5 Smart Tips for International Human Resource Management

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Written By Ainsley Lawrence

One of the great benefits of technology is the ability to hire qualified employees from all over the world. With the U.S. unemployment rate at historic lows, having that flexibility can be a huge boon to your company. 

However, managing staff from other parts of the world also introduces unique challenges.

You not only have the usual concerns with each person’s approach and focus, but you also have to manage different time zones, cultures, and employment laws as well.

How can you manage your international workforce effectively? Here are five international human resource management tips that will help you succeed. 

1. Prepare your human resource (HR) team for international hiring

Hiring from other countries is no walk in the park, and you’ll likely need an experienced human resource manager who can identify transferable skills.

Many times, work experience will also look considerably different overseas, and there may be a language barrier when it comes to resumes and interviewing.

Because of this, having a human resources department that is flexible and empowered is vital to successfully bringing on international candidates.

Don’t be shy about pursuing international options – major U.S. companies like Kellogg’s employs more than half its workforce internationally. 

If you outsource your human resource department, you can still pursue international candidates.

However, you will want to talk to your HR company and make sure they have the experience and technical capabilities that will allow you to stay compliant with international laws. 

2. Be aware of varying employment expectations

You’ll quickly find that hiring within North America is very different from hiring people in the Philippines, which is also different than hiring in Asia or Europe. 

For instance, in some countries, employers are expected to pay a 13-month salary. This means that 1/12th of the employee’s’ salary is given in December as an additional payment. It is not considered a “Christmas bonus,” but it is a bonus required by law.

Regardless of the laws in your company’s home country, the rules in the employee’s nation will take precedence.

Whether it’s extra pay, mandatory pension contributions, annual leave, or more frequent payroll reporting, you’ll want to keep these requirements in mind when deciding where to hire international staff. 

It can be challenging to balance compensation and benefits for international staff with employees in the U.S., especially if one side feels the other is getting more favorable arrangements.

Because of this, if you find yourself with mandatory requirements for international employees, consider adding to your U.S. staff’s benefits as well so they are equal.

This could mean additional pay, additional leave, or a different sort of benefit, like the flexibility to work from home.

By being transparent and open to discussing different options, you’ll be much more likely to keep everyone happy. 

3. Arrange for communication across the world

5 Smart Tips for International Human Resource Management

Many companies find that asynchronous communication works best in an international context.

Buffer is one example of this in action — the team of 82 people is spread across 15 countries, and they rely on a variety of communication tools to stay connected.

Timezone differences are one of the primary problems faced by remote international teams. One company, Zapier, coordinates communication across seven time zones using Slack, Zoom, and pure determination to keep things moving smoothly.

Because of the expected differences in time zones, you need to hire people who are flexible enough to handle late (or early) meetings, but you can’t expect them to work 9-5 in your time zone.

What’s ideal is to coordinate working hours and communication so that everyone can have flexibility while still being effective. 

If you do have telephone meetings, you’ll need a plan for easily calling other nations. Plan ahead so you have country codes ready, and make sure you’re aware of whether you’re calling a landline or a cell phone — the call rates can vary significantly between the two. 

As you connect your team across the world, be sure to up train every member of your team — even those living internationally — on best practices for communication across language and social barriers.

Everyone should be cognizant about avoiding common communication mistakes.

For instance, if someone is vague or uses a bunch of jargon that doesn’t mean anything, it can hold up forward progress for several hours while the team gets clarification across several time zones.

Or, a lack of transparency about a business process can lead to certain team members feeling resentful because they’re out of the loop.

Most importantly, team members should use class and avoid ignorant slang or cultural insults that might cause offense to international team members.

4. Plan to overcome language and cultural barriers

There are a variety of tools you can use to make communication easier, such as Slack or other project management tools. However, these tools won’t necessarily help you overcome cultural or language issues.

Certain styles of dress or public affection, when shared on public channels, can be extremely offensive to workers in other countries.

For instance, kissing in public in India can result in jail time for public indecency. India, Africa, and Muslim-majority countries often have rules about women’s clothing as well.

Even something as simple as wishing someone an early birthday is in bad taste in Germany or Russia, where it’s considered a jinx.

Gifting a Chinese employee with a clock or watch is considered extremely rude as well, since the word for clock sounds similar to “paying last respects” in Chinese. 

If you’ve decided to hire employees in a specific country to work for your company, be sure you carefully research cultural norms and train your American employees to respect these differences. 

5. Find significant growth through international candidates

While hiring and managing an international workforce comes with unique challenges, there are also huge benefits.

Someone from another part of the world can help you build your business network in a completely new area, paving the way for successful business expansion.

You can also gain from the unique perspective of someone from another part of the world.

They may approach problems in a different way and can give you a way of looking at the world you never considered. 

As you develop your human resource (HR) department to manage international employees, be sure you keep the tips we mentioned in mind.

From hiring to employment expectations to communication, you need to plan ahead in order to successfully work with international staff.

When you do, though, you can expect your business to uncover surprising new opportunities and reach new levels of success.

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