We have observed many dramatic changes to the workplace, to employment propositions and to the management of talent since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic. For many of these, they shouldn’t have come out of the blue – if anything these changes should have been regarded as more of an acceleration of the long planned inevitable. The industrial structure of worldwide economies and the types of occupations that they support are changing and will continue to evolve at pace and for those embracing this, there will be many upsides, but for those battling against the changes, prepare for battle in the next chapter of the ‘War for Talent’
This short piece is not intended to go over the well-trodden ground of hybrid, remote and local workforce challenges and as such we will not concentrate on the ‘how to’ here. Instead, we’ll explore how the nexus between such activities and global workforces can be best wrangled to the benefit of the business.
Remember, up until now change has been largely forced upon us in these areas, but what of the change?
Change in context
These changes take many forms and are different depending upon the different national contexts. Despite this, there are some common themes to be explored!
The starting point must surely be that there is no doubt that remote and hybrid work is here to stay. Many employees want to work remotely, at least for some of the week. Many reasons are cited such as convenience, work life balance and flexibility. Perhaps the main reason should actually be that many businesses have discovered that there are genuine prospects of enhanced productivity when remote or hybrid working is executed well.
However, staff don’t necessarily want to work exclusively from home, they value flexibility in where they choose to work, including the office, coffee shops and co-working spaces. To retain their workforce in a challenging labour market, successful business leaders are moving to facilitate genuine choice in remote work options.
Not all upside
Despite these moves, many business leaders have legitimate concerns with an employee who works exclusively, or mostly, remotely. The reasons should be fairly obvious, working remotely traditionally leads to fewer opportunities to collaborate, especially the type of ad-hoc or impromptu collaboration that results from casual conversations among staff in the same space.
Add into the mix that company culture may suffer when staff feel isolated and you could face a workforce that feels as if they are little more than resources or pawns in the workplace game of chess. Employees who feel disconnected from the company are easier to lose to the competition who will work hard to court your best team members with a carefully honed employment proposition. Often, this will reflect the best of what you have to offer and then some! Remember, we all want to feel like we are a part of something we can become invested in.
Our observation is that many of the winners in this new(ish) order are those finding ways to have a remote or hybrid workforce that feels connected to the company’s vision yet retains the flexibility to meet the business needs. So… this begs the question, how do the rest of us embody culture, communication, and collaboration remotely that is anywhere near as good as it is when working in the office together?
Well, this has been covered many times over and we’ve delivered many webinars on this subject and adjacent issues. For now, we’ll assume that the careful blend of on-premise working, locational flexibility and suitable, effective and secure technology are at the heart of your solutions or your current plans. If not, reach out to us and we’ll help signpost a few more ways forward.
And so, to globalisation…
During the pandemic, we realised quite quickly that zoom, teams and skype calls all facilitated the opportunity to get on with work in a somewhat straightforward way. This facilitated immediate globalisation as there was simply no longer a need for staff to jump on a plane, travel through several time zones, suffer the mandatory jet lag and conduct a short meeting before returning home.
We may describe this as a new variant of globalisation, but our belief here is that this is exactly as was planned many years ago. That is, not just the global flow of goods and services but the ability for ‘face to face’ activities to happen without the experience and inconvenience of moving staff around the globe! It just took a little longer to arrive and required a pandemic to galvanise our thinking.
Take this one step further and we see that a secondary opportunity here is that the ease with which we can conduct business with others half way around the world can be transposed into hiring plans! In the main, the key issues relating to hiring staff will remain the same. However, as discussed above, with the acceleration of issues and opportunities regarding remote working and globalisation, there is likely to be an increase in the quantum of hiring activity from around the world made possible by utilising the very same online tools to facilitate the business of ‘doing business’ we’ve become used to.
So, we can finally assemble a global hybrid team using the oft promised, now mature technology to build our team. But what are the practicalities of this?
Supporting any business growth through careful talent alignment and management of a borderless workforce will rapidly become a management practice in its own right. It will be critical to be good at this to ensure the business is able to operate as one globally integrated organisation and organising and managing employees who are not aligned to a single country but are instead ‘global digital nomads’ will become the new management challenge.
Keeping this in mind, it will be important to differentiate between domestic or local staff and workforce who will be content with the right balance of remote or hybrid working blended with an effective method of collaboration and these new global digital nomads. The latter can be treated in a similar fashion to others but extra effort is required to ensure they integrate with the business. Notwithstanding this, extra effort will also be required in the hiring and employment practices used to recognise such people as employees. Employer of Record is an opportunity here but you may choose to employ them directly or even contract with them as ‘gig economists.’
Herein lies the challenge. To build the effective workforce desired by business leaders and one that provides a satisfactory employment proposition for staff, is a careful balancing act at the best of times. Now, introducing subtle differences with staff who may not be as invested in your business as your local workforce or allowing staff to maintain parity of earnings but live a better lifestyle as they are half way around the world will require effective management and messaging alike.
So, what about the how?
Addressing working norms between these two groups in a seamless fashion, together with the effect on culture and performance, requires making a basic decision: Which style of hybrid working is right for us? The decision rests on the factors for which you’re planning. Is it to reduce office costs, access talent not otherwise available in the UK, Employee productivity? The employee experiences?
All of these are valid starting points, but in practice it will prove impossible to proceed without actually exploring all of these in concert and balancing the needs of each for the benefit of both the business and the employees! Ultimately, you’re left with a difficult problem to solve… how do we balance these potentially competing forces?
Perhaps our best advice initially is to start from a perspective of an operational structure built on a virtual office model. Building on this, different lenses can be applied to explore what it means to be a local on-premise worker utilising such virtual office technologies. It also facilitates exploration of local hybrid workers versus global hybrid workers and what differences in technological solutions may be required. To this, different layers can be added to factor in the challenge of dealing with compliance, talent management, normalised pay and reward structures and some of the seemingly unimportant issues (that are actually quite important) such as forex risk and currency considerations!
In a short piece like this it is difficult to explore in detail the considerations that must be on the agenda for the leadership team but suffice it to state that making a choice about home country employment, host country employment, employer of record and global/regional employment companies all need to be thrown in to the mix. These have tax implications and may even touch on transfer pricing issues so a carefully risk managed approach is the order of the day supported by the right type of expert counsel.
So, this sounds difficult, why bother?
Put simply; the War for Talent is hotting up. All recent evidence and survey material illustrates that workers are able to vote with their virtual feet! Consider that staff can work for a company the other side of the world for twice the pay and shorter hours, or that businesses could employ coders in another time zone on a more economically advantageous model and you’ll arrive at that thought that much imagination is required to think about the workforce of the short-term future and much more leadership attention will be needed for the management of global digital nomads of the future!
We’re not convinced a fully virtual model works for many businesses, and those that choose this model would likely operate in specific domains such as outsourced contact centres, customer service, contact telesales, publishing, and marketing research etc. However, for the rest, that heady mix of global workers and local talent could actually unlock the door to new business opportunities covering a global cusotmer base in multiple time zones that five years ago may have seemed impossible to contemplate without substantial investment.
The technology, the attitudes and the experience of doing this are now with us so with careful management, the benefits of access to talent, potential for enhanced efficiencies, the opportunity to reduce costs are all available for those that approach this strategically and properly.
Just remember, some heavy lifting lies ahead for you here. How many staff will want to work in the office, how frequently, will global digital nomads want to visit a physical office and is that in their locale or ours? All of these challenges must be wrangled and solved or you face the risk of finding yourself knee jerking into a response as a consequence of being ambushed by losing your best resources in the new globalised War for talent.
A practical action plan?
Our best advice here is that in the most basic terms, this is simple and straightforward in concept but will take time and effort to work through and the tone at the top of your organisation must be voiced in a way that makes clear this is an important set of activities:
Starting with priority activities, it’s important to understand the cultural and technological needs of hybrid workers to facilitate their collaboration and feeling of belonging… no matter where they are.
It’s equally important to understand how, at risk, your organisation may be from losing knowledge workers and key staff to employers in other countries tapping into the ‘new norm’.
We advocate refining your strategy on workforce planning. Remember to involve staff and consult and communicate as you go. Use the good old fashioned, fit for purpose tools such as a PESTLE analysis or similar to explore the environmental, political, economic, legal, technological and sociological issues you face with supporting and maintaining your current staff levels and competencies.
Analyse the impact of losing key staff together with your growth plans that may mandate a hiring spree and think carefully where such target talent may be located. Think about whether or not you can facilitate remote working from both a technological and management practices perspective. If overseas resource is needed, start to think about how best to find, recruit and more importantly continue to retain such workers.
Build a plan, weigh up the risk and think carefully about alternative solutions… build rather than recruit, use technology such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), AI and Machine Learning and automate etc.
Other alternatives may be to redeploy existing resource or to restructure the work to be performed. Think here about other sources of labour, outsourcing, relocation of work and partnering etc. and target operating models.
Finally, here, go back to basics and think about your employment proposition and the extent to which it helps you attract, recruit and retain your top talent! It may be time to recalibrate it to the ‘new norm’.