continue singing from the same hymn sheet as such. In the past, communicating change across a geographically dispersed workforce could be difficult. However, the advent of new communication technologies such as video conferencing and internal social networking, mean that communicating with an employee, be they in the adjacent room or across the globe, is no longer a problem.

But there is a line to be drawn and some companies can take their reliance on technology too far. If face-to-face contact is possible then it should be taken advantage of; face-to-face will always help staff feel better connected to their organisation and superiors. This is especially true during the appraisal process, as well in the creation of learning and development plans. In these instances personal contact is in fact imperative for building engagement and should never be abandoned.

Above and beyond anything else, the key to engaging a global workforce is consistency. Whether the HR team is managing a small group in a single office or a global company with thousands of employees, processes must be carried out in a uniform manner. No matter the location of the employee, their incentive and benefits package, opportunities for training and offboarding processes, methodologies should remain the same. Companies that achieve this will experience heightened staff engagement, which in turn will lead to business productivity, and ultimately, profitability.

About the Author

By Nicholas Roi, managing director of SilkRoad, providers of SaaS talent management software solutions

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  1. There is a lot of common sense here. But as a global HR professional, I take issue with one point “No matter the location of the employee, their incentive and benefits package, opportunities for training and offboarding processes, methodologies should remain the same. ” I would caution that for a global enterprise, that can be unnecessarily costly and even risky. Local market practices and the existence of national health care programs, etc. will drive benefits decisions. Regulatory environments differ also, and a headquarters country incentive plan may not even be legal in another country. My advice is always to identify the core components of the Employee Value Proposition that must be the same to drive a consistent employer brand (examples might include career pathing, training, core values & corporate culture), and then get as close to consistent as possible with the employee experience so that a company can hire and retain the talent needed in each market to achieve the strategic business and human capital goals of the overall organization.

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