Location Isn’t Everything When Building a Global Workforce

July 26, 2017

6:30 pm

One day last year, I was chatting with my dad about long-distance management. In the ’80s he was based in Japan at the largest tech company in the world: IBM. When I asked him what it was like to communicate in a multinational company before email and PCs, he said, “International calls were cost prohibitive and even telex and fax weren’t cheap. So we often used the mail… then waited two weeks for a reply.”

It’s hard for many of us born after 1980 to fathom doing business using something as primitive as paper. Fast forward to today and we have completely remote companies that communicate on the cheap in real time over video, instant messaging and increasingly complex remote collaboration tools. As cofounder of Bolton Remote, a company that enables businesses to take advantage of the benefits of offshore talent, I’ve been monitoring the transition from location-dependence to location-independence among workers. By paying close to attention to this next phase of the death of distance, businesses can take advantage of all it has to offer.

The Beginning of a Location-Independent Workforce

Right now, the importance of proximity is changing in a new area: white-collar jobs. The traditional face-to-face, location-dependent job market is shifting toward a remote, location-independent workforce.

Location-independent work has increased 103 percent since 2005, and an Ipsos/Reuters poll revealed that a fifth of the global workforce currently telecommutes. But this is not a new phenomenon. Large companies (like IBM) have been leveraging the power of labor arbitrage for white collar jobs for decades by setting up offices around the world to optimize their talent pools.

What is happening now, however, is decidedly different. Faster internet, better tools (like Slack) and the widespread use of English means everyone from small startups to large companies can get the same benefits once reserved for large enterprises with the ability to invest in foreign offices and managers. Companies like Automattic, the developer of WordPress (valued at over $1 billion), allows their employees to work 100 percent remotely.

To survive and thrive as this transition plays out (hint: virtual/augmented reality will be the tipping point), businesses need to think big in terms of tapping labor pools. In doing so, they will open themselves up to new ways of innovation and growth.

5 Things to Consider When Building a Global Workforce

Hiring Home-Based vs. Office-Based Employees

Working from home is not always culturally desirable in some countries and may be riskier than you think as I wrote about here.

Hiring Full-Timers vs. Part-Time Freelancers

Someone in a full-time job is focused solely on your company while a freelancer looks at you as a client. You should consider the type of work this person will be doing and how much a part of your home team you’d like them to be.

Interviewing Overseas Candidates vs. Local Candidates

When hiring people in other countries, additional factors come into play when assessing a candidate’s suitability for a role, many of which are country-specific, such as what method(s) of transportation they will take to get to the office, what hours will they be available, and whether they have ever worked with people outside of their own culture before.

Picking The Right Collaboration Tools

With a location-independent workforce, you need to carefully select and build processes around the remote collaboration tools that enable everyone to be most effective. Sometimes the best tool is not the one with the most features, but rather the one that fits your team size, culture, and type of work.

Motivating Overseas Employees vs. Local Employees

Motivation and incentives are important and often overlooked because people in different countries and cultures may be motivated by very different things than your existing local employees, as I wrote about here.

The era of location independence in the workforce is transforming how businesses are built and how they manage their workforce. Much like the “death of distance” in the mid-21st century, companies that are not constrained by proximity can flourish by embracing this next phase in the global workforce.

Read more about developing remote teams at TechCo

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