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Market researchers say the use of workforce management software (WMS) is increasing, as companies look for new ways to boost labor productivity. At the same time, talent management software, which helps recruit, retain, and develop employees’ skills, is becoming a strategic tool. According to Bersin & Associates, a consulting and research agency in Oakland, Calif., the global talent management market will reach $3.5 billion this year and continue to grow in the near term.
It’s not just languages, cultures, and currencies that differ across countries -- labor regulations and employees benefits do, too. The current generation of WMS tools, both on-premises and Software as a Service (SaaS), are robust enough to handle the special challenges of managing a global workforce, according to industry observers. The SaaS versions are generating particular interest because they help organizations avoid costly deployments.
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What’s more, WMS software that can be accessed on mobile devices is catching on in multinational companies, according to Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Bersin & Associates. Most corporate outposts, no matter how remote, have Internet access for their employees, if only via smartphone.
Global workforce management and multinational labor regulations
There are wide variations in the labor laws of different countries, said Bersin. “For example, in Europe privacy laws prevent you from storing training information about people. You can’t store their scores,” said Bersin. Using a WMS to handle these variations greatly eases the complexity, he added.
Even more significant than the different laws is how the widely varying cultures impact work. Each country has its own workforce dynamic, said Bersin, and companies that try to implement a single WMS across the globe must be sophisticated and flexible enough to handle subtle variations.
“In the U.S., we have a strong tradition of entrepreneurship [and] willingness to try new things. In China, people have grown up with the government taking care of them. In exchange, they will do what they are asked. In Nordic countries, there is more importance placed on the collective than the individual,” he said.
To be sure, these are generalizations that don’t apply across the board in any region. The point is, if a centralized WMS software system is being used, it should allow a company to alter its labor practices to fit regional norms.
“The vendors enable the software to be customizable by company by location. You can turn off features for certain groups or change them for another group,” said Bersin. The leading vendors are developing templates that make it easier to deploy the software in different countries, he added.
Some companies won’t need as much flexibility, even when it comes to their global workforce operations, because they choose to adhere to strict standards throughout the operation. And some companies are completely different wherever they operate. Both models can work well, said Bersin. “But the [WMS] has to accommodate both.”
Some companies are taking another approach. Yvette Cameron, vice president and principal analyst of human capital management for Constellation Research Inc., uses the term “glocal” to describe an increasingly popular approach to global workforce management.
“They use centralized systems for HR and then they use a payroll solution or other type of system that meets all the local requirements,” Cameron said. “This helps ensure they can really meet the needs of a local workforce.”
This hybrid approach works best in the case of a company with one or two large offices abroad, according to Cameron. The scale is enough that it makes sense to buy a WMS system to fit the unique needs of each locale, but there are not so many locations to make it hard to manage.