Europe Day 2019: The challenge of managing multiple international hubs

Despite the advantages that globalisation brings, companies who have operations across multiple jurisdictions can find that their operations become disjointed without concrete and transparent guidelines in place

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Trying to keep a company's workforce happy when employees are based in a wide range of locations and used to a diverse array of cultures is a unique challenge for Europe's CEOs

It’s no secret that a happy workforce creates a happy workplace, and in turn, a more successful business. However, keeping multiple geographically dispersed teams of staff happy in a world of work that allows varied working arrangements across different nationalities and territories is a growing concern for global CEOs. Leading an international business can be a bit of a balancing act: how do you safeguard the ethos and values of a company, while also catering to varying local attitudes to work?

Business leaders must learn how to navigate the issues that arise when their companies expand overseas and local working practices conflict with their universal rules

Businesses across the European Union are set to mark Europe Day on May 9, a holiday that promotes European integration and collaboration. Creating cultural and economic partnerships with our neighbouring countries should be celebrated, but the reality for many organisations is that business operations can quickly become disjointed without a transparent structure in place.

With globalisation continuing apace, business leaders must learn how to navigate the issues that arise when their companies expand overseas and local working practices conflict with their universal rules. Creditsafe, for instance, operates across 14 offices around the world, with varying employment regulations and cultural norms at each location. In Sweden for example, more companies are trialling the idea of a four-day working week. If we were to incorporate the changing ideology of Swedish business at our offices in Gothenburg, how could we make this change seem fair to our other international hubs?

Transparency and incentives
The first step to maintaining a happy workforce is to make each employee aware of the reasons behind certain working conditions, and how these differences are accounted for elsewhere. This will ensure a fair organisational structure that values every office equally. Global CEOs should prioritise hiring former in-house HR specialists from other multinational companies. By doing so, their organisation will have employees who are aware of the specific issues between company departments and individual countries, and how certain perks can be translated across offices.

While a four-day working week might not be possible for everyone, other offices should be offered alternative perks in the spirit of fairness. For example, employees at Google’s Mountain View office benefit from an on-site doctor, financial planning classes and frequent holiday parties, while employees at the company’s Ann Arbor office benefit from a nursing mother’s room with a refrigerator for storing expressed breast milk, as well as mechanical massage chairs.

Standardisation and integration
Although organisations should be flexible enough to accept differences in the working practices of their offices, certain ground rules should be established across every office to ensure that the company remains united. No matter what service or product a company provides, there should be rules that prevent offices from developing a culture of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

For instance, we recently introduced a ban on all mobile devices in meetings across our global offices. We’ve told staff that if they think a meeting is not relevant, they can decide to leave and return to their work. This policy has not only led to a rise in productivity, but also a rise in company morale.

Building strong professional relationships between different offices will promote the understanding and acceptance of different working conditions, and make people more productive in general. As global teams become more common, investments should be made into cultural training and software to facilitate communication. This must go further than the common gestures of handshakes and bows, and also include an appreciation for their typical working day and the way in which they communicate.

For instance, some European countries operate on a much shorter working-day, with employees in the Netherlands working for just 27.5 hours a week on average. Without prior knowledge of this, staff members in other countries may find it difficult to account for a greater rate of absence overseas and, therefore, organise meetings and meet deadlines. Moreover, while some working cultures promote a louder, more direct communication style, other nations may prefer their business partners to be soft-spoken and use indirect language.

Organisations should also make use of free or cheaply available software platforms to help employees work together. Some of the most-effective solutions include: Google Documents and Sheets for data sharing; Skype for video conferencing; and Salesforce for real-time collaboration on sales opportunities.

Key takeaways
Leading an international business is no easy task, but with the correct structures in place, any business can expand overseas without losing its core identity or creating friction between teams. Every organisation should regularly communicate policy changes across the company and listen to the opinions of their employees.

Any disparities between office cultures and benefits should be accounted for elsewhere, or else resentment among those left behind will grow. Nevertheless, universal policies should be set in stone to ensure that no office location develops an entirely unique identity that opposes the core ethos of the organisation. Promoting company exchanges, cultural training and investment in collaborative tools will support a global CEO’s efforts to keep the business integrated during a time of evolution and disruption.