How tech firms can manage a globally distributed workforce

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There has been an ongoing evolution underway in remote working for many years. More and more organisations – many tech firms prominent amongst them – have become aware of the benefits that more flexible working can bring. These include increased productivity, happier workers, greater efficiency and much more.

This evolution was supercharged by the pandemic. In 2020, most organisations suddenly had to adapt to homeworking, and many have continued this. Most companies now at least offer hybrid working environments, and many will go even further and transition to a fully remote approach, including the option to work from anywhere.

Doing so gives them far greater access to talent. Why would a technology firm in Berlin hire someone who lives locally but is only OK at their job, when they could hire someone amazing that lives in New York or even further afield? There is no reason for them to do so. For employees, remote working provides far greater work/life balance and fits the requirements of modern workers much better.

This has all given rise to globally distributed workforces. But managing such a workforce can be challenging. Here are our five main tips on how to do so successfully. 


Don’t wing it when it comes to local market expertise

Understanding employment laws and regulations in one country is hard enough – trying to do so in each country your employees work in, is virtually impossible. 

Tech firms must also be on top of data regulation and IP in local markets, which makes it essential to work with third-party providers. They can help with individual needs of employees, as well as wider legal and technology frameworks. These vary not only from country to country but also in some cases within a country, such as the US.

The use of Employer of Records (EORs) is also important. These can take care of all the labour challenges in a particular country – from drafting contracts and offering the right and market-driven employee benefits (especially healthcare) to labour and tax issues. EORs can also help identify local standards in their country.

Be smart with the application process and onboarding

Being smart can often be distilled to having the right processes in place for applicants and new employees. A company’s effect on others is already decided in the application process: the more international the company becomes, the more crucial intercultural competence becomes. This is an absolute must-have, especially in the application process, which is why managers should receive specialised training in this area.

In addition, central elements of the corporate culture can be introduced to each new employee in virtual onboarding – we have successfully utilised a gamification approach where candidates are guided through various knowledge modules on a virtual onboarding. Points are awarded for each completed module, which can be exchanged for company merchandise or additional benefits in the future.

Real-world meetings remain important

A globally distributed workforce will inevitably have less real-world meetings, but it should still have some, whether quarterly, annually or more frequently if feasible. Real-world team events and offshoots, where everyone can interact and meet in person, are essential for better understanding. 

These real-life gatherings foster togetherness, trust, and a unified culture. That’s because real conversations and discussions make it possible to better understand employees’ personal and cultural backgrounds. This in turn helps bring people together in the longer-term.

Prioritise freedom and trust

When employees aren’t physically present, it doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged and working hard – trust is essential for a globally distributed workforce to succeed. Within a flexible company culture, each employee can decide how, when and from where they want to work. This means work can be integrated into private life – not the other way around.

Unlimited vacation days are just as much a part of this as the opportunity to work from other countries at times. It is important to establish a minimum number of vacation days that everyone must take. But beyond that, everyone should be allowed to apply for as much vacation as they need. The vacation must still be coordinated with the line manager and approval is based on whether goals can still be achieved. 

Typically, this works out for all requests. Because employees are trusted, and feel more valued because of that trust, they don’t make unreasonable requests. 

Assess and improve your P&C metrics

Understanding People & Culture (P&C) is vital even when employers still operate and recruit on a more geographical basis. With a distributed workforce, it assumes a much greater importance. 

P&C data should be assessed, measured and improved on an ongoing basis. There are many tools to do this, even in real-time. P&C teams use similar channels as salespeople – LinkedIn, Google ads, Facebook ads, etc. – so the same amount of time and innovation in campaigning are now needed. As salespeople do, P&C must use and act on the data swiftly. What channel is the best performing? Where do you have the best retention? 

Review metrics on everything P&C and improve them on an ongoing basis, ensuring that your distributed workforce is happy, focused and motivated.

Globally distributed workforces are only going to become more common over the coming years, in both tech and non-tech companies. The benefits for both employer and employee are vast, but managing a workforce of this nature requires focus, commitment and intentionality. Factoring in the points above is a great way to start.  

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Elise Muller

Elise Müller is VP People & Culture at Spryker, the headless cloud platform-as-a-service for digital commerce. Spryker employs more than 650 people in more than 30 countries around the world.