Challenges of digitally managing a global workforce
Global companies have traditionally operated with the model of a headquarters driving the strategy and putting guidelines in place, with subsidiaries located in different countries following the direction thus set. I call this the “hoarding of power model,” which the majority of the MNCs adopted. But, over the past decade, there has been a growing awareness in the C-Suite about this model losing competitive advantage through non-utilisation of the power of a global talent pool.
Technology drove the digital transformation in almost every Fortune 500 company. These drives are still going through various iterative cycles to get to the “true meaning” of harnessing the capabilities of the globally dispersed workforce. While goals may differ, the challenges this transformation brings to the workforce remain common across the board, even with the COVID-19 pandemic adding another layer of complexity.
The first and biggest challenge, in my view, has been the passive resistance from leaders who are averse to abandoning the “hoarding of power” model. An efficient digital global workforce will mean a shift of power from the leader to an employee who can be anywhere across the globe. It is a big cultural change, especially for the bosses. Organisations will need to do the tightrope walk of balancing the organisational imperative with the potential loss of knowledge that these bosses have. Leadership development training can be used to tackle this challenge.
The second challenge primarily arising from the pandemic is how to manage the three groups of employees – those working from the office or working from home or doing both. Organisations would need to reimagine their talent management system and employee life cycle so that none of the three groups of employees feels that they are being treated unfairly because of the choices that they have made.
The third challenge is to get the right global sourcing model in place. The talent pool has become global overnight, with location constraints being removed by technology. The organisations whose hiring practices can be adapted to source globally will have the edge over the others. Organisations must be willing to move a much higher percentage of their employees into contingent or part-time workers to tap into the best available talent, which in my view, is a worthwhile investment if the organisation must make use of the three major time zones for faster delivery.
The fourth challenge is getting the right organisational structure in place to drive innovation in a digital environment. Organisations understand that an innovative global digital workforce with the younger generation forming the majority of the workforce cannot be managed with the traditional pyramid structure. In my view, the best structure is that of a nimble organisation, which can get teams together quickly to tackle a challenge and break it up once completed to form new teams for a new challenge. In other words, an organic organisational structure that is fluid and can form connections quickly is the best structure. It helps set the stage for innovation by breaking down silos and providing for alternate career paths that best utilise employees’ skills, interests, and career goals. Most importantly, it results in an engaged workforce aligned with the organisational goals.
The last challenge that I see is related to burnout. Connectivity in this new digital world has been a double-edged sword. Although efficiency has improved, the boundaries between work and home have blurred significantly, leading to increased stress, disengagement, and high turnover among employees. Organisations will need to strike a balance through performance management processes and meaningful conversations. Leaders will need to spend more time understanding “how” things are done rather than just the “what” is done.
Organisations that build the right culture for supporting a digital workforce will succeed. They must be open to new ideas, regardless of which part of the workforce they come from.