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Lynda Gratton: Companies must ditch outdated methods to jam with global workforce

If globalisation has changed the way we work, it is also changing people’s attitudes to work, asks Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School.

After I was asked to contribute a column to this special international issue of HR magazine, my thoughts turned naturally to the ways in which globalisation isaffecting businesses.  

At the time, I had not long returned from the Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna. The theme this year was managing complexity and, of course, globalisation was one of the factors under discussion.

I had also just led a Future of Work Research Consortium masterclass, where we talked extensively about how organisations can ensure success in a globalised workplace.  

Although businesses have been international ever since silks, spices and metals first started being moved around the world, globalisation is now affecting the whole nature and fabric of work. It has changed when we work, how we work, where we work and the people with whom we work.  

Organisations have much to gain from this. Location is no longer a barrier to accessing talent: today’s companies have a global talent pool at their disposal and the range of opportunity this creates is vast.  

Taking advantage of talent migration patterns and establishing offices around the world to capture the best local talent is nothing new, but the scale and speed at which organisations can do so have increased, enabling most companies to have a truly global workforce if they desire one.  

There are also other, less traditional models emerging. Companies such as remote working recruitment firm oDesk are pioneering a new model for staff recruitment. They are empowering organisations to access the skills they need, when they need them and for as long as they need them, by tapping into a network of freelancers and allowing them to share the best talent, rather than competing for it.

If globalisation has changed the way we work, it is also changing our attitudes to work. For many employees, the concept of work as a single place they go to every day is becoming less and less of a reality.

For organisations with a globally dispersed workforce, homogenous teams of similar individuals are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by diverse and often remote teams that assemble for a single project before dispersing again.

This leaves companies with the task of considering how they manage and measure these workers.  

Beyond all this, the process of motivating, retaining and engaging employees is also changing.

A workforce that spans time zones and includes freelance, remote and portfolio workers requires a completely different engagement process from a workforce made up entirely of office-based employees.

The challenge encountered in trying to manage, measure and engage people within these new structures using yesterday’s worn-out processes have led to the abandonment of many a workplace initiative and to many mission-critical projects not delivering the expected outcome.

I have spent the past few years probing these problems and exploring the ways in which organisations can approach them. Do traditional methods really work?  

With my team at the Hot Spots Movement, I encourage companies to engage their global talent through online events – real-time debates – called ‘jams’.

These help companies tap into the collective wisdom of their crowds and encourage conversation between employees in different locations. Organisations can also improve team performance – whether teams are co-located or remote – using team diagnostic, which turns ‘soft’ data about how teams interact into metrics that can be used to measure performance.

The good news is that approaches such as these, designed for tomorrow’s workforce, actually work. What we need now is for companies to start adopting them.