Challenges and Tips for Managing an International Workforce

International operations bring about a number of challenges but one of the most important aspects is managing your international workforce.  Within this you will face challenges and dilemmas when on-boarding and mobilising staff as well as ongoing management and engagement. 

The following article will outline some of the challenges you will encounter as well as a few words of advice to help overcome them.

Sending or Sourcing?

The first thing you need to decide on for your new international workforce is sending vs sourcing.  If it’s a new venture, are you going to relocate existing employees or are you going to recruit a whole new team? Sending existing employees that know the company and its procedures is great, but you will also need to make sure you have people that understand the local marketplace. So here, the reality is that you are going to have a mixture of both.  You will need to go through a rigorous selection process to ensure you get the right people for your company and this can be very difficult if you don’t already have an established presence and thorough understanding of the new market.  A good option here is to research recruiters in your new region and engage those that have a thorough network within the disciplines you need. 

Classifying your overseas employees

Once you have your employees in place the next crucial element of onboarding is ensuring they are classified correctly with relation to payroll, tax, employee benefits and responsibilities.  At this stage, it is essential that you have a thorough understanding of the regulations of the countries where you have employees.  Failure to classify employees correctly can lead to a whole host of problems and land you in legal trouble if everything is not set up compliantly.  Often companies are operating across multiple international locations and having that complete understanding is difficult without having local experts in place.


When engaging an international workforce there are many things to consider with regards to remuneration.  This applies to both new hires as well as relocating existing employees.  First of all, you must consider the cost of living.  If you are relocating an existing employee to a location with a considerably higher costs of living, then you will need to compensate them for that. Conversely, if you are setting up and hiring employees in a new location then expectations of salaries in that market may be lower or higher. You need to ensure you know this information before making offers so you don’t end up over or under offering people. 

When preparing remuneration packages for employees make sure you understand the local market.  This doesn’t just include knowing what salary you should offer.  Different countries have different rules on additional items such as pensions, healthcare and bonuses.  It also means offering benefits that will improve the quality of life of your employees within their own culture.  So do some research, understand what benefits are most valued within each location.  A few examples include:

  • Health benefits in countries that do not have a government funded healthcare system
  • Travel and holiday benefits
  • Housing allowances or providing free accommodation in locations with high rental prices
  • Performance related bonuses for roles where achievements can easily be measured
  • Lifestyle benefits to promote work life balance

Legal Compliance

It is absolutely essential that you understand the labour laws in the countries you are operating in.  Without a thorough understanding you can land yourself in a lot of hot water.  There is no general rule when it comes to this either, every single country is different.  For instance, in France you cannot be penalized for not checking emails or taking calls after hours.  In Japan, if you need to terminate an employee it is a full legal matter where you need to provide just cause.  This isn’t just the responsibility of your HR team either, you need to ensure that your in-country managers have a through understanding of this too. If you are relocating managers this is a definite cause for concern and something that needs to be addressed with training on day 1.


Efficient communication throughout organisations is imperative whether you are all in one location or if you have offices spread across the globe. It can be difficult when you are a single location company, let alone if you throw international offices into the mix. Without efficient communication projects and workflows can become unaligned which causes delays and problems with delivering your services to clients.  Factors such as time zones, differing national holiday schedules, different working weeks and network issues can all impact communication.  It is important to make sure you have a structure in place to account for potential issues and that your entire workforce has the flexibility to work around different schedules.

Employee Engagement

Another factor that faces international businesses is employee engagement.  If you have employees working remotely then it is possible that they can become disconnected from the rest of the company.  This can obviously have a detrimental effect on productivity which will impact the delivery of your work to your clients.

However, in this day and age there isn’t really much excuse for this.  It is important to engage daily with remote workers and that is now easier than ever with the technology available to us.  Video calls in particular make it effortless to keep in touch and get the face time that you would get in a single location office.  Interacting daily keeps everyone connected and motivated towards a common goal.     


These are just some of the challenges you may face when setting up an international workforce.  There are also many more.  Predominantly, the common theme here is that local knowledge is key.  You can do all the research you like but nothing beats having a team of experts on the ground. 

That’s why many companies opt for Outsourcing their workforce management. This is when you utilise the expertise of a partner company to take responsibility for work permits, visas, in country taxation, social security and payroll, as well as mobilisation and demobilisation support.

By outsourcing this process you can ensure you are getting local expertise to ensure the success of your international operations.   

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