More than 85% of U.S. and U.K.-based tech businesses plan to expand into new global markets. This is largely thanks to a growing talent shortage that's forcing companies to open offices in other parts of the world to increase their candidate base.

But sourcing talent across borders is no simple task. Cultural differences, regulations and stressful practical considerations create hiring challenges for companies when they expand to other countries. And unfortunately, the decision to expand to a new market doesn't typically involve HR. 

Meike Jordan, head of HR at e-commerce data integration company Productsup, leads human resources across six offices worldwide. She's learned through experience that not every HR process or policy is suited for every country. 

"While companies usually prioritize a market's potential when expanding, they often don't take into account important HR factors that could make or break a successful expansion effort," Jordan said.

With that in mind, here's what Jordan taught me about what organizations need to consider when going global: 

1. Paid time off and parental leave.

Employees in different countries may expect very different things from their employers. Ultimately, what makes an employer competitive for talent in one country may not make them competitive elsewhere. 

Salary expectations, vacation policies, and maternity and paternity leave policies are all factors businesses can't assume will remain the same. But despite these differences, ensuring a benefits package is competitive and compliant across markets is critical. 

Companies are more generous with PTO and parental leave in Europe, but that's not because they don't want to offer the same perks in the U.S. It's simply because social policy is more generous in Europe, so governments support companies. 

"In our Berlin office, female employees receive six paid weeks off before giving birth and eight after giving birth," Jordan said. "Additionally, both mothers and fathers have flexibility to share parental leave after the birth of a child. We want our employees to feel fulfilled both personally and professionally, and we've had to adjust what that looks like depending on the business culture of our office locations."

While it's important to try to balance benefits in offices across the world, it's also important to acknowledge that benefits are not valued the same way everywhere.

2. Dress code.

Dress code policies are becoming more complicated, especially as employees practice increasingly informal dress policies. And issues related to proper workplace attire are even more complex in a global workforce. 

For example, a U.S. tech worker will likely feel comfortable showing up to work in a hoodie and jeans -- and even in cities like London, dress codes are starting to become more lax. On the other hand, a French employee would be more likely to feel out of place without a dress shirt. In the same vein, a Japanese employee would be more accustomed to a more conservative, strict dress code

"Given rapidly changing expectations and countless exceptions depending on the industry, it's hard to develop a one-size-fits-all solution. That said, flexibility and clarity are essential," Jordan said.

In environments where collaboration occurs across borders, companies need a clear plan of action to make sure all employees understand what is expected of them, whether they're in their home office or traveling abroad. 

Tackle these issues during onboarding and, if necessary, provide a breakdown of dress code differences that exist across offices. Include tips about how business customs might vary as well. You should also promote an open-door HR policy so employees feel comfortable asking questions and providing feedback on your dress code and other policies.

3. D&I initiatives.

Most brands finally understand the importance of supporting a diverse workforce (and they're spending billions to achieve this goal). But the D&I challenge is magnified for companies with a global presence --  it's critical to ensure employees from cultures around the globe feel comfortable and prepared to do their best work. 

When expanding internationally, it's beneficial to work with HR consultants from each specific geography. These experts help your organization navigate new legal frameworks, and understand and adapt to cultural norms. 

To create a culture that welcomes diversity, ensure all employees feel part of a team that shares common goals and values.

"We have a comprehensive onboarding scheme to help new hires worldwide quickly become part of the family," Jordan said. "All new employees come to our headquarters for a three-day program so they can be immersed in our company culture. We introduce employees to our mission and values, host an all-company lunch to introduce them to the team and use a buddy system to pair each new hire with someone who's been with the company for a while."

Companies must also be intentional about celebrating diversity. Formal initiatives should define concrete goals so everyone is on the same page. Intercultural events, employee training initiatives, panels, book clubs and more ensure diversity and inclusion is an ongoing effort at companies and not just a one-time affair. 

Global expansion is difficult, but for many companies, it's becoming a necessity. Success relies on patience, attention to detail and flexibility. Approach every new market with an open mind and secure the assistance you need to effectively support a diverse, global workforce. 

Published on: Dec 23, 2019
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