Managing Cultural Differences in Remote Work

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Photo by Jase Ess on Unsplash

Remote-based development and design teams certainly possess advantages: an ability to hire professionals in a variety of geographic locations, the opportunity to employ a workforce around the clock, and a vast, global knowledge of marketplaces and people are just a few. However, the failure to realize the distinct challenges that may arise from your remote team’s cultural differences may eventually lead to a virtual bottleneck to project completions — and business growth.

Don’t be alarmed — cultural obstacles are expected in managing agile teams — but the long-term success of our remote companies will increasingly depend on our willingness and competence to manage those teams as one productive, cohesive group. Barriers to communication shouldn’t hold your team back.

While it’s no surprise that a multicultural team could have the potential to experience misunderstandings and conflict, there are a variety of ways to ensure that cultural differences bring our remote teams together, instead of dividing them apart.

Here are some strategies for you:

  • If you are a team manager or company CEO, explore how different people like to receive feedback. Try to be as flexible as you can (without stressing yourself out or allow team rules/dynamics to become inconsistent). While some of your developers may prefer feedback by email, others may like to discuss things with you via FaceTime or a Skype call. Open your mind to the idea that some types of feedback are more effective than others, depending on the person and their background. The important thing is that your remote worker respond positively to the constructive feedback and that things continue to move with that worker in a positive direction.
  • Always think “team-building”. Set aside time each week (at least once per week) for the entire team to get on a video chat and catch up on both professional and personal details. Remote team communication and chat tools like Sqwiggle, Slack, and popular video conferencing software like WebEx, Fuze, and GoToMeeting allows you to interact across time zones.
  • Promote a mindset of celebrating differences instead of attempting to mitigate them or “manage” them. Diversity and difference is what makes your team agile and successful. Explore differences, talk about them openly with your team, and make distinctness work for you.
  • Set clear standards, regardless of culture, across the board. For instance, if strict time keeping is important, it needs to be important to every remote worker, regardless of their time zone. Think work culture in this respect.
  • If you’re running a global team, be respectful about national holidays. Keep time zones in mind when hiring, and set a time window with your designers and developers so he or she isn’t surprised if and when you or a fellow team member (or client) contacts them.
  • If in doubt, over-communicate! There is no such thing as making something too clear, especially in a remote environment. However, do remember to respect time zones and availability hours (and method of contact) when communicating.
  • Make it a team commitment to learn about each other’s cultures. Use the time you are together over video chat to discuss what you’ve learned about each other’s cultures. Another strategy is to partner team members together who work in different areas or have cultural differences.
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Photo by Jay Ma on Unsplash

Finally, make it a policy to handle any miscommunication or conflict openly. Don’t miss team issues because of the barriers of non-verbal communication. This is where video chat really comes in handy.

A survey of business owners by Virgin Media Business predicted that 60 percent of office-based employees will regularly work from home by 2022. One day, commuting itself will be a thing of the past. If you own a remote-based company, your triumph over the competition will depend on your team’s thought leadership and standout talent — and if you’re a remote-based designer or developer, you know, as a professional ahead of the power curve, that you’re looking for remote-based companies and clients who appreciate a world-class remote team. Embrace a diverse team, and you can have it all.

Tell us: What can remote business owners do to respect cultural differences in the remote environment?

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