15 Steps to Going Global With HR

November 6, 2018

15 Steps to Going Global With HR

If international growth is in the cards for your business, there are plenty of reasons to be excited. But don’t overlook the often-formidable challenges of going global, not least those faced by your HR department. Dealing with the strain of international expansion means thinking about how your employees are going to cope and perform in their new workplace, so HR must be a crucial component in your growth plan. Expanding to an international territory can be a complex and daunting process, getting HR right can make a big difference.

Replicating the performance of your domestic HR solution in an international setting requires careful consideration and you’ll need to be prepared for obstacles. If you’re ready to make the leap to an unfamiliar territory in any part of the world, or perhaps just wondering if you should, here are steps for getting your HR ready for the global stage.

  1. Plan your approach: Do your due diligence and be confident that your HR is ready for the challenge of your expansion location. New pressures may include immigration documents, unfamiliar payroll requirements, and new recruitment rules. Can your HR handle the increased administrative burden? Can you correct if things go wrong? International growth will present a new threat spectrum for your business and possibly expose weaknesses in your HR that you didn’t know existed.
  2. Seek advice: Don’t go into an expansion without first seeking out advice and support, not just for implementing an HR solution, but for every aspect of your business from PR and payroll to logistics and accounting. Organisations like the International Trade Association and The World Bank offer useful resources for businesses of every shape and size. Alternatively, you could attend conferences or other events which focus on this kind of growth.
  3. Find finance: If you’re a smaller business, it’s likely you’ll need to seek out investment and funding to facilitate an international move, some of which will need to be dedicated to HR. Determine the cost of your international HR needs: what will the day-to-day administrative burden be in your new location? What kind of facilities and resources will your HR employees need? How much will immigration fees be for your mobile workforce?
  4. Adapt your infrastructure: Your HR model worked in your domestic location, but there’s no guarantee it will be as effective in your international target location. Be flexible and prepared to tweak, or even significantly restructure, your HR deployment to meet the challenges of its new environment. Legislation, business practice, budget, and a range of practical challenges will affect how your global HR deployment functions--optimising its impact will likely take time.
  5. Put your team together: Your HR employees are one of your most important resources during an international move--they’ll shoulder a lot of the compliance burden and manage the needs of your mobile workforce. With this in mind, you’ll need to be confident the people you appoint are up to the job. When you’re building your global HR team, look not only for experience and expertise but for candidates who will suit the international workplace socially and professionally, which may mean drawing from every level of seniority. 
  6. Implement training: Help your HR employees adapt to the demands of the international workplace by implementing a training plan which suits their new environment. You’ll have to structure your training to the needs of your business and your employees, but there are plenty of options available from courses offered by industry institutions to in-house seminars or on-the-job mentorship. 
  7. Consider career development: Don’t just consider the short-term challenges of transitioning your HR deployment to an international setting, plan for the long term by offering your HR employees career development options. Career development serves to both retain valuable HR talent and prepare employees to pass down to newcomers their expertise and experience with the unique challenges of the territory.
  8. Develop a global mobility plan: When you move employees across borders, you’ll need to account for a range of potential mobility issues, including accommodation, payroll, cultural integration, and travel. Build a global mobility plan to account for these issues: mobility plans won’t only facilitate your HR issues, but can help you handle a range of mobility challenges, anything from international tax and compliance to finding schools for employees’ children.
  9. Strengthen communication: International expansion puts an inevitable strain on your business’ communication infrastructure, so you’ll need to enhance the ability of your HR employees to interact across borders and time zones. Invest in IT and communications technology, which might include videoconferencing or translation software, and ensure your head office team has the ability and expertise to coordinate between locations.
  10. Explore technology: HR is a highly detail-oriented business function, and during an international move it’s worth exploring the ways technology can ease the administrative burden on your employees. Specifically, explore the ways technology might be used to automate processes which are particularly challenging in a foreign environment. Employee queries, for example, might be handled by an AI program which resolves the most basic and passes priority issues onto human administrators.  
  11. Ensure compliance: Your expansion location will likely involve a dramatically different regulatory environment so at a very basic level your HR employees must know how to navigate local laws and legislation. Legal compliance should be a high priority during global growth, and employment law (the protection of employee rights) will be a focus in every major international business destination. If HR compliance is going to be a challenge, don’t be afraid to consult local experts to get up to speed at short notice. 
  12. Payroll and tax: HR departments always work in close proximity to payroll and in an international setting this relationship becomes more important. Coordinating with payroll, your HR employees will need to develop and implement a compensation structure which suits the tax environment of your expansion territory and meets the needs of your global employees by accounting for the fluctuations in exchange rates, pensions, and benefit schemes.
  13. Avoid culture shock: The day-to-day experience of working in an unfamiliar foreign location can be overwhelming for some employees,  who may struggle with cultural challenges in both their social and professional lives. Your HR team will need to work to mitigate this kind of culture shock. Think about language lessons, or cultural training, or perhaps housing employees in locations which will provide them with home comforts. Plan how your business will fit into the local business landscape.
  14. Arrange travel and transport: A global HR department will need to consider the travel and transport needs of mobile employees. You’ll likely need to start moving people across the world to help your international project thrive in its early stages and manage a range of associated costs and logistical issues. Think carefully about how to facilitate your employees’ international travel needs in terms of cost and comfort.
  15. Outsource HR: Given the importance of HR, and the complexity of adapting to an unfamiliar global setting, outsourcing some or all HR processes may be a useful option for businesses seeking to get up and running quickly or to ease the burden on their HR employees. Global HR solutions are useful because they can be implemented to scale with the growth needs of their business and tailored to meet the demands of their environment. Once up and running, they offer the twofold benefit of compliance expertise and administrative efficiency. 
The Authors: 

Graham McKechnie has over 25 years of global mobility experience and heads up the Global Mobility Division of activpayroll.