Does IC hold the key to international business success?
International trade and globalization are on the rise, bringing huge opportunities for organizations around the world. But are they equipped to overcome the challenges that come as part of the the journey to global business success?
The world is getting smaller. Business markets are no longer restricted by geographical borders and opportunities for scalability, growth, and innovation are seemingly endless.
Adapting to a new international marketplace isn’t without its challenges, however.
From economic uncertainty to international regulation, cultural differences, language barriers and more, there are a huge range of potential obstacles to international business success.
The key to overcoming these – or, arguably, any significant organizational change- lies in unifying each and every employee behind the business and its mission.
Each member of staff needs access to the tools and information they need to work seamlessly and efficiently across dispersed locations. They need to communicate with colleagues in real-time, understand regulatory or compliance requirements, have a shared space to collaborate and share experiences, and a way to connect to the overall business mission, direction, and its culture.
It’s a tall order for any organization. Could the answer lie with internal communications?
Does the key to international business success lie in IC?
Internal communication has grown in recent years, both as a function and an area of business focus. We see this particularly at enterprise level, where the challenges that come as part and parcel of global trade pose significant risk to business survival.
With a greater understanding of the strategic value of international communications, we’ve also seen an abundance of new tools, trends, and practices enter the marketplace. IC is increasingly empowered, with a central role to play in addressing and overcoming a diverse range of challenges. Now, more than ever, IC needs – and deserves – a seat at the top table.
Here, I’ll explore some of the biggest challenges facing international business – and how IC can help to address and overcome them.
Shifting political and economic realities
From changing trade regulations to updated immigration policies, all businesses have to be aware of shifting international landscapes. This can mean that a globally-focused business is one that keeps up to date with change and has rapidly distributed communications as a central pillar of employee experience.
Trade agreements, regulatory requirements, tariffs, and many other legalities all form the foundation of international trade. Changes or lack of clarity propose significant difficulties for business and their employees. One year post Article 50, and UK citizens and business leaders alike are still no clearer on the details of what life will look like after leaving the European Union.
What’s more, changes in freedom of movement and a heavier focus on immigration numbers pose a threat to those industries that depend on labor coming from outside their home countries. There are consequences not only for the ability to attract future talent, but for those employees who face uncertainty about their legal status to continue working for their employer.
Communicating and managing change is a strategic process with IC at its heart. Employees from senior management to the front line must be kept informed and prepared for any change impacting on the business and their day-to-day roles to not only ensure legal compliance, but to prevent against the dangers of a disengaged workforce who believe they’re being kept in the dark.
How IC can help:
- Use internal blogs or news updates the keep employees informed about forthcoming changes
- Co-ordinate organization-wide virtual town halls, Q&As, employee forums or briefings to provide each employee with face time with senior management or those driving change
- Publish new regulatory or legal requirements, using read acknowledgement tools to ensure staff compliance
- Provide a centralized repository of business-critical policies and information
- Create forums or discussion areas for employees to ask questions, raise concerns, or provide feedback, ensuring their voices are heard
- Use broadcasting or notification functionality to ensure remote-based workers receive important updates in real-time
Using your intranet as a repository for essential business success policies, documents, compliance and more ensures staff are able to stay up-to-date.
Creating an international culture
Creating and embedding a culture within a business is a challenge in itself; remove the physical borders of an office, and that becomes more difficult still. If you have staff dispersed across multiple offices or even working remotely across the world, how do you create a common, unified sense of community and culture?
This was the challenge facing Interact customer Travelex, one of the world’s leading foreign exchange and international payments providers. Serving over 37 million customers with 1400 bureaus across 70 countries, Travelex boasted a large and dispersed workforce.
We have a large, highly dispersed retail workforce with small teams of even solo workers operating from bureaus in all kinds of places, ranging from supermarkets to airports or the high street.
It’s not unusual for businesses to have dispersed workforces, but our situation makes for a disconnected global community where colleague interaction can be challenging.
We needed to introduce a way for all our staff, no matter where they are or what time it is, to connect with each other, whether it be for work or social reasons. We wanted to build a sense of belonging across the entire organization.
Remote-based or dispersed workers often cite the lack of visibility of company news, achievements, or overall direction as a contributory factor for feelings of isolation or disengagement. They may also face challenges building meaningful relationships with colleagues—all of which can impair business success.
How IC can help:
- Create a shared space for the publication of both corporate and non-corporate news: an intranet utilizing blogs, galleries, videos, and discussion forums provides an ideal platform to engage staff
- Define and communicate an internal brand for employees, creating a sense of unity and inclusion
- Give dispersed employees visibility of senior leadership with the publication of updates or communications regularly
- Make company values, mission, and purpose visible and embed them into the organization; whether by ensuring they are prominently displayed on all internal collateral and communications or perhaps aligning them with an internal recognition program
- Utilize social technologies to connect employees to one another on a personal level and encourage two-way conversations within the organization; for example, using discussion forums to empower staff to feedback, ask questions, or share advice and best practice as part of a collective whole
An intranet offers a gateway to an organization, helping to communicate and embed a virtual culture. Blogs, forums, and real-time updates connect employees to one another; top-down communications from senior management ensure visibility of the business direction and updates.
Travelex achieved huge success in connecting its staff as part of a global community, using blogs on their intranet, The Lounge.
Everyone, from senior executives through to bureau workers, has a chance to get support and share their stories with a wider audience. Even our CEO contributes regular vlogs and comments on staff posts, engaging with all our users.
We have staff writing about things that go way beyond their day jobs. People are supporting each other through illnesses, divorces, and other challenges – and these are people from all over the world who may never have met each other face to face. They’re also sharing positive stories and experiences, which is helping us to embed a common culture.
Unifying dispersed systems and technology
The modern-day organization is built on technology; a variety of different applications to store, access, and share information, to perform essential tasks or workflows, and meet both employee and consumer needs.
These will range from Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms to email marketing tools, HR systems, payroll and more. In fact, research suggests the average enterprise may utilize around 500 different applications as part of its technology portfolio. For international organizations, there may even be different applications according to region, performing the same function.
While the end objective of workplace technology is to facilitate and empower employees to perform their roles, the sheer number of systems and applications poses a challenge. The employee experience is often disjointed and frustrating, involving jumping from one system to another in order to obtain information, uncertainty over whether information is current and correct, and duplication of effort.
For dispersed employees out on the road or front-line in stores, rather than sat in front of a desktop in a centralized office, even accessing these tools at all may be a challenge.
There is also growing awareness and concerns over data sharing and security, particularly as the EU prepares for the rollout of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The effective management of an international technology stack, and the information held within it, is imperative for success.
How IC can help:
- An effective IC platform, such as an intranet, can serve as a gateway or homepage to the rest of the organization: integrating with, or linking to, vital business applications. Employees can access everything they need from one central location.
- Integrated search functionality, a well-defined information architecture and the tagging of content ensures employees can find what they’re looking for quickly and effectively, even across different platforms.
- IC strategy includes the assignment of ownership and responsibility for information, alongside a safety net for management of business content – such as review dates and a structure or process for where business-critical information is hosted, accessed, or viewed. This removes duplication of effort and ensures information is current and relevant.
- Single Sign-On (SSO) technology, utilizing an intranet as the gateway to other business success tools and applications through a single username and password, reduces the risk to information security by removing the biggest vulnerability: weak employee login details, due to the sheer volume they’re required to remember
- Cloud-based IC platforms with a mobile app ensure information can be accessed on-the-go, without demanding employees to be sat at a desktop
An intranet with integration functionality, outbound single sign-on, and/or easily accessible links to relevant applications or tools.
Company-wide, vs. tailored and relevant information
Ensuring information delivered to employees is relevant, timely, and useful, is increasingly challenging. The competition for employee time is more prevalent than ever in a world of digital noise: spamming every member of your organization with every single business message will not only impact on the user experience, but quickly lead to disengagement with company communications altogether.
For global enterprises, this becomes an even tougher task. Do staff in your San Francisco office really need to know that the fire alarm is being tested in Tokyo at 4pm? If there’s a storm hitting Florida and it’s essential to let employees know to stay home, how can you be sure they’ll read the message – not think it’s another company-wide memo?
Online consumers get frustrated with websites when content is not personalized/related to their interests, and the same frustration is true internally. This agitation leads to low engagement, poor staff retention, higher numbers of health and safety incidents, and more.
Even across geographical boundaries, you’ll find distinct employee groups or personas requiring tailored information; for example, if your organization operates regional stores and you need to contact every Manager, or perhaps there’s a need to target your new starters with relevant information.
How IC can help:
Customizing, tailoring, and targeting information to distinct personas or employee demographics is at the core of effective IC strategy, and more easily achievable than ever before.
- Creating tailored intranet homepages for defined employee user groups, such as new starters, ensures relevant information is easily accessible
- Defining and then targeting information to a specific persona outside of the rigidity of traditional hierarchal user groups, such as department or office, empowers internal communications to reach specific and dynamic user groups – for example, all employees who manage more than two people but haven’t yet completed people management training
- Multi-channel communications and broadcasting of critical updates ensures vital messages are seen; for example, Interact has introduced its ‘Broadcast feature’, which enables organizations to compose a message within the intranet which will be pushed out as a display banner on the intranet, an SMS, or by ‘blocking’ users from accessing other areas of the intranet until the broadcast is read and acknowledged
The Interact Broadcasts feature is designed to ‘push’ critical or timely updates to employees, utilizing a variety of channels, rather than relying on the traditional pull method of waiting for employees to check communications and absorb the message.
An example new starter homepage pushes relevant information from HR and management, providing the employee with an introduction to the organization and individuals who can support them during the onboarding process.
Productivity, innovation, and best practice
The well-established mantra of, ‘two heads are better than one’, has considerable weight for organizations seeking to continually progress and establish a level of international business success.
However, if your employees are globally dispersed and unable to bounce ideas off one another in a traditional office environment, there are barriers to truly collaborative working. This will have a resulting impact on:
- The ability to innovate or tap into employee ideas
- Operational efficiency and costs, as organizations fail to benefit from economies of scale, streamlining of processes, or have employees duplicating effort
- Productivity levels, as employees may struggle to resolve a challenge or find information residing with dispersed employees
Empowering globally dispersed employees to share ideas and best practice, support or advise one another in the face of challenges, and learn from their peers is critical to keep international organizations competitive.
How IC can help:
- Create virtual knowledge sharing portals with social tools to enable employees to connect, such as discussion forums and blogs to relay successes or lessons learned from experience
Knowledge sharing in action:
Interact customer Mattress Firm use Interact’s Forums feature to encourage collaborative idea sharing between its 10,000 dispersed employees.
In their intranet BEDPost, they created the successful; “Gr8 Ideas” discussion boards. Named after their “Replace every 8” campaign, which helped to educate their customers to replace their mattresses every 8 years, the Gr8 Ideas forum allows employees to submit ideas for everything from processes and product improvements, to ‘how to’ advice and cheat sheets.
- Establish ‘preferred suppliers’ lists and policies to define best practice, ensuring employees are operating efficiently and in the best interests of the organization
- Use ‘Refer a friend’ programs to tap into the networks of employees when seeking new talent for your organization; benefits may include increased retention rates, faster onboarding, and better cultural fit for the organization
- Utilize centralized digital workflows and forms, with mandatory fields, for processes such as ordering office supplies, submitting a leave of absence, or reporting an incident. This not only improves productivity and efficiency, saving valuable resource, but will safeguard organizations against risk.
The key to international business success: people
No organization can operate successfully without its most valuable resource: people. To engage, connect, motivate, educate, and support them, internal communications has a critical role to play.
The future of global business will see many new challenges arise. Environmental issues are already gaining increasing traction; technology is transforming how we communicate, travel, and shop. In a futuristic workplace of AI, drone-deliveries, and the potential loss of net neutrality, adapting and evolving are not simply ideal; they are a business-critical necessity. That’s a process that begins internally.