While the number of business leaders that consider hiring international staff is increasing, there’s a good chance that cultural biases can hinder the business’ success. Victoria Tan of ColorComm Search introduces solutions for common challenges of managing remote multicultural teams.
Thanks, in part, to technologies advancing rapidly that involve communication, for many large or international organizations, a norm of sorts has been established — remote multicultural team members or cross-cultural virtual teams. Unfortunately, technology tends to change faster than human nature. Based on the culture in which a person was raised, they will relate to other people accordingly. This means that cross-cultural virtual teams can affect potential business productivity in numerous ways that aren’t always positive. Some of these can include the following:
- Volatile interactions
- Unspoken assumptions
These are a product of varying work styles and context misunderstandings, among other things. Fortunately, with proper management and a team effort, you and your company can rise above these issues.
Managing Your Multicultural Team Remotely
It’s important for everyone to be on the same page, whether they are from different cultural backgrounds or, quite literally, from different parts of the world. To work toward the end goal of your company, it’s important to have a harmonious work environment. A successful business is more likely to result from productive employees.
When the team you’re managing is composed of international freelancers, and everything is being done remotely, this challenge becomes even more crucial. To help not only make but keep a productive working relationship more friendly and positive, regardless of their culture or nationality, you must properly manage your remote team members.
The Challenges of Managing a Multicultural Remote Team
Your remote team consists of individuals who may come from cultural backgrounds that are significantly diverse. That is the whole point of a multicultural team. With people speaking different languages, having different personalities and values, and possibly even coming from different countries, numerous challenges arise when it comes to managing your remote multicultural team. These can include the following:
- Challenges of a technical nature — Some of your team members may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with new software and tech, as a result of their lifestyle, age, and/or education.
- Differences where cultures are concerned — A lack of understanding of the values and/or backgrounds of others presents a challenge.
- Issues with communication — Some of your employees may feel that others are too rude or forward, or overly friendly because of different communication styles.
- Language barriers — When there isn’t one language that everyone shares, this can be a particular challenge.
Remote Multicultural Teams — What Are They?
The lengthy term, “remote multicultural teams,” refers to a group of people who work together toward a unified purpose or project as employees. Remote teams, however, work from separate locations, unlike traditional teams who work in a common area. This can refer to being in different continents, countries, states, cities, or buildings.
The use of remote teams can result in other difficulties, in addition to the challenges mentioned above, which must be dealt with. These can include the following:
- Lack of trust – This can result from a lack of regular communication with leaders and other team members. It is caused, in part, by the isolated environments in which some people work.
- Low productivity – Poor time management can be part of the blame here.
- Difficulties in scheduling – Different time zones can present difficulties when it comes to scheduling.
Despite the challenges, however, remote multicultural teams are on the rise and, when used to their full potential, offer numerous benefits. When asked whether or not their team’s performance was affected in a positive manner by diversity, roughly 72% of those questioned believed that, yes, this type of diversity was most assuredly a beneficial practice. But, to get the very most out of a cross-cultural virtual team, how does one go about ensuring success?
Dealing with Challenges
Let’s take a look, individually, at some of the above-stated challenges and how to more effectively manage your way around them.
Time Zone Issues
You must take into account the different time zones involved with your employees when setting up meetings. After all, when employees should be sleeping, you don’t want to keep them awake. It may take some doing, but you’ll need to try to find a time in everyone’s workday when getting together is a distinct possibility. This is going to take some back-and-forth emails and the collection of feedback. If members simply cannot attend, record the meetings so they can review them when they are awake and/or available.
Work Schedules That Are Flexible
This can, in part, relate to the above-stated time zone problem. Flexible work schedules will help to accommodate people from different parts of the world. When it comes to managing a group of staff members on a remote, multicultural basis, this is a crucial tip. What works best for your employees regarding days, hours, etc.? To create a better work-life balance, one of the biggest benefits you can offer your employees is a work schedule that is remote and flexible.
Efficient, quick communication is important even when people from different backgrounds are being managed. For every single team member, virtual communication must work. Various tools can be used for communication in this day and age including the following:
- Chat tools including Google Hangouts, Slack, and other chat apps are great for sending memos and bouncing ideas off of others.
- If you want a few select members or the entire team to know about something quickly, texting can work if that’s part of your company culture. It’s nice for congratulating and commending team members, as well, because, compared to emailing, it feels more personal.
- Email, however, is great if you can’t be present during a phone call, you work in different time zones, and for more official correspondences.
- Skype/phone calls can’t be beat when something is urgent.
- Using Cloud storage or Google Docs for files and information is another way for the entire team to be able to access what they need.
Take into consideration the generations of the people you’re dealing with, as well. For instance, texting is preferred by Generation Z and Millennials. On the other hand, phone calls and emails are preferred by Baby Boomers.
Language may be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to managing multicultural teams remotely. When working together, one common shared language needs to be agreed upon, no matter how many languages are spoken during off-work hours by your team members. Frequently, this ends up being English. It can, however, be Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, etc. What’s important is that a shared language is chosen and all members can understand it to at least some extent.
Managing Different Personalities
If you are going to be the one managing a remote multicultural team, in addition to the above-stated challenges, you may also want to consider the fact that various working styles and personalities will exist. There can be a significant difference from person to person as to what type of environment they prefer to work in.
As an example, some people may absolutely detest micromanagers. They prefer to be left alone and will come to you only if they require clarification. Others want as much detailed guidance as possible, and to know you’re looking over their shoulder should something come up. These differences multiply when you consider you have so many individuals from so many different cultural backgrounds.
Cross-Cultural Training Is an Effective Tool
Uncomfortable work situations and misunderstandings can be somewhat avoided for a more harmonious, healthier multicultural environment. Programs involving cross-cultural training are crucial. For both huge, diverse teams and small groups of employees, cultural sensitivity training is a must.
Included in an effective program for virtual cross-cultural training should be the following:
- Help your team to respect the customs and cultures of others to more effectively work together.
- Including stereotypes and prejudices, assist your employees in overcoming challenges of a cultural nature.
- Do all you can to not only understand the differences between people on a cultural basis but to share that understanding with your remote workers.
In a world where constant misunderstandings and battles take place every day (sometimes based on little more than cultural differences), is it possible for a company to work together remotely while overcoming the disparities that seem to frequently arise between one culture and another? Yes, it is. But it’s challenging, it takes work, and it requires dedication. Everyone must put forth their best efforts, together, as a team.
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