One of the best things about working in a globally distributed company is the number of different people you will get to meet from all over the world.
Everyone has something special to bring to the table; whether it be new ways of working or different attitudes and opinions.
However, some cultural differences can make remote working a bit more difficult or challenging. Careful management of these must be in place to avoid any accidental offence or conflict.
When problems do come up, you also need to have good systems in place to learn from mistakes and make sure that they don’t reoccur. When managed correctly, there are some huge perks to working in a global team.
One of the most fundamental elements here is intercultural awareness and understanding.
Why do we need intercultural awareness?
Developing a sense of cross-cultural awareness is so much more important when working remotely than in a normal office job. Because the hiring process isn’t bound by location, you’ll find yourself working with people of all different backgrounds.
But how do we define intercultural awareness?
It’s not just being able to work with someone from another continent. It includes a number of different areas, such as effective communication, being able to relate appropriately and understanding where and why differences can occur. The better you get at collaborating with people from different cultural backgrounds, the more opportunities you can open up for the business at large.
So, let’s have a look at some of the best strategies for managing a truly global team.
1. Think about the way you’re communicating
The way that you communicate with colleagues from different cultures is perhaps the most important way to overcome any differences you may have. I know it’s a bit overused, but communication really is key, here! Something that you may take for granted in the way you speak, like a joke or sarcasm, may actually be offensive or just not relatable to your peers.
A lot of the time we may be using jargon or expressions that just don’t translate across cultures. Your best bet is to avoid using any jargon or slang. Also, get to know your team members’ personalities first before you start trying to crack any jokes.
What’s funny to you isn’t necessarily funny to everyone else. Jokes and humour are based a huge amount on a shared culture, so it’s best to avoid them until you really know the person or team. The last thing you want as a manager or team member is to cause offence with an offhand remark that could escalate to tensions at work.
2. Be proactive and do some research
If you find yourself working with someone from a country and culture that you’ve got no experience with, then it’s not going to hurt to do a bit of research. Reach out to people you know who’ve worked with someone from that place before, or take a look on the internet.
Research also includes finding out the time zone that your team member works in. Sending them emails in the middle of the night asking about work will not do you any favours!
Equally important is looking at any public or religious holidays they might observe as well. Better still, you can ask them yourself! Taking an active interest in cultural events and holidays is only going to help. Your teammates will appreciate the effort, and it will help you avoid making any mistakes or blunders.
3. Learn from your mistakes
If things go wrong, then try not to panic. Nobody is out there to offend others on purpose, and a mistake made once is usually OK.
As long as you learn from it, explain, apologise, and understand in a genuine way, everything should be fine.
Be open-minded about any resolutions that you need to make, and try to educate others who may make the same mistake. Most people are understanding, so put yourself in the other person’s shoes on both sides of the issue. It is really important that you take any mistakes onboard, however. A mistake made twice can show a lack of care and consideration for a situation that can be quite sensitive.
4. Recognise that managing your team will need more than intercultural awareness
Keeping on top of all the possible cultural differences within your remote team is challenging but rewarding work. Once you get to grips with it, you’ll wonder how you ever got on without having such amazing and varied teams!
This is only just the start, though! There are a lot of other areas and topics to get your head around if you want to get the best out of your team.
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