Why now is a good time to consider a Virtual Working Shared Services Model

Simon Brown, Leading Shared Services Management Consultant and former HR Transformation Deployment  Director at Coca-Cola has been answering your HR dilemmas for the last month. A veteran in selection and development of HR Shared Services teams in onshore captives, offshore, outsourced, and virtual working teams in a range of FMCG, B2B and Pharmaceutical sectors, Simon will advise on how you can overcome the HR headaches which are slowing your operation down....

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The past four years have seen a wide range of themes emerge on the topic of shared services models for  HR, Finance, IT and procurement functions.

From onshore to offshore,  HR full function outsourcing, recruitment process Outsourcing,  to specialist in-house direct sourcing consultants.Now we have integrated back office functions clustering under the brand of Global Business Services,  also in-country captive shared services, and blended solutions ……. The list goes on. Each model deserves an article of its own to explore the pros and cons!

It’s a real challenge for companies to choose which shared services model is right and fit for their purpose.  Shopping for the right products and offers is far more complex than a visit to the supermarket or amazon.com.

And yet there is another shared services model  which is less talked about and has significant advantages for some organizations right now;  it  is both simple and radical and fully leverages the significant advances of technology  made in the last few years as we move ever closer to the 24/7 global village. It is neither offshore, completely outsourced or a single center. It is called 'Virtual Working Shared Services'.

The good news is that it is easy to deploy, does not require an extensive tendering process to implement, is flexible and cost effective, retains a high level of organizational quality control, and minimises risk. In the current climate of economic constraint it could well be right for your company now.

So let's  take a look at the features and benefits of  Virtual Working Shared Services   Then it will be easier for you to decide if this shared services model  is the right one for you right now.

What does Virtual Working Shared Services look like? Typically this model of shared services exists where an organization is operating across several locations within one country or is a multi-national working across one, two or more continents. The shared services team live and work in different countries, are equipped with communications technology including laptops, mobile /office phones, have access to video-conferencing or skype, and can access chat rooms such as lotus notes.

The Virtual Working shared services team does not travel much (travel budgets are tight anyway!), because the team members operate where they are. The team may have met only once – at the team kick-off meeting – and develops its working relationships via networking and process related work routines under the guidance of a team leader or shared services director.

The work focus is on providing transactional excellence in key end-to-end processes, consulting and providing advice to managers, employees and HR colleagues in the classic triangle model of HR. The virtual team members are usually based in existing country or regional offices across the company working alongside the managers and employees employed there. Sometimes the virtual team members  work from home, effectively balancing work,  life and family commitments.

Often the virtual workers have transferred internally to the shared services team from other country roles within the HR, IT or finance function.  So they already know the business, its culture and who the movers and shakers are!

As a change consultant I first set up and ran a virtual HR shared services center for a European Division of Premier Farnell across 9 countries for 5 years, as well as a virtual COE in learning and development.

At Coca-Cola Europe I introduced and ran a similar HR service network across 38 European countries for 2.5 years and this virtual working model has now been extended by the company to cover Eurasia and Africa , covering  a total of 120 countries. Team members live in 22 different countries and have a great collective knowledge of the diverse culture, language and employment law operating across half the globe.

Key  Benefits of deploying a virtual working shared services model

Here are the top seven reasons for choosing the virtual working shared service mode:.

  1. Leveraging onsite stakeholder engagement with clients
    Team members at diverse locations can stay connected with the business and gauge manager and employee needs and their response to services provided – an advantage over remote working shared services centers, which can sometimes get disconnected.
  2. Providing cultural diversity 
    Rather than having everyone in one center from one or few national backgrounds this model enables people from diverse nationalities, cultural backgrounds and different languages to work together in one team in different locations. This effectively reflects the diversity profile of the company’s managers and employees for whom the services are provided.
  3. Using communications technology 
    Effective communication is a combination of words, music (tone of voice) and dance (body language) and laptop chat rooms, skype, video and teleconferences, Webex tools now easily enable all of these.
  4. Retaining functional and company knowledge
    If you redeploy existing talent into the shared services team you keep the proficiency in country employment law, language, culture, relationships and networks – accelerating the learning curve at start- up. 
  5. Retaining and developing  talent
    At shared services start- ups you redeploy your best right fit talent to provide individuals with an opportunity to grow their career from a single or cluster country role into a wider geography with broader lateral and vertical development.At Premier Farnell 40% of the Europe HR service network team gained promotion, and all gained job enrichment over 4 years. At Coca-Cola all the original shared services team were retained after 2.5 years and 80% gained promotion.
  6. Remaining Scalable and Flexible
    Scalable: add or subtract team members reflecting work volume peaks and valleys to the virtual team without major social plans or recruitment drives. Flexible:  work across time zones by having team members in say, Budapest, Berlin, Vienna, London, Istanbul and Athens complete work initiated earlier in the day by a team members in Delhi or Johannesburg – thereby giving same day turnaround to clients.
  7. Cost savings 
    No major contractual commitment  over several years with a third party vendor. At the start- up of shared services less redundancy and rehire costs where you can redeploy best right-fit talent and supplement this with a few strategically placed external hires. No need to relocate people or provide extensive travel budgets for meetings.No need to rent or buy offices for a shared services contact centre. The virtual team uses existing sales or country offices, or works from home.

A Check-list: Is a Virtual Working Shared Services Model right for you?

Yes if:

  • You are starting up or reshaping your shared services function
  • You are acquiring businesses or extending your reach in new geographies
  • You are looking to save money yet minimise disruption and reduce risk of knowledge drain in the short to medium term
  • Your company operates across diverse cultures and countries with different languages and employment law
  • Your company has a large geographical footprint but relatively small employee scale in a given location or country
  • You want to offer a broader personal and career development portfolio for your HR,  or Finance, IT or procurement shared services team

No if:

  • You are locked in to a long term vendor agreement
  • Have few locations of operation
  • Have a large scale of employees in one or a few countries
  • Have limited diversity of language, culture, employment law across the reach of your company

If you want to discuss this topic further please reply clicking the feedback link in this article, or contact me at  Simon Brown Associates Bespoke HR solutions to match your business needs -simon.brown@hotmail.co.uk