Most, if not all, know the popular saying “Think globally and act locally.”
Originally this saying was a cry for sustainable living; that is, to care for the earth’s environment by consciously examining and changing how one lives and works.
Not only does this saying now refer to much more, when applying it to global management, it is evolving in very dramatic ways.
With the advent of globalization as a business strategy, organizational structures and operations were radically transformed. Organizations became complex transnational networks that seek global markets, employ workplace talent from around the world, and have supply chains comprised of vender companies located in various countries. Forming a web of business partnerships and working alliances with both local and international organizations is a critical factor in making an organization nimble, innovative and successful.
Business organizations are complex international and inter-cultural social systems that are key drivers in today’s global economies.
In light of the interdependent global economies that have arisen during the last several decades, at this juncture in history it is easy to see that “think globally and act locally” can apply to acting in a socially conscious manner, not only in our social lives, but in the workplace and in regards to how business is envisioned and conducted.
How we live, including what we utilize, daily impacts others in countries thousands of miles away. Further, what we as consumers demand from businesses, what products and services we want, what price we are willing to pay, and how customized and quickly we want the products delivered all impact how organizations utilize business opportunities in other countries and the labor forces they can assemble. Such demands challenge the integrity of organizations and the executives and others professionals that manage them. It is a dilemma. In the current highly competitive business arena, how can a company gain and maintain significant market share while not creating dehumanizing work environments and utilizing exploitive marketing strategies?
The dual challenges of maintaining business integrity and fostering of ethical business practices touch upon only two aspects of an expanded understanding of this old adage. There is another that is far more radical.
In many instances, companies and their supply chains are now globally distributed.
Thus, organizational managers can no longer just think globally and act locally merely in regards to sustainable and ethical practices. They must also vision—see—and think globally, live and be present globally, and collaboratively and innovatively act globally in how they structure businesses, establish organizational cultures, oversee businesses operations and processes, manage team members, and serve customers.
Professionals at all levels of a company, while living in their “home” locale with its familiar social setting, geography and time zone, also have to envision themselves as actively being in a “human network” that spans numerous time zones, cultures and landscapes. They actually “live and work” in each of the time zones and cultural settings in which they are connected due to their routine interaction with business colleagues, team members, and even vendors in the network.
The global network, not the “room bounded by the four walls in their work building,” is their office and workplace. Daily existence involves being present and engaged world-wide.
Organizational communication and collaboration technology, including the Internet, enables and supports this ever evolving 24/7/365 global network that never goes offline and is always performing work tasks. In this networked sense, organizations essentially never shut down for the day. Business operations do not cease when workers go home as they did in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.
As some say, “work follows the sun” around the world. Business functions do not stop at the “end of one’s work day,” but continue in another part of the world. When one wakes up and “starts his/her day” one is just “reconnecting” with the network that kept on working while one slept. The network never sleeps, nor rests.
Managing and performing as a team member in the above manner requires both a shift in mindset and a change in work practices.
Constantly working across multiple time zones changes how managers and team members understand “work time,” how they configure work routines, and how they understand the nature of daily work schedules. Availability throughout the network is central, even critical.
Schedules are constructed to both get all of the day-to-day work tasks done and to effectively engage with colleagues and team members as needed. Often this means that “normal work hours” do not fit into the “traditional 9am-5pm” time slot.
With today’s technology managers and team members do not have to wait to be informed or to engage with each other. Network engagement can be instantaneous, if desired. An organization just needs to have the appropriate communication processes, collaboration technology and information systems set in place.
Such a globally networked way of working alters how one perceives time. Feeling part of a global network, one envisions local time as only one of the many time zones that one works—lives—in. “Being in multiple time zones” becomes the “local business time zone.” This can be seen in how one discerns and communicates simple things as meeting times. One always takes into account the time zone each colleague is in and notes all appropriate time zones when posting meeting schedules. This is now just the norm, how business operates on a daily basis.
So, living and acting from a global mindset, managers strive to construct their work routines so they are present to their colleagues and team members as if they were in an office down the hall. They do not envision themselves as residing in a distant part of the world, but in a common workplace. In this manner they are actually in their colleagues’ workplace and country.