The development of competent remote and virtual teams is now a big priority for most training departments.
Adapting to a world in which travel is restricted and social distancing is required makes the ability to conduct business virtually across cultures, countries and time zones essential.
It's reasonable to assume that this skill will demarcate companies that adapt well post-Coronavirus and those that don't.
For businesses that have already embarked upon this journey, most agree that it takes a great deal of proactive engagement to create shared working practices and to embed a collective team ethic.
Whether businesses stumble upon good practice through trial and error or arrive at it through cross-cultural training programmes, the following tips are key to the success of most remote and global teams.
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10 Tips on Working in Cross-Cultural, Remote and Global Teams
1. Be Aware of Webinar Platforms
Webinar platforms play a critical role in communication between remote and virtual team members. However, it's important that you check that your platform of choice is fit for purpose across all locations.
Some platforms don't necessarily work as well for people across all locations, and since some platforms are also banned in some countries, then it's possible that users will only be able to access them via a VPN. With language and culture already presenting potential barriers, it can be extremely demotivating and isolating for team members dealing with the additional pressures of working with unfavourable platforms.
As such, it's essential you gauge regular user feedback to check efficacy and accessibility. When doing so, be aware that some cultures are likely to be less forthcoming when raising challenges or difficulties, so you may have to think carefully about how this is done if you're to get honest feedback.
2. Establish Virtual Meeting Rules
What is acceptable or not acceptable in meetings, can change across cultures. In relationship-driven cultures, for example, it might be perfectly acceptable to take calls during meetings. In direct communication cultures, it might be acceptable to talk as soon as someone else stops talking without allowing a pause (even, at times, talking over the end of someone's sentence). This style of communication can be extremely offensive in cultures where people give each other a brief pause to ensure they have completed everything they wanted to say.
As such, teams need rules to ensure that all parties have the same expectations and that they work to the same standards. Using one of the examples above, if you don't want people taking calls during conference calls then set the rule!
3. Use Simple English
A key problem for many team members who do not have English as a first language is the speed at which many native English speakers talk. This is especially difficult when conversations take place online as cues that may be relied upon in a face to face setting, such as body language, have been removed. Native English team members should commit to speaking clearly and avoiding colloquialisms or slang. Where conversation topics involve more complex language, then it's considerate to share possible support materials with non-native speakers beforehand to ensure they have the opportunity to review any relevant terminology.
Failing to do this means that the team is not working as a cohesive whole and that buy-in or agreements are limited to a small number of team members only. This may leave non-native speakers feeling isolated or irritated - a key cause of cross cultural team conflict.
4. Remember the small talk
Relationships and trust between team members are greatly valued in many cultures. In remote teams, relationship building is even more important due to the lack of physical contact. As such, it's a good idea to include time before each remote or virtual meeting for small talk.
Small talk brings many benefits. Not only does it oil personal relationships and build team bonds, but it also accommodates latecomers and allows time for people to sort out microphones or other potential glitches.
We suggest that team members also take the time to ask how their remote colleagues are during phone calls and emails. It doesn't have to be extensive chit chat, even mere courtesies to show they care, can go a long way in building productive relationships.
Small talk is one of many things that help minimize conflict in teams.
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
5. Vary the time zone
If you always have certain members of your team calling in very late at night or in the early hours of dawn, it can become a burden.
Sharing out the burden is a good way of making everyone feel as though they have a turn where they are not working ridiculous hours.
6. Invest in Face Time
Although Coronavirus might place immediate challenges to getting together physically, it should be high on the agenda once the situation changes. The opportunity to get together physically (even if only once a year) is really important in developing bonds, reaffirming goals and refreshing the energy of the team.
Where it's not possible to get the whole team together, then representatives from each team may be sufficient to create some of the engagement needed.
7. Consider cultural differences
One of the biggest priorities for global teams is to understand the influences of culture on the way in which cross-cultural peers might work. Culture has a significant effect on key business areas such as attitudes to deadlines, communication styles, approach to feedback, conflict management, management styles and relationship building.
Businesses that do not understand these areas - or, who undermine their importance, are likely to have less productive teams, communication issues and conflict; leading to poorly performing remote and virtual teams.
Understanding culture critical areas and appreciating the need for team members to appreciate and bridge them will facilitate the realisation of the abundant benefits of intercultural working become early on in the team, it is important to become aware of the role of culture in areas such as communication, saving face, approaches to conflict, , etc.
Aligning expectations and ironing out any cultural misunderstandings is vital in future-proofing the team against misunderstandings.
Working internationally means learning about other cultures.
8. Learn About One Another
One of the easiest ways to build and strengthen a virtual team is to encourage team members to learn about each other.
Encouraging team members to spend time learning about the lives of the people they work with develops a sense of empathy and trust. Learning about one another breeds confidence in a team.
9. Always Recap Meetings
As part of every meeting, remote teams should devise ways to recap main points and ensure all are on the same page.
This should be done verbally and then followed up in writing via email. Changing the team member with responsibility for providing the recap is a good way of keeping peoples' attention!
10. Consider Intermediaries
The role of intermediaries is a common approach used in Asian cultures to manage potential issues without these issues affecting group harmony. This same approach can also work really well if applied to intercultural teams. Nominating a liaison in each global location enables team members location to feed potential issues to their respective liaison members. The liaison member is then able to 'remove' this issue from the team and discuss and resolve it with their fellow counterparts.
Where changes to process or approach are needed, then this is something that can be openly discussed by the liaisons with minimal upset or offence.
With even greater moves towards virtual and remote teams in the foreseeable future, the need to focus on cultural differences, shared practices and standards is essential. Savvy intercultural teams with the ability and know-how to work across cultures are at a huge advantage.
Our eLearning Cultural Awareness Course is a great way of equipping team members with the insights needed to work competently with their international colleagues.
You can watch a sample below or go over to the course page for more information.