Multi-nationals are any business that crosses nations. This doesn’t necessarily mean huge staff numbers, it just means you operate in more than one country.

Operating across time zones and under multiple legislative bodies comes with its own host of red tape and admin challenges, never more so than in the current climate.

The effects of lockdown and the economic impact of Covid are huge. We are now growing our understanding of the long term implications of working from home and the economic impact of an unfortunate multitude of redundancies and closures across the globe.

Corporate outsourcing patterns are shifting as strategies shift and the human resource function takes on new forms. Virtual has gone to a whole new level.

The rate at which this has affected different countries offers another hurdle for multinationals. One country may be operating more normally than another - making it very difficult to forecast and plan.

So what are the main administrative challenges facing international companies at the moment?

International cultural challenges

When you’re in another country for a meeting or preliminary talks - literally or figuratively, thanks to Teams or Zoom - there are always cultural sensitivities to pay attention to. Whether it’s understanding the superstitions and preference of a strongly religious country, to learning what is expected in public in terms of appearance and behaviour, it can be a minefield - but crucial if you are looking to succeed.

The answer here is simple: research. If you have recently joined an organisation which is well established in a certain region, then ask your local colleagues to give you a few pointers. If you’re expanding into a new country, ask around, call on your existing network and see what Google or government Trade Offices can offer you.

The importance of a good first impression is paramount. So don’t squander an opportunity by not knowing how to exchange business cards with the correct amount of respect and care.

A good support function could produce a dossier/brief for your team, educating and reminding them of the rules to follow and what you, as a brand, expect from international representatives.

Speaking their language

Speaking across languages comes with a host of challenges across the business, but mostly in written documents. Whether you need contracts translating or minute taking in multiple languages, dealing with two (or more) different dialects can double the time taken on a simple, but crucial task.

The trick here is to make sure your support is flexible and has access to a wide variety of spoken languages - this is where SmartPA’s multi-lingual talent pool comes in useful.

Even if your virtual assistant only speaks French and English, they can quickly dip into the wider community to find the Japanese/German/Malay speaker you require without any effort on your part.

Having a local speaker can also help offer cultural advice and nuances you may not have recognised in the language. Even from American English to British English, the words may look the same on paper but hold very different things. Getting the right advice here is crucial to success.

Different time zones

This can be an obstacle when trying to schedule meetings. Understanding time differences is important to try and find times that actually work for everyone on the call and for them to be the best version of themselves.

There is no point summoning an American counterpart onto a call at 3am their time - they’ll be sleepy and the meeting will likely be fruitless.

With the patterns of business travel and networking undergoing a seismic shift, diary and time management online is more essential than ever, especially the people you want to communicate with are working from home.

And in the event that an overseas trip is essential, countries have very different rules as to access via air, quarantine laws and travel guidance. Keeping up to date with rules and regulations will avoid costly cancellations and rescheduling.

Knowing international legislation

Every country, and indeed nearly every region, has different rules and regulations that cover everything from company registration and legal requirements to import/export restrictions and tax percentages. Brexit, for example, is bringing major changes for trade between the UK and the European Union.

Knowing the differences is a challenge all of its own, not to mention reconciling all the differences from an admin and accounting perspective. Again, research is crucial here, as is knowledge. You need a reliable team who know their markets and their restrictions inside out. Whether it’s managing data effectively or keeping extra copies of courier documents, knowledge really is power here.

Seek advice from experts who have representatives and knowledge from in and around your target markets. Getting localised expertise will save you time and potentially costly mistakes from tax mistakes or even worse, law infringements.

This is one area you can’t afford to make errors in, as the penalties for doing so are stiff.

Technology challenges

Certain parts of the globe restrict internet access and even ban certain programmes that we take for granted, like Google, Zoom or Facebook. Whether you’re looking to enter these areas or are looking to expand your reach, knowing how the locals operate and the platforms they use will help reach new potential customers in a way they’re most comfortable with.

You may assume that a Facebook targeting social media campaign worked in Europe so it will work everywhere else in the globe. But if your market isn't able to access this social channel, you are simply wasting money.

Explore local platforms like Wechat, for example, to understand how other brands, and even competitors, communicate with your target market and then follow suit. Again, local advice here is vital; just as it’s useful to have a local guide when visiting a new place on holiday, so the same principle applies when entering a new business market.

If you’re expanding your global efforts or looking to reduce the costs of existing infrastructure, SmartPA operates in over 14 countries across the globe, speaking 15 languages, and can advise and support efforts for any size and sector of multi-national.

Head to our Trustpilot to see how we’ve helped other businesses increase efficiency and productivity in their support and admin functions.