Can the Pandemic Usher in an Age of a Truly Global Workforce?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the term remote work more popular than ever. It has also made everyone see telecommuting or teleworking in a new light–something that is not just an option but a necessity for business activities to continue.

Considering the health and economic crises the world is struggling to deal with, it’s worth exploring the state of the global workforce. Without a doubt, the pandemic has disrupted the operations of global businesses. It has become considerably more challenging to operate branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates overseas as governments tighten their travel regulations.

Has the pandemic enhanced the concept of a global workforce, or is it just a temporary disruption?

Defining a truly global workforce

What does a global workforce mean? It is essentially about employees and workers performing their tasks in different parts of the world and reporting to their respective headquarters online or through other efficient means. It entails a crisscrossing of people, processes, workplaces, and protocols to complete tasks on time and in line with the allocated resources.

Globalized operations behave as if they are localized. Multinational corporations no longer need to establish branches or subsidiaries and go through complicated management hierarchies and redundant positions. Workplaces may be separated by vast distances, but they work together seamlessly and employees report to their superiors directly across national borders. Red tape is virtually eliminated or significantly minimized. The distance and differences in time zones become unsubstantial issues.

Some companies have already achieved this kind of workforce globalization. Such organizations have shifted from a structure characterized by a central HQ and smaller divisions worldwide toward one where key competencies and divisions are only set up where the knowledge and talent are.

“As an example, we’ve opened a financial shared services center in Budapest because the knowledge base for that is strong there. And, we have a water technology center in Fresno, USA, because the area is key for industry research and development, as well as for networking and business opportunities. It’s all about being where the knowledge is” says Lisbet Thyge Frandsen, a Group Senior VP of People and Strategy at Grundfos in an interview with CNN.

The need for an efficient setup

Maintaining a global workforce that fits the features discussed above is far from easy. A paper published on The Academy of Management Executive points out three practical challenges: deployment, knowledge and innovation dissemination, and talent identification and development.

Deployment is a particularly critical concern as it requires not only good management skills. It also necessitates the right platform or software suite. In the digital and internet age, software is as important as the competence of managers. It will be extremely difficult to achieve efficiency without having a suitable platform to support data collection and processing, task management, communication, monitoring, and reporting.

Take the case of payroll. It presents various obstacles that can determine the success or failure of global human resource management. “Paying a global workforce is one of the many unseen challenges that expanding businesses face,” writes one insightful piece on Global Payroll, the official magazine of the Global Payroll Management Institute. Organizations must deal with issues of compliance, workplace trends, the use of tech solutions, the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and attracting and retaining talent.

Payroll solutions like Papaya Global address these challenges encountered by multinational companies in the current business and geopolitical landscape. Well-designed payroll systems facilitate automation, eliminate errors, reduce processing times, and facilitate convenient cross-border payments.

Moreover, to achieve efficient virtual communication and interactions among global employees and managers, it is important to utilize the right technologies. Internet connection should be fast and reliable. The faster deployment of 5G networks will be a boon for efficient global workforce management, as considerably faster connection speeds and lower latencies help create more engaging virtual interactions among employees and managers. It is also advisable to use cloud solutions to ensure convenient access to information, applications, and services from anywhere.

An Oracle whitepaper on global HR management emphasizes the need for efficiency: “To sufficiently help a global business thrive, a company’s HCM system must balance centralized management and local considerations.” Accordingly, the system “should provide accurate and actionable analytics for managers, create an engaging user experience, and possess flexibility to support all kinds of initiatives.”

Change-inducing pandemic

So how has COVID-19 impacted global workforce management in the past several months? Many sources say that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. The World Economic Forum, for one, published an article that discusses the hastened growth of tech-driven solutions such as digital and contactless payments, remote work, 5G and information and communications technology (ICT), distance learning, and supply chain 4.0.

These solutions coincide with the need to achieve efficient global workforce management. Fast digital payment solutions including the use of digital currencies is advantageous for the payment of salaries or wages. Faster internet with 5G as well as ICT solutions guarantee that virtual meetings and interactions will be more engaging.

These technologies are set to eliminate pestering online communication issues such as freezing videos, delays, bad audio, and difficulties in sharing and collaboratively working on files. Additionally, enhanced distance learning platforms enable better remote employee training while supply chain 4.0 improves the movement of physical objects required in completing tasks, obtaining materials for manufacturing, and delivering products to customers.

The Takeaway

It is not inaccurate to say that the pandemic has created the circumstances that forced businesses and governments worldwide to support the concept of a truly global workforce. The need for physical distancing and online/remote ways of doing business has shown the world that it is possible to get things done through the internet. It is not easy, but it is doable with the right technologies, competent
management, and some degree of mentality change.

Image: Pexels

27 thoughts on “Can the Pandemic Usher in an Age of a Truly Global Workforce?”

  1. I agree that latency is a major issue. So is tactile feedback. Haptics are getting a boost from VR development, but has a lot of room to grow.

    Still, these will get better. Waldos used to be saved for high value operations like moving around uranium fuel rods. Now it's soda pop. To me, that says a lot about how this area is progressing.

    I think the sodas were a low hanging fruit because they have a standardized shape, can be gripped with a standardized amount of force with low risk of damage, etc. I think there are other low hanging fruit as well, so I'm very interested to see this finally reach implementation over the next decade.

  2. Oh that story went around a lot. Note that while humanoid torso type robots for waldo teleops or less have been around for a bit, but a lot of the improvements in interfaces and self-motion planning is what really made this cheap. Of note, that convenience store robot was stocking cooler/freezers from the back, and handling mostly drinks, which dramatically simplifies the problem. Hard problems like stocking shelves with flimsy potato chip bags and floppy merchandise are note yet entirely conquered. 

    Oddly enough, this is where 5G can shine, with a combo of corporate private MVNO connectivity, and low latency. The japanese government is apparently providing subsidies for companies to play with private 5G.

    As for teleops becoming the next outsourcing thing, latency barriers still hurt. Rio Tinto I believe was doing remote dump truck driving from cushy offices in Sydney, but that's still on the same continent via a fiber line and mine wireless/wifi. Starlink, if it actually delivers on latency, may provide a workaround though.

  3. Distributed self interest, that works with Jared's sports analogy, except i see that as exactly what regular businesses have always(modern times) been doing.
    Pro teams dont spend money developing the early stage talent they're head hunting in the same way Jared is suggesting regular businesses should be doing.

    Why would I pay to help prep workers early in the pipeline when they will either leave my employ in 2 years or never enter it in the first place. Those types of first mover costs is a task for societal institutions, the state should be easing the path on preparing workers given it's the primary beneficiary.

    If I have to pay extra to skill you up, I'm going to need a guaranteed period of indenturement or a refund.

  4. "businesses providing employment is a societal good"

    That's not in question, just expectations which borders on imperious demands.

  5. Hi Brian Wang, if you read this, you might want to do a story on the Japanese convenience stores using remotely operated robotics to do manual labor stocking shelves.

    The robots are humanoid from the waist up. You operate them with VR goggles and gloves.

    Because the thing is… if you can get someone to remote operate a robot from within the country, you might as well outsource it to another country. Imagine something like a call center, but instead of taking orders for McDonald's they're folding socks. Manual labor going as global as knowledge work. It could affect global migration patterns. And of course, it would provide a lot of data to mine to eventually automate the task entirely.

    If you'd like, I'd be happy to write the article.

  6. From an IT perspective, it hardly matters. I demonstrated I could run a large operation (affecting many tens of thousands of people) from a card table in my home office, and do it for months with no perceptible difference. And all of my infrequent meetings were already always on Webex, Zoom, Skype etc. (voice and screen only, no cameras) prior to this.

    It's still not a job you'd want to give to someone overseas unless maybe they were an American expat or had lived here for a considerable period, despite the fact a third of my department is foreign-born. Cultural experience can count for a lot in almost any workplace, virtual or not, especially those involving primarily white-collar workers.

  7. To continue running with the sports analogy it is the job of Colleges to do the talent searches and to prepare the next round of workers. Not so sure how they are doing at that nowadays- colleges have many goals that conflict with the goal of "developing talent". For example state colleges make significantly more money if they develop out of state and foreign talent instead of the local talent.

  8. fair enough – that's why many tertiary-level education institutions started large-scale co-op/ intern/ apprenticeship programs blanketing all workplaces sizes and complexities (especially alumni-related) – effectively giving the workplaces the heads-up on incoming students and creating a clearinghouse of the ranks, skill-sets, and abilities to 'optimize' the worker-finder process –then– many institutions started creating a post-graduate placement, where those with more than 2 years experience, out of school, can post info for 'next-level' promotions/ placements –then– many schools out-sourced their post-graduate work placements privately so as to create a 'head-hunter'/ linked-in-ish database so the early stages of people's careers can be optimized, indirectly through your alumni program, to get continued support as one's career progresses. Finally, grads are getting some 'agent' like support out of their $100k+ education investments and companies can have filtered prospects provided – likely giving feedback to both placement service and school to make members more appealing and relevant. Not top tech guru placement stuff – but mid-level STEM localized hires' being optimized, rather than going abroad.

  9. That implies that specific social contract. There are other countries where the implied social contract of businesses providing employment is a societal good.

  10. Developing the local talent might be feasible for vast multinationals with $millions to invest now in the knowledge that they'll be able to get the cream of the crop a decade hence. And presumably this applies to other major employers such as defense (though they appear to have largely abandoned the previously widespread use of cadets and so forth to do exactly what you suggest.)

    But any small to medium organisation can neither hope to move the needle on a nation or even region's educational standards, nor hope to benefit thereby rather than just handing resources to their competitors.

  11. "Point: stop the 'just-in-time' talent searches and start realizing local potential earlier – similar to pro-sports recruiting…"

    Is that really the role of companies, what's the point of being a paid up member of society? It's not the function of business to provide people with employment, it just a temporary and mutually beneficial alignment of interests.

  12. I'm not sure I have ever considered a line of work, based on how I would fit in, whether it contained 'my people', whether i got a 'good social vibe' from the environment or if it provided a workplace that fulfilled me on a communal level. Though, I do appreciate interactions with my work peers on 'shop talk' in-office, in-industry, and wider-afield. And, I have certainly left offices that I felt were too tribal, too high-school-cafeteria-like, too hierarchical, and too filled with hyper-competitve/ hyper-ambitious peers – bent on destroying others for their company-climbing goals. I suppose most companies have their cultures – many who use socialization as kind of a mentoring/ guidance system — but, it appears to be less frequent. Never worked in an office that had frequent team-building exercises, birthday-appreciation-events, or other such morale-boosting stuff — a few new hires pushed such things – but they became politicized and were disbanded, seen as a bit disruptive and tended to create popularist-tribalism.

  13. That isn't "valid work" so much as "work validation" and the "dignity of work". Humans are social creatures, so working provides those social interactions and the impression of belonging to a group. Some people get caught up in that so much that their job is their life. There's also the sense of purpose, as well as a bit of distraction, from doing work (as a form of boredom prevention as well). These issues get amplified in various situations, such as an UBI system or a society approaching post-scarcity.

  14. So all these virtual meetings removing a lot of body language, and being perceived as insufficient due to that, is quite interesting from both a company culture and general cultural perspective. Though this is within a US context, which also has it's own shared cultural contexts acquired and taught. With the internet now in general use, you also have the push-pull of increasing social homogeneity (both public forms as well as separately within private groups).

  15. bigger issues – like investing in the schools and communities that make the locals more competent – i.e. co-op, internships, community tech hubs, scholarships, investing in university labs. Cherry-picking foreign workers, though not wrong, shouldn't be the long term STEM recruitment policy. Perhaps the occasional once-in-a-year tech guru – but not the bulk of your mid-level tech engineers/ coders/ analysts. Going abroad just sends the message to university STEM programs throughout the country that the chance of grad placement is now so low, you shouldn't even bother unless your top 0.1% — which reduces the likelihood of the top class and the program in general of pushing themselves. There's healthy competition and then there's 'no chance' international super-pro searches. Point: stop the 'just-in-time' talent searches and start realizing local potential earlier – similar to pro-sports recruiting – scouts go out to junior highs nowadays for NCAA and pro.

  16. it's an interesting hypothesis, which connects with cultural interaction issues for people from different cultural/social norms/signaling methods, as well as personality. One can see such a company culture might favor loud and gregarious people who are opinionated. There is a secondary implication regarding the US and english language usage, where low-context communication requires frontloading a lot of information,
    either verbally or through body language. This specifically disadvantages people who are used to high context verbal languages, low body language usage/gesticulation, and have a linguistic dependence on shared upbringing/"common sense"/cultural background, especially if that background isn't shared with the team.

    Some have made the argument that part of why the US has been successful is the use of low context communication methods (as part of a lowest common denominator methodology) to reduce friction.

  17. I read somewhere else an interesting thought, which is the whole "must be together in an open plan office" to get fantastic results like a startup is a specific quirk of a company culture with certain parameters. The implication was the parameters, specifically, a white male coded culture with high trust in member skills/comprehension that depended on the ability to cut off someone else during a meeting if you believe you understood their point, and the person who was cutoff trusts that you understood well enough to not need to continue usually (only when they clearly believe you still don't understand would they continue). Sub variants of this are the "disagree and commit" culture practiced at Amazon, where you may think someone else is wrong, but you trust they are not morons so if they are pushing for it they should continue (and face the music if they end up failing).

    This naturally has implications if this is the supposed idealized model.

  18. the pandemic has created the circumstances that forced businesses and governments worldwide to support the concept of a truly global workforce

    Not everyone is equally competent, how can the benefits of a global workforce be reconciled with the requirement that less competent locals be fully engaged before you're permitted to look further afield?

  19. right. so some people consider work to be any kind of toil. Do we encourage legislation that tries to destroy 'coal mining', for example, since it is aligned with health, emission, and labour-intensive 'negative' actions – even though it is highly paying, people continue to apply and pursue openings, and is very supportive of stable local communities? We are thus judging 'work'. Do we automate factory work even though many consider it to be 'an honest day's labor' – and would prefer it to working in an office or outdoors or going to university? There are many movements advocating destruction of many labor sectors that many want to continue to work in. Who decides? Auto factory assembly of 20 years ago was one of the most sought after jobs – above average rates, very community-based employers, insanely good retirement/pension opportunities — and now the old fogues glamorize such by-gone days. To many, work defines them, often more than their religion, family, race, and origin. We can treat it as only a day job to be encouraged and discarded at our collective cultural risk. Further, many industries are no longer off-shoring, made-local legislation is increasing, and supply lines are returning home. Should a country try to do it all? Discard farming and import all? Discard textiles and utilize sustenance-level labor? I for one think we should do it all – but cheaper and better – not look for the near-slave-labor supply line easy trading answer. These are the issues of Work.

  20. "The Elephant in the room – the unspoken topic – the ultimate question is: what is valid work?"

    The only elephant-in-the-room I'm seeing in this space are your claims of an elephant in the room.

    There was only one point in my life I've ever wondered what valid work was and that was about 1 week before I got my first job at age 13.

  21. what is valid work? what do people want to do? What are people willing to do?

    People are willing to do anything if the pay is good enough or they have few options.

  22. Of course. The Elephant in the room – the unspoken topic – the ultimate question is: what is valid work? what do people want to do? What are people willing to do? What actual scopes of work can create real value and are likely to defy automation, off-loading, and AI domination? So, I suppose there are two fundamental branches of thought-policy – (1) is it the obligation of society to create/ maintain a system to allow all kinds of 'desired' work and encourage the perfect network to allow all to 'peddle' their wares, be it: report, object, creative item, service, management skill, etc. (maximum viable flexibility) effectively -or- (2) is it the obligation of people to 'fit in' and maximize their skills and experience to 'find their niche' and thus contribute and maximize the current/future society's value/ output? Many would argue that allowing all to do what they want within the marketableness of their skill allows for the maximum output/ variety/ creativity of a society system – as opposed to being chosen for a task based on a perceived affinity (soviet-style) and perhaps perceived value. Some could classify this as top-down vs bottom-up systems. (how would one plan a perfect society of work? – i point people to episode 9, season 4 with rick sanchez for inspiration/ amusement 😉

  23. agreed. most sustainable work motivations stem from routine, everyone around you working, and a slight push to finish while limiting breaks and 'rests' due to peer 'pressure'/ office 'work values'; irrespective of the Google-enviro sushi nooks, foosball, and 'free Fridays' as signs of work culture liberation. Which is a shame. Attempts at remote log-in monitoring, key-stroke counting, and motivation-prompting software have been met with calls of fascism and work-place enslavement. Just look at university culture – last-minute assignments, poor time management, cramming, homework share, and test aversion. The distracted and uninspired worker is the norm not the exception. The idea of game-ifying work was a short-lived attempt at providing manageable but inspiring milestones, timely incentives, and a way to flex-ify work/ home/ leisure but self-discipline is the hardest of all things to achieve, maintain, and enforce/ teach. I was hoping that WeWork and such 'flexible' 'choice' work places could provide that half-way point of cheery workplaces with lessened commute and an enviro of actual 'work' but without the physical presence of 'the Boss'. Ho-hum. A half-baked attempt. Perhaps the lessened expectations of empty offices with the improved IT connections and updated 'remote' work protocol may create an additional 'acceptable' degree of flexibility – but don't count on it…

  24. I think, if anything, it has made automation look extremely attractive. Amazon and other companies could move heavily into automated sorting and boxing and drone deliveries. Robot semis could soon be carrying stuff between or to warehouses, and without breaks or sleep.
    Robots don't catch covid, threaten to unionize, or sue for having to walk so much. No worries about workers "delivering" packages to themselves that look valuable.
    Nothing makes it more obvious that an AI can do something, or at worst some foreign worker paid a third as much, than a job being able to be performed remotely.
    Robots also don't get poached, and they don't reveal trade secrets to the competition when they are.

  25. No. Managers want to 'read' their workers' faces and body language better than video conferencing allows. Workers still prefer in-person interactions with each other, for much the same reason though more for social interaction.

    Eventually, with near perfect VR we'll get past that limitation, but you won't be able to trust anyone's apparent responses: There'll be apps to disguise your loathing of Arnold from HR, or to enhance your apparent confidence giving presentations. We won't care that we're fooled, so long as it isn't thrown in our faces. Everyone thought that we'd care hugely about the loss of privacy on the internet, but apparently not so much as long as it is largely invisible and we get free stuff.

    There is a good chance that as video conferencing improves, we will shift to working at home several days a week. Maybe most days, for "work-life balance", "helping avoid climate change with less commuting", etc. We'd have mushier work weeks. Instead of just working 8 hours, I might do a 4 hour surge of work before a big 2 hour meeting, take the afternoon off, work an hour after dinner, and promise myself to make up an hour on Saturday. Regressive companies will lose their best employees by attempting to monitor and enforce which hours or how much time employees spend 'working'.

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