Managing a Global Workforce – how HR software can help

Recent research from Deloitte has underlined the increasingly global nature of organisations of all shapes and sizes.

globeNow of course the concept of doing business globally is not new. As LBS professor Lynda Gratton points out in a recent article in HR Magazine, businesses have been international ever since silks and spices first started being moved around the world. Recent years, however, have seen a seismic shift and globalisation is now affecting what she describes as “the whole nature and fabric of work”.

Thanks to advances in technology, people can literally work anytime, anyplace and with colleagues from anywhere across the world. Managing these dispersed workforces presents a real challenge for organisations – who are also grappling for the first time with a 4G (four generation) workforce, with all the demands and expectations that brings. But while advances in technology are at the root of many of the challenges facing global businesses, the latest generation software can also do much to help organisations manage their people effectively, move to more collaborative ways of working and achieve the best possible performance.

Here are five reasons why embracing global HR software makes sound business sense:

It frees managers up to spend time on the right things

The day-to-day minutiae of managing a team can take up an inordinate amount of time. Managers waste precious hours co-ordinating annual leave, monitoring sickness absence and making sure performance reviews get completed and acted upon. The problem is multiplied when you’re dealing with people who you rarely see face-to-face and who may be operating in different time zones and across a variety of flexible working arrangements. It’s hardly surprising that we are seeing the rise of what Deloitte calls the ‘overwhelmed employee’ – managers who are so overloaded with information and bogged down with admin that they struggle to get the real work done. Cloud-based HR solutions provide an easy way out of the admin fog that descends on so many. The latest generation solutions come with self-service, so that employees can manage their own holidays and log sickness absence on line. They give managers an overview of what’s happening in their team so they can make sure work is properly resources and make it easy to find all the important documents and policies in one central place.

It helps organisations effectively manage talent

As the key world economies emerge from recession, talent is once again at a premium. Organisations are facing critical skills shortages and are battling to hold onto their best people. HR software can do much to help companies get a clear picture of the skills they have available in house and those they need to develop to support their business plans going forward. They can also significantly raise both the profile and practice of performance management. Automated systems ‘nudge’ managers, for example, when appraisals are due and make all the necessary forms available on-line. It helps to ensure the important conversations take place on a regular basis, so that managers are clear about the aspirations of their top talent and high-potential employees can see the business is serious about investing in their future development.

It helps managers get the best out of millennials

Millennials are projected to make up 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025 – but research has shown that the Gen Y employees entering the workforce now have very different expectations of work than their older colleagues. They expect to change jobs frequently, are hungry for rapid progression and demand regular recognition of their achievements. They place high priority on work-life balance and value the opportunities to ‘give back’ to society. One of the key characteristics of this generation is also that they are ‘digital natives’. They have grown up in a connected, wired world and expect to find the same when they enter the workforce. They are shocked when they come into organisations and find that social media sites are banned and manual processes are still alive and well, particularly in many basic areas of HR. Forward-looking organisations have recognised that if they want to get the best out of millennial employees they need to meet them on their virtual turf. They are using HR software solutions not just to automate key processes, but to enable Gen Y employees to ask questions, showcase their achievements, take advantage of just-in-time learning and connect with people across the business in a way that feels natural to them.

It improves collaboration

One of the key impacts of globalisation has been a rise in collaborative working. Forward-thinking organisations have realised that in a fast-moving, competitive environment, they can no longer afford to keep people in their traditional silos. They need to encourage input and ideas from people across the business and to exploit the full range of skills and talents they have in house. As a result, we are seeing a move towards more fluid teams, brought together for specific projects and then disbanded when their work is done. There has also been a rise in remote teams who are conducting their business via virtual meetings. LBS professor Lynda Gratton describes how she is working with organisations to create ‘jams’ – on-line events which help companies “tap into the collective wisdom of their crowds and encourage conversations between employees in different locations.” The latest HR technology can do much to support these emerging ways of working. Many of the latest systems come with integral social portals, for example, which allow employees to collaborate on projects, access key documents easily and find quick answers to important questions.

It helps to build engagement

Making people feel part of the same corporate ‘family’ can be difficult in a growing, global business. It’s easy for people working in smaller remote locations to feel divorced from what’s happening at the centre and distant from overall business objectives. Once again, social portals have a real role to play. They allow the business to share its thinking about future direction, reinforce key messages about priorities and get input from employees. They spell the end of the static annual employee survey and pave the way for a more vibrant community of employees who can give feedback on a continuous basis, allowing the business to regularly ‘take the temperature’ and get an insight into how people are thinking and feeling. If employees feel they have a voice they are much more likely to feel engaged with their role and their employer and will ultimately be more loyal, productive and effective.

Advances in technology has had another benefit too; costs have dropped dramatically. HR software “in the Cloud” (or Software as a Service) vendors like Cezanne are able to offer sophisticated international HR solutions that are quick to deploy and much more affordable than older-style – or even some of the more modern – enterprise HR applications. Global HR software is no longer the preserve of major internationals – but available to smaller global businesses too.

How is HR software helping you manage your global workforce? Look out for next week’s blog, where we will be talking about the key features you need to look for in global HR solutions.

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