In a complex, information-rich, global economy, the need for companies to have a culture that supports and fosters mobility is more important than ever. Capturing and fully realising internationally dispersed knowledge demands an approach that supports information and talent liquidity. Taking the culture of your home office and implanting its culture in another country is not enough.
It is not sufficient for global companies to think in terms of traditional, localised models, operating internationally but through many distinct, national silos. The risks are too great, with information, knowledge and talent often imprisoned in local subsidiaries.
Metanational companies are different from traditional international companies. In the race to captitalise on the skills and expertise of the many talented individuals dispersed across the globe, metanationals recognise that the ability to fluidly connect employees, knowledge, skills and technologies is crucial. They operate as a single, organic organisation breathing as one, rejecting the traditional structure of an international head office acting as puppet master to local satellite offices. This fluidity comes with rewards; metanational companies are more easily able to mobilise their talent where market opportunities exist, developing a culture that locally captures skills, innovation and knowledge, efficiently transforming them into global applications.
So what are they key obstacles companies face when trying to successfully create a culture of global mobility? The first and arguably most important challenge to overcome is to ensure that the opportunities actually exist for individuals to freely move between a company’s locations or even to work remotely – but, crucially, to do this in a way that ensures individuals still feel part of a single, strong, working dynamic, wherever they happen to be. This often means getting some pretty basic things right, such as having the local support infrastructure to accommodate employees who might normally be based elsewhere, or who perhaps have no fixed base at all. Planning is key here. For example, trying to hastily find office space for a mobile employee at short notice is less effective than proactively planning the working environment from day one so that mobile individuals are as much a part of a workplace’s day-to-day life as local employees are, however long their stay might be.
Nonetheless, true employee integration is about much more than the careful planning of work environments. It is also about making the most of a strong culture – and a company works best when this culture is consistent across its geographies, providing a familiar home when individuals are seemingly ‘away’. Part of this means appealing to an individual’s senses so that the cultural codes and signifiers that represent their company are familiar to them wherever they might be working.
That’s not to say individual cultural differences should be ignored. Studies show that in key areas such as communicating, decision-making, planning and evaluating, there can be some clear differences between employees familiar with cultural norms in one country compared to another. But the overall cultural fabric of a company should be strong enough to unite employees through a consistently applied framework of values and working practices. Indeed, one of the benefits of a globally mobile workforce is that mobile employees who visit one place of work are able to act as cultural pollinators of another.
Ultimately, whatever cultural differences exist globally, most individuals are at their most productive when they feel looked after, valued and listened to. It’s no coincidence that the companies that best achieve quick integration of mobile employees are often those who are better at looking after their employees more generally, and who make themselves more than just a place of work. These companies know that the little things count. Games rooms, company massages, free office refreshments, culture clubs and the like are more than just gimmicks – they contribute to a broader environment that shows a company being more than just, well, a company.
Another crucial aspect to encouraging employee fluidity is to allow individuals to manage their work flexibly, as much as possible. Too often employers demand flexibility from employees without really providing them with the necessary structure or policy to support it. Technology is obviously key to this – taking advantage of tools that allow for easy mobile communications and the secure sharing of knowledge, documents and information. But often, the barrier to change is not technology, but the traditional 9-5, ‘work-from-a-fixed-office’ mindset that sees companies struggling to adapt to a generation of digital-savvy employees that have the talent to optimise their own productivity through new technologies that offer connectivity on the move.
Indeed, the concept of global mobility does not just apply to employees, but to information. Many companies that seemingly embrace the concept of global mobility are often ironically over-dependent on the mobility of employees. Sometimes the more productive and efficient route is to embrace technologies that allow their global talent base to more actively contribute from wherever in the world they might be. That’s not to suggest that employee mobility is not important – there will always likely be a role for face-to-face contact and the direct application of skills – but metanational companies will tend to think first and foremost about the possibilities digital technologies open up for rapidly sharing information and knowledge, which in itself is often then a catalyst for requiring additional support from a mobile talent pool.
And what do employees stand to gain from all of this? Apart from some of the obvious cross-cultural benefits, employees working for metanational companies benefit from a true meritocracy, where geographic barriers to career progression are more easily cleared, regardless of where market opportunities exist. Metanational organisations present employees with global opportunities to put into practice their skills and talents in ways that local markets might not necessarily require of them.And, of course, the ability to gain globally-diverse work experience is also a significant way of enhancing career prospects, and a sure-fire way of learning from others with talents from different parts of the world.