HR 4 June 2018

Four tips for hiring your first international employees when expanding overseas

The worst way to introduce your business to a new country is to do so without full awareness of its laws

Writing for Business Advice, Dany Rastelli, head of communications at Elements Global Services, helps micro company owners prepare for overseas expansion with a four-step guide to hiring your first international employees.

The advantages of expanding into international markets are almost equalled by the challenges of doing so. It presents many opportunities for businesses, but it also comes with new regulations, new economies, new cultures, new customers, and – inevitably – new employees.

The latter are among the most important if your growth strategy is to succeed: particularly for small and micro businesses, which may not naturally feel at ease with this kind of expansion – or believe that they don’t have the resources. This is a mistake: growing into international markets is very possible for even the smallest of businesses.

However, without the right team, it’s very easy for your international forays to fail. Planning for global expansion involves creating a comprehensive hiring strategy, and this is invariably more complicated than it might seem.

So how do you make it simpler?

If you run a small, yet highly ambitious business, keep these four tips for hiring your first international employees firmly in mind – and you’ll avoid many of the growing pains associated with expanding into a new market.

  1. Become familiar with local laws and regulations

The worst way to introduce your business to a new country is to do so without full awareness of its laws, regulations, and customs. These vary more than you might think: everything from the way a company pays tax to the rules surrounding mandatory working hours could be completely different to what you’re used to as a business owner in the UK.

But big differences are perhaps less important than the little details – which are easy to overlook and can carry potentially devastating consequences.

In China, for example, an employer must make contributions to housing and social care programmes; the UK makes no such insistences. Germany, meanwhile, does not have the same system of socialised healthcare, but it does expect employers to contribute towards a health insurance policy. These are both legal requirements and operational costs, and they must be accounted for when expanding into these markets.

And no, you can’t just pay international employees or contractors from the UK. It breaches international tax and employment laws, and it tends to irritate the authorities. If you’re confused or if you need additional guidance, seek out local experts in your new market: they’ll have a much better handle on how you can achieve full regional compliance. 

  1. Pre-emptively protect data

The advent of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has seen many businesses take action to ensure that that they can continue processing customer data. There has been less emphasis on employee data – but it is no less important. The rights safeguarded by the GDPR and other data protection laws also extend to the people you hire, and they’re an essential consideration when moving into a new market.

The GDPR introduces several new rules about how you process this information and how you make it available to employees. They have the right to access it for their own purposes on request and the right to understand how you intend to use it – amongst many others. You will therefore need to set up processes to ensure that employees can access their data as and when they need it, and that you are processing, storing, and destroying this information in a fully compliant fashion.

This will necessarily require some staff training, a comprehensive review of data processing activities, and regular impact assessments. This is also made better with locally-sourced experts who best understand the legal and working environment of their country.

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  1. Don’t neglect the onboarding process

You can’t expect to just port your existing employee onboarding system directly to a new market: new hires must be gently eased into the process of working with your business, and a straightforward onboarding system – personalised to the individual as far as possible – is therefore essential.

You’ll obviously know to create guides to your most important processes, and to offer training where appropriate. But an international business has to do more than that: it must find ways to strengthen the connective tissue between ‘head office’ and the regional team – and in some cases, it must find ways to create it when it isn’t there. A mentoring scheme between workers in the new country and the original office is a good place to start, before moving on to more sophisticated HR solutions.

  1. Create a tailored benefits package

Among the many systems and processes that cannot be so easily exported are employee benefits: a catch-all package for staff in your host country and your new country is unlikely to please your international hires.

This is partially due to the way teams are organised all over the world. In Europe and the USA, the convention is to prioritise the performance of the team and to encourage collaboration: benefits and bonuses are therefore often calculated and allocated collectively.

In South East Asia, individual achievement is rather more emphasised. Obviously, these don’t represent every region, every company, or every employee’s preferences – but they do suggest that you need to take a bespoke approach to the way you think about benefits.

This isn’t just about dangling the funky start-up staples like beanbag chairs, pool tables, and free food: it’s about listening to your team, considering your environment, and tailoring your approach accordingly.

A distressing number of businesses, for example, don’t consider something as seemingly elementary as providing informational materials in the right language: if it’s not an English-speaking nation, English-language materials can be quite alienating (even if it’s a second language). How comfortable would you be if your benefits were only communicated to you in Farsi or Dutch?

Make employees feel like they’re part of your culture, and they’ll act like they’re part of your culture. Hiring internationally is only difficult if an employer hasn’t been sufficiently strategic about it: money, time, and risk will always be involved, but they don’t have to be excessive – and working with an international employment and HR expert can minimise all three.

Dany Rastelli is head of communications at Elements Global Services

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