Building a global culture

Written by
Nigel Danson

07 Dec 2016

07 Dec 2016 • by Nigel Danson


Globalisation has opened a world of new opportunities for business; but it has also bred a new host of challenges. McKinsey identified that the benefit of international growth often comes at the cost of organisation health: what they call a ‘globalisation penalty’, which sees those operating on a global scale become less effective at establishing a shared vision, encouraging innovation, executing “on the ground,” and building relationships.

A global, virtual workplace means a lack of one centralised walk-in location. It doesn’t mean a lack of vision, ethics, collaboration or policy. However, if you are dealing with a dispersed workforce who may never actually meet face-to-face, how can you establish a company culture? How can you drive engagement and break down silos with individuals working in different locations or even time zones? 

When operating globally, how do you keep your organisation healthy?

One identity, one direction

Defining and communicating the company mission is key to establishing an ‘identity’ and culture with which employees should identify – regardless of location. 

Ensure your company vision and values form the foundation of the on-boarding process across all locations and are communicated regularly to all employees via your intranet or internal communication channels. Although different regions may pursue individual objectives, targets or performance indicators, all should be united by an overarching business mission: and use this as the foundation for setting their own goals.  

Embed these further by aligning values to your employee reward or recognition system. At Interact, our values are displayed on the intranet homepage and form the basis for our peer-to-peer reward system; employees can nominate their colleagues and assign a #value to enter that individual into a quarterly prize draw. It ensures the values form part of the day-to-day interactions within the business and are continually visible. 

Give your employees the information they need

For those organisations hosting operations in a single head office, accessibility to key functions, documents, policies or tools for regional offices or remote workers may be limited. When operating on a global scale, it is essential to digitalise key business processes and ensure they are accessible.  

Centralise all HR policies and company documentation in a single digital location, and provide a user-friendly search function and interface. Cloud-based hosting ensures version control, with even remotely-based employees accessing the latest version of key company information. 

Functionality on cloud-based intranets such as ‘mandatory reads’ can help to not only ensure businesses are adhering to official guidelines and best practice, but helps standardise processes across virtual borders. Traditional paper-based processes such as probation or performance reviews can also be facilitated by online forms, improving employee management and streamlining processes for more efficient use of HR resource. 

A cloud-based document management system (DMS) will also ensure greater efficiency and productivity across dispersed global teams. Hosting in the cloud, whether private or public, also ensures flexibility of access: workers can find all relevant information regardless of time or location, rather than facing the limitations of an on premise server.

One global team

Employees are engaged when they understand the overall direction of their company and where they fit in the bigger picture. Breed ‘inclusivity’ and a sense of purpose in remote staff by keeping them in the loop with what’s going on both within head office and regionally. 

Top-down communication via intranet blogs from leadership are a great example – and can be used to reflect your culture in their tone and message. Use your blog to encourage your ‘silos’ to talk about team social events, charity campaigns and informal announcements, alongside the more traditional insight into upcoming campaigns or feedback on business results.  

It’s not uncommon for those based outside the central hub of a business to become disengaged or feel their voices and opinions aren’t being heard. Building a global team means two-way communication is paramount; establish a culture that facilitates this by providing employees with the tools and opportunities to contribute from the bottom-up. This may include virtual town halls, intranet forums or discussion boards and polls. Ensure employee contributions are not only encouraged but acknowledged and actioned. This will encourage a ‘team ethos’ and boost engagement across borders. 

Get people talking

Your staff may not be able to chat in the office, but collaboration can be fostered through the creation of ‘virtual water coolers’: empowering employees with social tools that will facilitate business-wide communication, breaking down silos. 

So close down Outlook and put in place social technologies where your staff can live and work throughout the day. Real-time conversations can be used not only for business communications, but personal engagement between staff members – boosting engagement and morale.  Ice-breakers such as a weekly ‘get to know you’ question on a forum or encouraging the sharing of personal news and photos on your company intranet can build a virtual office – one where each individual, regardless of their role or location – recognises and communicates with others within the business.  

Following the opening of our San Francisco office earlier this year, I made the move from the UK to the West Coast to establish the new team and drive the international project. With Interact now operating across 3 different locations and time zones (Manchester in the UK, New York on the US East Coast and San Francisco) we faced a challenge of how we managed those cross-regional relationships and ensured that individuals were able to collaborate effectively and feel part of the Interact brand. 

Steps taken to address this include the use of instant messaging (IM) tools and creating online teams on our intranet where individuals can work on projects, share ideas and engage with one another. In addition, our weekly ‘Friday Chat’ sees a member of the management team host a town hall event and outline business developments – whether that be new starters, significant sales or customer projects, work anniversaries or adhoc announcements. The chat is videoed and broadcasted across all locations, with the video then hosted on the intranet for accessible viewing by those unable to attend the live event. 

Learn from the internet

The growth of social media, online interest or discussion groups and even online dating all show the power and potential of technology to break down barriers and allow individuals to build relationships, regardless of their physical location. 

When looking to manage a globalised workforce and build an international, virtual culture, HR professionals should look to these popular platforms and the tools they embody. By emulating these successful approaches, we can not only encourage greater collaboration and engagement, but help organisations realise the full potential residing within their workforce: no matter where they’re based.