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Elements Global Services – Business without borders

If employees are the keys to a successful business, then HR is the locksmith. Handling the employment of staff, both during the initial process and the ongoing responsibilities, is a many-faceted task, requiring equal parts personal input and solid, reliable administration. This is demanding enough for a small local business, but what if your company is several thousand employees strong, or is branching out overseas? With every country comes new laws, processes and expectations – complexities that could slow an employer down during a crucial time of expansion.

Elements Global Services is the fast-growing HR and payroll provider with a difference, offering employment solutions that allow companies to focus on making the right choices for their business. Elements’ client base is soaring, with more and more companies discovering the group’s ability to fit a niche that many didn’t realise needed filling. We spoke with Rick Hammell, Elements’ founder and CEO, to explore exactly what they are offering that is proving so popular.

In essence, Elements provides Human Resources solutions, but their services go beyond what we might expect when we hear those terms. On top of payroll and Human Resources Organization (HRO), Elements offer their clients Professional Employer Organization (PEO) and Administrative Services Outsourcing (ASO) services, meaning they will organize and provide staff benefits such as healthcare, retirement plans, commuter benefits, workers’ compensation and other commitments that can mark their clients out as desirable employers to work for.

However, the real appeal of Elements shines when hiring overseas. A global payroll can be an administrative nightmare; Elements soothes their client’s minds by taking responsibility for the red tape, paperwork and legal hassle that comes with adding a new country to their company’s presence. These services are called Employer of Record (EOR) services, and they include staying on top of your risk management, employment law compliance and of course, adherence to local taxes. These things are time consuming but essential, and outsourcing this headache to a company like Elements allows companies to focus on the smooth running and expansion of the business itself. Crucially, they also allow companies to move quickly to seize new opportunities or move into new markets; paperwork moves slowly, but the business world is non-stop – with Elements, companies are able to move freely and stay ahead of the race. 

“For companies that are looking to test new markets without having the burdens of registering in new countries, we can give them the ability to expand a little bit faster,” explains Hammell. “I’ll give you a success story – I had a client who said they wanted to expand into China, but China takes about 18 months to get up and running. They had a real need to get in there right away – they didn’t have 18 months, or they’d have lost an opportunity. They onboarded two employees through us in China in approximately 2-3 weeks, and now they have 25 there. Now, not only are we supporting them in China, but we’re supporting them in about eight other countries.”

Typically, EOR services are employed by a client with a small workforce. Businesses of this size want the guarantee that this work will be handled in an efficient and professional manner, without needing to expand their own team by a significant proportion to cover the workload it generates. This can be a hydra of a task for a smaller company, with more employees of course generating yet more HR and payroll work. 

However, increasingly, Elements been finding themselves approached by larger companies, including some major global players. “There’s been a surge. Originally, the EOR model is for companies with one to ten or fifteen employees in different countries. Now, we’re finding that we’re working with companies who have 3,000, 4,000 employees around the world, and these companies are looking for one vendor who can consolidate all of that.”  

Even though Elements’ services come at a cost, they ultimately provide a huge savings for their clients, both in terms on man-hours and, often, tax and administration. “They don’t want to go through the burden, for one employee, say, of setting up a new entity in another country,” Hammell explains. “Some countries have tax laws that require you to report all your income, even if you only have one employee in that country.” These sorts of laws can lead to companies over-paying tax, paying one country tax on their total global revenue. With these types of complications and hoops in existence, Elements offers more than payroll management and employee benefits, they also advise their clients on structuring their global expansion in the most cost-effective way. “HR isn’t just the personnel department,” Hammell emphasises to us. “It’s someone at the table with the company, helping them to grow the business.” 

Since it was founded in 2010, Elements has risen from humble beginnings to soaring success. 2017 has been a year of well-deserved praise and recognition for the company: they have won several awards, including being named the Best of Chicago International Trade Company 2017, and Hammell being listed amongst the Top 100 Global Influential People 2017. Elements was also included in Inc Magazine’s top 500 as the 28th fastest growing company in the US and 3rd fastest growing company in Chicago.

So, what sets Elements apart? Currently, there are only one of 15 EOR companies operating in the entire world. Hammell says Elements stands apart from their competition thanks to their direct business model. “The outsourcer doesn’t outsource!” he jokes. A middle-man approach is common amongst their rivals: using an indirect model, a typical EOR provider will speak with a client about their needs, then turn to other companies to employ staff for the client on their behalf, leaving them in a purely administrative role and able to enjoy the mark-up. “That’s a little disruptive to me,” criticizes Hammell. “I’ve been the client of an EOR company that used this model. There was a lot of miscommunication because there were a lot of parties involved.” These experiences inspired Hammell to run Elements differently.

At Elements everything is organised in-house by a dedicated team of staff. New employees are carefully trained, going through a six-week process before they even interact with a client. This training involves strict software education, speaking with the company’s attorneys to gain a better knowledge of global legal requirements, and also a study of each of Elements’ clients to learn about their individual needs. During this period, trainees are encouraged to come forwards with suggestions on how Elements can grow; “We ask them to look at our processes and vet them themselves, so we can look at how to improve our processes. We want to maintain a family-type environment in our organization, no matter how big we get, so we want their feedback on how to make it better.”

This level of training would be good preparation to give any member of staff, but Elements doesn’t hire just anyone. “We’re pulling talent from some of the big boys – the top ten payroll providers around the world.” 

As well as his experiences as a client, Hammell also came to Elements with insight from the other side of the fence. He has a background in HR, supporting government contracting in Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Japan – all very different countries with their own nuances and challenges. This allowed him to see the complications that arise when HR spans borders. One of the key lessons this taught him was to approach every country differently – a philosophy that has become a cornerstone in employee training, and an attitude that runs through every aspect of Elements’ operations: 

“Every country has its nuances. We don’t just want to walk into a country and say, ‘We’re going to do this the Elements way.’ We’re very culture conscious. I’m in Taiwan right now, and I’m spending time with our bankers, our consultants, our lawyers, and I would say I’ve gone through culture training for Taiwan. What does it mean to do business in Taiwan? What does it mean to support employees in Taiwan? You have to understand what it means to be an employer in each country.”

This cultural awareness allows Elements to not only work compliantly with local laws, but also to communicate effectively between employers and employees of different nationalities, breaking down social borders as well as legal ones. Part of this consciousness also means understanding and working to alleviate local business concerns. For example, the American company is currently looking deep into Brexit and helping the UK and European companies to prepare for whatever the negotiations of the next year and a half may bring. 

So, has this personal touch been a benefit to the company? The figures speak for themselves: “It started off small, with just a couple of clients, and when it took off, it really took off. We’ve had 14,000% growth over the last three and a half years. I think that says a lot about what we’re doing.” 

With impressive growth like this, and larger and larger companies knocking at their door, Hammell feels confident for Elements’ future. They are currently investing in expansion across several countries, anticipating the high demand for their services to continue. “We just established our Barcelona office, which I’m excited about, and we have our sales hub out of London, and we’re opening another sales hub in Hong Kong or Singapore, and another operational hub in the Philippines. That’s all in the next six months.”

Put people first – it seems obvious for a company dealing in personnel, but it’s a lesson often overlooked in their field. From understanding the customs of the 130 countries they work in, to communicating openly with both employers and employees, this personal touch has set Elements above the competition and marked them out as the company to work with, for your employees’ peace of mind as well as your own.

“Even though we’re doing EOR, the employee is not a commodity. Listen. Always listen.” 

About the author

Alice Instone-Brewer

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