How to define and launch a global workplace strategy

Opening and managing workplaces around the globe is as exciting as it is complicated. As the number of people, buildings, and programs you oversee grows, so do the responsibilities, costs, and opportunities for inefficiencies. Meanwhile, employees expect that your offices consistently provide them a safe and distraction-free environment to focus. To keep up with growth, maximize space and budgets, and empower employees to do their best work, you need to have the right team, processes, and technology in place.

Companies can ensure employees have the resources to do great work—wherever they are—by creating a global workplace strategy. Whether you’re small but growing fast or already established, this guide shows how to define and deploy a workplace strategy across your offices.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to:

  1. Create a global workplace strategy
  2. Assemble your team
  3. Build scalable processes
  4. Choose the right technology
  5. Balance local and global needs

1. Why defining a global workplace strategy is important

As your company and the number of offices you oversee grows, it’s important to direct this change with a workplace strategy. Expansion without a plan quickly gets messy: ambiguity grows, as do your expenses and the time it takes to manage more people, processes, and square footage.

So, what is a workplace strategy, and why do you need one? By definition, a workplace strategy is “the dynamic alignment of an organization’s work patterns with the work environment to enable peak performance and reduce costs.” In simpler terms, your workplace strategy outlines how the built environment and the experiences you create there will help achieve the business’s objectives.

Every company’s objectives will be different; however a thoughtful workplace strategy can help companies see:

  1. Cost savings through improved space utilization and efficiency
  2. Enhanced innovation and communication
  3. Improved performance and productivity
  4. Improved employee safety, health, and wellness
  5. Recruit and retain top talent
  6. Decreased carbon footprint

2. Create a global workplace strategy

Your workplace strategy will be as unique as your company. That said, a strong workplace strategy aligns with your company’s business goals, takes employee needs into account, is measurable, and is documented.

Align with business objectives

As you define your global workplace strategy, first consider the larger context of the business. Whether your company aims to increase revenue, reduce costs, or retain employees, your workplace strategy should help the company achieve these objectives.  

Consider the company’s current priorities, as well as what you predict these will be in the next three to five years. For instance, is your company gearing up for rapid expansion after a new round of funding? Or are you streamlining costs in preparation of an IPO or in an effort to become profitable? Your strategy will need to be flexible enough to grow with the company—looking ahead is critical to anticipating in which direction you’ll need to grow.

Get ahead of employee work preferences

Illustration of a woman working from home at her desk and answering a health questionnaire so that she can be approved to go into work.

Be mindful of changing work preferences and behaviors and how this should influence your strategy. For instance, post-pandemic, 48% of people say their ideal is to work from the office 1-4 days per week. To support this mobile workforce, companies will need to adapt their physical space to allow for hot desking and more space for group collaboration. Plus, with fewer support staff on-site, companies also need to consider how they can empower employees to get access to the help and resources they need wherever they are.

Rather than guess what your employees’ preferences are, send out a company-wide survey to understand how employees would like to make use of your workplaces moving ahead. For instance, find out the ideal number of days they’d like to work on-site and their openness to not having a designated desk.

Understand where things stand today

Understanding where your team and workplaces stand today is just as important as looking to the future. In most circumstances, you can assume your predecessors laid out the current team and workplace programs deliberately and to solve a problem. Before making changes, try to understand why things exist the way they do.  Next, go a level deeper and assess how each of your workplaces measure up to key workplace metrics. Here are examples of important metrics to track across your workplaces.

Workplace utilization

How many people (employees, contractors, visitors, etc.) use the office each day? What percent of your desks and conference rooms are used and how often? How much of your space is vacant or goes unused?

Operational costs of workplaces

What’s the cost per square foot? Cost per employee? Total workplace costs as % of revenue?

Revenue of workplaces

What revenue could you generate each month from tenants, events, or other short-term leases?

Security and compliance

Are your workplaces fully compliant with all health, safety, and building access regulations or accreditations?

Employee satisfaction

Are employees satisfied with the workplace environment and amenities provided? How many reports of workplace maintenance issues or tech issues do you receive? How quickly are issues resolved?

Energy efficiency

How much energy do your real estate assets consume? How much of this energy comes from renewable sources?

Make it measurable

Make your strategy specific and measurable. Choose the priority objectives that you will tackle first and determine how you will measure whether or not you’ve been successful. Keep in mind that measuring metrics across locations, especially in cases where you’re using different systems or processes, can prove difficult. When identifying your key metrics, think about how you will capture this data across all of the locations in your real estate portfolio.

Write it down and make it known

Deploying any strategy well takes a team, and people can’t get to work if they don’t know what they’re doing and why. Write out your objectives and the strategy you will use to achieve them in one place that’s both easy to share and easy to digest. Writing out your plans can help you spot untested assumptions, clarify your thinking, and it forces you to think hard about your commitments.

Share what you propose with stakeholders and executive sponsors before you call it final. Their questions and constructive criticism will help you sharpen your strategy to ensure it aligns with and will most effectively achieve the business objectives.

Last, make your strategy known! Share it at a company-wide meeting or join team meetings to socialize what’s changing and why. The more people rallying around you, the better your plan’s chances of succeeding.

Develop and deploy a plan

Once you’ve laid out your workplace strategy and identified your objectives, it’s time to align your work patterns and the work environment to achieve these goals. Change is hard, which is why your workplace strategy needs a flexible and detailed change management plan to ensure it’s executed effectively. Find below the important questions to ask and things to consider as you define what people, processes, and technology you will need to bring your strategy to life.


3. Get the right people onboard

Managing global offices takes a multi-faceted team of people. Not only will the people doing the work need the right skills and cultural knowledge to make your strategy work, but you’ll need buy-in from stakeholders and the wider organization to move work forward.

Build a skilled team

After doing a quick audit of your team and their strengths, consider what skills your workplace team will need to change to fulfill your vision. Thinking back to your objectives, consider:

  1. Will you need to prepare for growth, stable operations or contraction?
  2. Will you outsource talent or insource?
  3. Will you centralize your decision making, or decentralize it to each location?
  4. Will your team need to develop or hire people with different skillets in the future?

The best workplace teams have expertise in many areas, including building engineering and maintenance, project management, vendor management, IT, HR and sourcing. As you build out your team, list the top skills your team will need to have today and in the years ahead. If you decide that a certain skill set isn’t critical to achieving the core objective of your workplace strategy, look to outsource this work to a third-party.

When it comes to choosing the right people to run your offices, consider both their familiarity with the local culture and their professional skill set. Look for people who have experience working for global companies—being able to navigate different cultures and manage projects across time zones is an acquired skill in itself.

Outsource strategically to partners

Consider what work you can outsource to expand into new regions quickly and keep operations costs lean. Think back to the skills and functions that you deemed important but less critical to have in-house or on staff full-time. This likely includes functions such as janitorial work, parking attendants, and security staff. Supplement the knowledge of your team by hiring contractors, agencies, or translation services to fill these roles.

Also consider bringing on partners that can help you open a new office faster or more successfully. New cities bring new cultures, regulations, and know-how for how to get things done. For complex projects like constructing or building out a new office, you may want to consider partnering with an agency or local firm on the project. At the very least, take the time to find a translation provider that meets your needs. Whether you’re sharing news with internal teams or crafting the communications that office visitors receive, ensure your message is accurate and clear.

Consider outsourcing functions that are important, but not critical, to third-party vendors or partners.

Involve your cross-department stakeholders

Keeping internal stakeholders in the loop with frequent communication will be critical to ensure your workplace programs are successful. Supporting your employees and creating workplaces where they can thrive is a multi-team effort. Your HR, Physical security, and IT teams, and certainly others, all have skin in the game. HR wants to hire and retain employees, Physical security wants to keep them safe, and IT wants to enable them with the tech they need to be productive.

Include these teams early on in your planning process by having 1:1s with team leads and capturing their top three priorities for the coming months. Once you all have agreed on the objectives and hard at work achieving them, schedule a monthly shareout so each team can relay their process or where they need input.

Seek employees’ input

Employees will also contribute to the success of your workplace programs. Although your team will lay out the plans, your employees are the ones who will need to change their behavior. Get people excited and bought in by seeking employees’ input on changes. Taking employees’ feedback into account creates a sense of ownership and builds trust with the workplace team.

Surveys are a great way to get a collective understanding of how people use your space and how they would like to see it evolve. Ahead of creating your strategy, send a survey to the entire company. Your objectives should shape your questions. For instance, if you are looking to make better use of your space, ask how often people plan to come in, what amenities they need when they do, and their openness to hot desking.

For deeper, more frequent input, create a group of workplace “champions.” These are employees who want to be involved in workplace strategy and, in an ideal scenario, can help you roll out new programs. They can participate by taking part in a workplace test or “beta” of a new program, provide project management support, and help you promote new programs.

4. Build scalable processes

When you have workplaces across the globe, it’s even more important that processes and team rituals be accessible and simple to perform. If unmanaged, workplaces can end up with varying and redundant processes that create ambiguity and damage productivity.

Find out how things work

Start with an audit and seek to standardize why, when, and how your team and employees will use key processes and practices to accomplish work objectives. There are three types of processes to analyze:

Team-based processes

These are processes specific to the inner workings of your workplace team. This includes quarterly planning, goal setting and tracking, and guidelines for when and how the team communicates and seeks approval.

Work-based processes

These are processes that define how your workplace team does common or recurring tasks, such as managing vendors, finding a new office space, and creating requests for proposals (RFPs).

Workplace-based processes

These are processes and policies that all employees of your workplace may partake in. This likely includes how to submit and get support for workplace or IT requests, how to reserve conference rooms or desks, and what to do in an emergency.

Get clear on team communication

Defining a communication policy is perhaps most important for global organizations. With team members working remotely across different time zones, teams need to be intentional about when, where, and how they communicate.

Because the window of time that everyone can work together is narrow, set clear expectations for working hours and how to maximize shared working hours. For instance, you may ask that teams report in for work earlier or later than the typical 9-to-5 to expand this window. Be deliberate about when you communicate and how you share information. Make the most of shared working hours by reserving this block for group collaboration or team meetings. When sending emails or direct messages, provide more context than usual to ensure the recipient can move forward without follow-up.

Make the most of shared working hours by reserving this block for group collaboration or team meetings

Make it easy to get and give help

Outlining how employees within your organization get support from your workplace teams is equally important. Without a standard process for requesting help, your team is bound to receive requests through all different channels in all different formats.

Make it clear to employees where to submit requests and easy to submit them. Create a service level agreement with employees about how quickly the workplace team will respond to requests to set expectations and incentivize them to go through the proper channels.

Balance standardization and localization

Standardization reduces ambiguity, streamlines workflows, and creates a consistent experience for employees. However, local rules and regulations make it inevitable that you will need to shift how you do things at different offices. Each country and often each city likely has its own laws regarding employee pay, health and safety, and hiring practices.

Cultural differences between offices may also require breaking from the standard. For instance, your US office may have an open seating plan with unassigned desks. However, in Japan, it’s typical to arrange desks in rows so that managers can see that their reports are working. In this scenario, it makes sense to localize rather than standardize.

First, work with your legal and HR teams to layout the processes that must be standard across all offices. An example might be that all guests need to sign the same version of your non-disclosure agreement before their visit. As you roll out new processes, plan to make it standard across locations until there’s good reason not to. In other words, don’t assume that you will need to do things differently at each location.

Although standardization is the goal, take care to not be too rigid. Giving teams the freedom to experiment and try new ways of doing things can promote innovation and keep teams moving fast.

5. Choose the right technology

Now that you’ve organized your processes, consider what tools and technology you will need to support these processes as you scale.

Audit your workplace technology stack

Start with an audit of your existing workplace technology. What tools do your security, facilities, and reception teams use and what objectives do they help them achieve? For each tool, ask yourself the following:

  1. How many languages does it support?
  2. Can you add customization on a location-by-location basis?
  3. Is it easy to roll out changes to many locations at once?
  4. Does it make it easy to pull and report on key metrics?
  5. Does the tool allow you to segment by office or groups of offices?
  6. Does the technology integrate easily with other parts of your workplace technology stack?

The answers to these questions can help you determine if the tool can scale to support a global team, or if you need to find alternatives.

Empower employees to work from anywhere

Beyond supporting your internal processes, your workplace tools and technology should also enhance how employees experience the workplace.

Choose technology that creates a consistent experience across offices—including home offices—and empowers employees to be productive in a hybrid work environment. For instance, an employee traveling to another office should be able to use a single app or badge to access the office and book a desk there. If they need IT support, they should be able to request and receive help from home or abroad just as easily as if they were in your HQ. Creating an intuitive experience for employees also means fewer people reach out needing help, saving your team time in the long run.

Create a single source of truth

The tools you use to manage your workplaces are also windows into what’s happening in your workplaces. The data you collect in these tools can help you track your goals, and provide insights to help you spot problems and refine your workplace strategy.

More tools means more data in more places, which is why it’s important to establish the source of truth for key stats on your workplace. Having all of your data in one place makes it easier to see what’s happening across offices at a glance and spot trends. Pull all of your disparate data into one data analysis tool, or use a workplace platform that lets you manage access control, space utilization, and more from one dashboard.

Set aside budget early

Last, think ahead to what budget you may need to fill the gaps in your technology stack. If you sense that you will need new tools or technologies in the coming months, it’s best to research the estimated costs and set aside budget sooner versus later.

Try rolling out a new tool or process to just one office to start

6.Test, measure, and iterate

As you roll out new processes and technologies to your offices, take a phased test-and-learn approach. Change is hard, which is why it’s important to collect feedback as you go.

Try rolling out a new tool or process to a group of employee “beta testers” or just one office to start. Gather feedback from your employees and stakeholders, and then iterate before you expand the program to more people and offices. This is especially important if you’re opening an office in a new country or region and aren’t intimately familiar with the customs.

Rolling out a global workplace strategy is an ongoing process. Continue to keep an eye on the key metrics guiding your workplace strategy, so you can shift your programs or resources as needed. Change may be constant, but with the right plan, you can manage it in a way that pushes your workplaces—and everyone in them—forward.