Article: The ins and outs of managing a cross-border workforce

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The ins and outs of managing a cross-border workforce

In a tight talent market, companies have to pay more attention to how they can hire and retain remotely to fill the skill gap. Joanne Low, Head of HR – Asia Pacific at Aspire Lifestyles, shares some of her insights on the challenges and opportunities of a cross-border workforce.
The ins and outs of managing a cross-border workforce

It's not easy to hire in Southeast Asia these days, especially for tech talent; the talent pool, already small to begin with, is being vacuumed up by large corporations that can pay more and well-known brands that look good on anyone's resume. In many markets, it's incredibly difficult to find talent that matches business requirements, and employers will frequently find that candidates who apply don't actually meet their needs.

So what's the solution to this challenge?

“You have to know your competition,” advises Joanne Low, Head of HR – Asia Pacific at Aspire Lifestyles. In an exclusive webcast organised by People Matters and Global HR Platform Skuad, she suggested: “Understand how you can leverage your branding as an employer, what you can do with the salary range you are offering. And if you are doing business in other countries or locations, try looking around there as well.”

The Aspire Lifestyles HR team put a good deal of effort into streamlining their recruitment processes to meet the business needs, including achieving a very short turnaround time – because if the process dragged out for too long, candidates would start looking elsewhere. Also, Aspire Lifestyles operates across nine different countries, and the HR team had to work very closely with the businesses on the ground in multiple locations to understand the attrition factors and the business expansion factors that affected recruitment results.

With a cross-border workforce, hiring is only the start

While cross-border hiring may have eased some of the talent shortage Aspire Lifestyles experienced , it comes with its own set of challenges. For example, managers now have to manage employees in multiple locations and sometimes across multiple time zones. So the business as a whole had to become very broad-minded about hiring and retention strategies. For example, recruiting candidates based in any location and overhauling the approach to hiring and management.

“As a business, and as a HR function, we have to become flexible on many matters, not just recruitment, in order to remain competitive,” Joanne says.

For instance, HR plays a major role in managing communications, onboarding, and staff retention, which creates a considerable burden, especially if there has been inconsistency across different departments or even different locales. So Joanne and her HR team alighted on the solution of condensing all this into a hiring checklist which is now provided to hiring managers, to make the onboarding process more systematic.

Then, there is the issue of different laws and requirements in different jurisdictions. Local employment laws, she says, can be highly restrictive in some Asian countries, and may clash with company policy – if that happens, her advice is to always place local law first.

“Best practices will be best practices. But when there is a policy that that relates to payroll, for example, or to your work permit application, then the practice is to follow local country legislation,” she said.

This also means that HR must be familiar with local laws – and they need to not just specialise in the legislation of one country, but have a working knowledge of multiple locations.

“It is the HR team's personal responsibility to be well equipped and trained on local legislation for the country that they manage,” she commented. On top of that, she advises ensuring that staff members are cross trained on legislation in other jurisdictions, and that they make the information they hold easily accessible to their co-workers.

“For example, if something happens in Hong Kong, other colleagues in Singapore or Malaysia should be able to step in and help for a short period of time,” Joanne says. Aspire Lifestyles, she adds, uses a buddy system for training and backup, which allows HR to maintain a very lean team across the region.

Don't forget to keep your virtual team engaged!

Engagement in a virtual environment has been a knotty problem since the pandemic sent everyone home, and it continues to be a challenge even now that people are more accustomed to remote interactions.

The question, says Joanne, has always been: “How can we make onboarding more effective? Refining and sharpening the processes is one thing. But making the whole process more engaging is something where we still have room for improvement, especially because hybrid work is going to be around for a while.”

One of the mainstays of engagement is, of course, technology. At the start of the pandemic, remote employee engagement was unfamiliar to most HR teams; initiatives and strategies were often a trial and error process.

“We had no choice except to move all our meetings online. It was a first-time experience for many of our managers and country leads to run virtual engagement even with HR's support,” Joanne recounts of those initial months. She and her team could not be certain how well any given online activity would be received, until they actually tried it out and found that employees enjoyed it.

That said, she adds:

“We are mindful that engagement is not just about fun activities. Engagement is also about how we can introduce a blended approach in engagement, for example by introducing mental wellness elements.”

Moving forward, she has her eye on technology. “If we had started off remotely, at the onset I would have introduced instruments that make engagement instant and virtual and real. There are a lot of such tools available right now in the market, developed by organisations around the region. These will probably be on my wish list to implement in the next 12-18 months,” she says.

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Topics: HR Technology, Employee Engagement, #HRTech

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