The most pressing challenges of international HR (and how to solve them)

The best strategies for overcoming these common challenges.

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As a growing number of companies look to hire internationally, human resource management can quickly become complicated. Several countries, including Italy, Australia, The United Kingdom, Canada, and Indonesia, increased their international hiring rate since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As companies look to source employees from a global pool of talent, effective human resource management becomes increasingly important. 

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Handling human resource management is always challenging, and adding an international layer only increases the complexity of operations—from maintaining legal compliance to navigating cultural barriers of a diverse team. It’s essential to be informed about the challenges of managing a global workforce before making your first international hire. 

In this article, you’ll learn about the top challenges that international human resource managers can expect and the best strategies to address them. 

International human resource management

International human resource management

International human resource management involves creating strategies for the effective management of employees to benefit an organization. It serves an important role in maximizing the employee experience to improve employee performance and serve broader company objectives. 

International human resource management oversees several important business functions, including:

  • Selecting, recruiting, and onboarding global employees;
  • Policies for time off, compensation, and benefits;
  • Establishing and maintaining company culture;
  • Opportunities for professional development and training;
  • And the legal compliance of an organization’s human resource policies.

Juggling all the different facets of an employee’s experience is no easy task, and working across borders only adds an extra layer of complication. Anyone tasked with international human resource management must navigate several unique challenges of working at a global scale in a remote environment.

Top international HR challenges

These are the most prominent challenges for managing human resources for international, distributed teams.

Managing different cultures

International teams represent a diversity of cultures. This diversity can be greatly beneficial, offering a dynamic work environment that promotes different perspectives, creative problem solving, and greater employee engagement. 

However, international human resource management departments must overcome several cultural challenges for companies to reap these benefits. HR managers must consider a company’s policies in the context of all the cultures represented by its personnel. 

Building a cohesive company culture becomes more challenging as global teams increase in diversity. For example, language barriers can make it harder for employees to communicate across teams, hindering important opportunities for collaboration. 

Meanwhile, cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and alienation if not appropriately taken into consideration. Different cultural perspectives can also make it harder to build a set of shared norms and values. Working in a remote environment only amplifies these challenges. 

Overcoming distance

International human resource managers must also consider the geographic constraints of managing a global team. Setting regular meetings and promoting inter-team collaboration across international borders creates its own set of challenges. 

Companies need to leverage their resources and technologies to overcome time zone differences, foster relationships, and offer consistent professional development opportunities to unite their global workforce. 

Geographic distance can also create disparities in access to leadership. For example, HR managers must consider how a company’s high-level strategy is shared and communicated with everyone if the C-suite executives are all based in one region or country.

Ensuring legal compliance

International teams must remain compliant with all the local labor laws and regulations of the countries represented in their workforce. Local culture plays an important role in dictating legal labor requirements and norms. 

Navigating these different requirements while building cohesive company-wide policies is an important challenge for international HR managers. 

Legal compliance is an ongoing area of development as local laws can change from year to year whenever new legislation is passed. International HR managers must be able to keep up with these changes and adapt as needed. Lack of awareness or training can lead companies to violate regulations by accident—a financially and reputationally costly mistake. 

Ways to address the most pressing international HR challenges

Companies must develop strategies to overcome these challenges in order to remain legally compliant and attract top talent globally. 

Strategies to address international HR management

Remain up to date on local laws

Before hiring employees in a new country, set aside time to research the local and federal labor laws. This will ensure you are aware of any adjustments you may need to make to company policies before you onboard any new employees.

Staying ahead of the curve with legal compliance will reduce stress by a lot and pay off in the long run. Make sure to audit legal requirements to keep track of any changes that need to be made. 

Develop comprehensive training programs for employees

When employees come from different countries, there can be variations in skill and training that creates talent gaps across different offices or teams. Building a strong training program will level the playing field across borders, ensuring that all employees have access to the resources they need to be successful. 

A well-built training program begins during onboarding. During the first few weeks, companies should make sure all new hires are aligned on the company’s values, vision, and goals. 

Cultural training should take place early on and continue throughout an employee’s tenure to promote and facilitate inter-country collaboration. These trainings should educate employees on cultural differences, business etiquette, and boundaries they should consider when engaging with colleagues from other countries. Where applicable, companies can also provide resources to encourage language learning. 

Training can take place in person or virtually. Both formats offer their own set of benefits and challenges, so companies may also consider implementing a hybrid model. Offering different methods of training can cater to a diverse range of learning styles. Regardless, training programs should be interactive and engaging to be the most effective.

Providing the opportunity for ongoing training and skill development can increase employee retention. It can also attract top talent that are able to adapt to an evolving remote work environment. 

Maintain open lines of communication

In remote work environments, managers and leadership must take a proactive approach to fostering communication and building connections between team members. For international teams, it is also important to consider cultural differences that can impact communication styles.

International teams must consider how cultural differences can impact communication styles

There are many online resources and tools to foster collaboration across borders. For example, video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meets offer the ability to create face-to-face interaction in a remote work environment. Video calls provide the chance for employees to exchange non-verbal cues which can help build rapport. 

One significant challenge that remote employees face is isolation. Companies can proactively address this by offering time for employees to engage with each other in a live format. These efforts will be especially appreciated by extroverted employees that need this interaction to feel connected and productive. 

Project management tools, like Asana, and communication tools, like Slack, are equally important for promoting cross-team collaboration. They provide company-wide visibility into projects and conversations that impact multiple departments. Messaging platforms can also create a virtual office environment for casual “water cooler” conversations, offering a sense of spontaneity in employee interactions. 

Communication efforts can also overcome hierarchical barriers. Leadership should actively engage across departments and levels to foster connections and improve awareness of issues that impact their organization. Virtual Q&A sessions offer a formal way to address questions that many people may have, while 1:1s can offer a more personal way to engage with and mentor employees.

You may also consider the role of in-person events and activities. Even in a remote work environment, many companies choose to bring team members together during retreats or conferences. Depending on the size and geographic distribution of your company, this could include everyone or be team- or region-specific.

Receive regular feedback

Collecting employee feedback is the best way to evaluate your company’s HR policies and identify areas for improvement before they snowball into much larger, systemic issues. Surveys, polls, and 1:1s are effective ways to collect this information and should be leveraged to collect different types of feedback. 

Global HR managers should look to identify trends across geographic boundaries. Are there certain issues that impact employees in one region or country more than others? By adopting a geographic lens to evaluate data, companies can proactively address disparities in employee training and engagement.

The best way to receive continuous feedback is by promoting an open-door policy that encourages employees to bring up issues as they arise. Let employees know that it is ok to ask for help and show them that the company can and will offer needed support. By doing so, you can identify and resolve issues quickly. 

International human resource management 

When hiring internationally, you need to have a plan in place to create a work environment that supports remote work while remaining compliant with local legal requirements. All the added challenges can be overcome with some planning, and these efforts will benefit your company in the long run. 

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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