HR Leads Business

Jul 27, 2020 | HRCI Team

3 Ways to Cultivate an Engaged Global Workforce


The events of recent months have tested our health systems, our societal institutions and our resilience around the globe. Social distancing has kept us isolated and confined at home. Employers and employees alike are facing unprecedented challenges. We’re united by a shared uncertainty regarding the economy and the future of work. 

While we share similar experiences, though, the direct impact on individual workers varies by government, by region and even by specific departments and teams, says Bhushan Sethi, partner and joint global leader of People and Organization at PwC. This poses unique challenges for engaging employees across countries and continents. 

Global workers have individualized needs, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Here are three ways you can customize solutions to boost engagement across your global workforce.

Define Engagement Across Different Contexts

The first step for driving engagement across an international workforce is to define what this looks like in each level or department. “Is it based on how well we are collaborating? How happy we are? Whether we’re meeting our production goals?” Sethi asks. “How we define engagement differs by function and department, even within organizations.” 

That’s even more complicated when regional cultures are also at play. “Identify cultural trends and consider how they might affect engagement,” says Sumayya Essack, owner and coach at Curate the Future, LLC. “Talk to leaders and managers in those cultures to inform your approach.” 

New definitions should be specific to your workforce and consistent with supporting your overall company purpose and values. HR can facilitate pinpointing definitions and propose solutions to detachment. Workforce data provides a starting point. 

In the past, you might have measured engagement by soliciting verbal feedback from team members. But in some cultures, workers are more likely to defer to authority and may not be inclined to speak up. An anonymous survey might discover more.

Facilitate Engagement Through Intentional Processes

HR plays a role in developing overarching process solutions. Build engagement into key performance indicators (KPIs) by tying each team’s participation and enthusiasm to their manager’s performance and pay. To facilitate this globally, voices need to be heard and valued at every level. Develop guidelines and policies for conversations and check-ins between high-level leaders and workers a few — or even several — levels beneath them. 

“Make time to get to know people,” Essack says. “When we’re distributed, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole human being on the other side of the screen.” For instance, try the add-on Donut through Slack to pair random co-workers from anywhere in the workforce for a casual Zoom chat. This allows co-workers to get to know each other as people and facilitates higher levels of trust and empathy, despite being geographically distant.

Technology can also be used for tactical collaboration. Establish a cadence of larger collaboration through facilitated video conferencing co-work calls. Teams across states, countries or continents can work together in real-time by sharing documents, brainstorming and allowing ideas to be recorded and captured — all through a laptop or smartphone. 

Building these intentional processes into day-to-day work boosts employee involvement and productivity, but ethnographic barriers to technology need to be accounted for. In India, for example, multi-family homes are common. Everyone works from the same home connection, though, both internet bandwidth and ability to participate decrease. Make sure your workforce has access to the tools needed to interact with each other and their work.

Align Engagement Across Levels and Locales

A sense of inclusion is vital to employee participation, particularly for global workers. The recent civil unrest in the U.S. has sparked a worldwide discussion about race, providing a starting point for conversations around difference and inclusion. “There’s no substitute for good leadership and empathy,” Sethi says. Don’t tolerate non-inclusive behaviors: Ensure fair, consistent treatment. Examine how your processes and policies affect workers of color and other minorities. 

This should be a priority in the boardroom, but it should also cascade down to daily interactions. “This is something that HR can take the lead on, but it can’t be improved solely by HR,” points out Essack. “It takes leaders at all levels getting involved, and each individual contributor also has their role to play.” Creating a Slack channel where team members can share local holidays and traditions, for example, encourages the celebration of differences.

Finally, when the dust settles and we have a clearer understanding of what “normal” looks like moving forward and decide which inclusion practices and strategies instituted will best optimize future results. The policies and guidelines instituted during remote work for your global employees could be helpful when we return to the office. 

Listen to what your workforce is saying now and begin to design policies around how engagement can be optimized in each community across your global workforce.