8 expensive problems with managing people at multiple locations and how to fix them

Managing people in multiple locations – different shops, offices etc. – can be very challenging and expensive for the HR and finance department. Here are eight tips that will help.

multiple locations on a map

One. Unnecessary journeys

Problem: There are already far too many meetings. They’re the opposite of work, costing UK businesses alone £17 billion annually. If you have multiple locations and people have to travel to meetings, the cost to your business goes up even higher.

Solution: Think about purpose and participants before calling a meeting and consider other options, such video conferences using Skype.

Two. Paper shuffling

Problem: People in one office have to send paperwork to people in another office. It could be time-off forms, expense claims, reports etc. Sometimes they use email. Sometimes the forms have to go in the post. Ouch! (I met the HR director of one 3,000-person company who told me that everybody’s time-off requests and expense claims were physically posted to their admin office – the cost of postage alone ran into thousands of pounds a year.)

Solution: Digitise administrivia. Stay lean. Use simple, online self-service tools for routine paperwork, such as (ahem!) Turbine.

Three. Email explosion

Problem: We send too many emails already but with multiple locations, the danger is that the number of people copied on each email increases, spiralling out of control until everyone is copied on everything. Nobody likes to miss out on important communications but email is not always ideal.

Solution: Give staff a range of communication options. We like Yammer, a business social network from Microsoft, Skype for IM and video and Basecamp for project management. Also consider using email rules to pre-process routine or automated emails.

Four. Tribalism

Problem: I’ve seen companies fracture when they move to two floors in the same building. People get tribal very easily. This problem gets worse if the different locations are further away from each other. The danger is a ‘them and us’ mentality and poor teamwork.

Solution: Find ways to bring the whole company together from time to time. Encourage staff rotations to move people between locations. Encourage cross-location teams. Avoid functional ghettoes, with sales in one town and HR in another.

Five. Who’s off?

Problem: Who’s in the office today? Is Mary available for a client meeting next Tuesday? Which office has the least absence? These questions are easy to answer if everyone is in the same building and hard to answer if they’re not.

Solution: An online time off management system, like Turbine’s, that lets employees request holidays and sick leave and then gives managers a calendar view of time off (or exports it to Outlook or Google Calendar) means that everyone knows who’s off and when.

Six. Culture confusion

Problem: As Tolstoy once meant to say, ‘happy companies are all alike; every unhappy company is unhappy in its own way.’ The reason is culture. Every company has a company culture. Some planned, some accidental. Multi-location companies run the risk of evolving multiple, conflicting cultures as each site creates its own.

Solution: Consciously work on your company culture and use cross-site digital tools like Yammer to share across the whole company.

Seven. Purchasing problems

Problem: A penny saved is a penny earned but with employees and managers in different sites, there’s a risk that purchasing discipline will be replaced by duplication, overspending, waste and inefficiency. Trying to keep control using emails can replace the purchasing problem with a time-sapping red tape problem.

Solution: Stop using emails and spreadsheets (or worse, actual bits of paper) to track purchase orders. Instead, get a grip on purchasing costs, budgets and approvals with Turbine’s online purchasing module.

Eight. Expenses gone wild

Problem: On the one hand, making it hard for employees to claim expenses is profoundly demotivating and time-consuming. On the other, paying any old expense claim, regardless of its validity can be very expensive. With multiple offices, HR and finance lose direct contact with people and, with it, the ability to get the balance right informally. The result can be very expensive, as with this dirty dozen outrageous expense claims.

Solution: Turbine’s expenses module makes it simple for employees to make requests online or using their smart phone. But it also includes simple budgeting, approval and reporting tools to make sure managers can keep a tight rein.

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