· Insights

How technology can help global companies weather coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted individuals and organisations at every level across the world, and the legacy of the pandemic will be far-reaching.

In particular, companies that operate internationally will struggle to return to business as usual any time soon – if at all. Remote working, social distancing measures, and continued restrictions to travel complicate many of the day-to-day activities of international employers and make it easier to lose touch with a multinational workforce.

Global businesses already face unique and complex challenges such as maintaining regulatory compliance across employment laws, communication issues, and understanding cultural differences.

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded these difficulties, leaving many organisations struggling to unify and engage their cross-border workforce. Business leaders can no longer travel to meet regional associates, nor can they physically gather employees from various countries. This risks losing a sense of shared purpose and belonging.

However, when companies utilise the right technological tools, it is much easier for them to confront these challenges. In The HR challenges of international expansion report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by global payroll company ADP, a range of global organisations emphasised the benefits technology brought to their businesses.

Investing the time and resources into appropriate tools was shown to both help companies tackle the challenges of managing an international workforce and to actively improve some of the most significant elements of human resources.

Technology is essential to improve human resources

Research has shown that HR-related challenges, such as recruitment and integrating systems, are some of the most formidable obstacles for international businesses. Nearly half of organisations name recruiting skilled staff and management as the greatest challenge they face, with over two-fifths struggling to understand cultural differences and their implications for HR. Employees are at the heart of any successful business, and it is essential that businesses can tackle these issues, or they risk falling engagement and productivity.

This is no small task, but investing in the right technology is instrumental in making everything run smoothly. Nearly half of global organisations agreed that technology improved HR process integration, easing the burden of monitoring and aligning disparate systems in different geographies.

Additionally, it helps staff at every level communicate across languages and cultures. When we can hear the voices of people across a multi-national organisation, it becomes easier to facilitate high-level collaboration and boosts engagement.

Businesses also discovered that technology can improve employee training significantly. The ability to promote and manage individual development across a range of regions is highly beneficial, allowing international companies to compete and innovate at their best. Against a backdrop of coronavirus restrictions and with fewer employees able to attend in-person training sessions, improving training through technology has never been more important.

Ensuring that you are recruiting the right people, maintaining engagement and wellbeing, and providing the right training are all elements that can help a business to thrive. When employees feel heard and seen, they produce better work and are more engaged with the shared purpose of an organisation.

Organisations need to gain a singular view of employees

When businesses struggle to manage an international workforce, they are unable to perform at their best, with 80% stating that their potential growth is limited by HR challenges. Managing a global employee base can be incredibly difficult, and without the right tools in place, it can be easy to lose touch with your very best people. Disconnection across an organisation – whether this is between head office and a remote branch or employees and HR teams across the world – often leads to a downturn in engagement and productivity.

With the right technology in place, managers at a range of different levels can access a singular view of employees: their performance, their capabilities and their needs. This can be an incredibly powerful tool.

By accessing this information all in one place, employers can tackle problems before they arise, keeping teams running no matter what they are faced with. It also takes much of the burden off HR teams, who are then freed up to bring more value to businesses by bringing out the best in employees.

The rewards can be huge

Managing an organisation internationally is a task that is equally exciting and daunting, no matter the size of the business. When done right, the rewards can be huge – with companies gaining access to new market opportunities, a wider base of specialist skills to draw from, and proximity to global resources. To access these benefits, however, employers need to be able to fulfil the needs of their employees and stay connected no matter where in the world they might be.

While the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the challenges international businesses face, technology can empower them to overcome these obstacles. By adopting the right technological tools, organisations can empower their international employees to thrive through communication, training, and well-integrated systems. This takes some of the pressure off HR departments and allows them to do what they do best: help employees fulfil their potential and thrive at work.

Jeff Phipps is managing director of ADP UK