Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams: Considerations Every Team Should Have

Working Remotely

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Managing cross-cultural remote teams is a must-have skill for leaders now and in the future.

With remote work on the rise, employers no longer have to limit their candidate search by zip code or country. Teams are meshing talented remote workers from all over the world.

But while multicultural employees enrich the virtual workspace with different perspectives, creating a respectful and inclusive work environment isn’t always easy.

After all, no one’s born with an inherent understanding of every culture’s customs. This awareness and sensitivity require an intentional focus and practice to get right.

So today we’re sharing the biggest considerations that go into managing cross-cultural remote teams. And we’ll start with why this is so worth your time and effort.

Supporting and Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams Far Outweighs the Learning Curve

If you think managing cross cultural remote teams just means learning how to work across time zones, you’re not entirely correct.

Culture is defined as the customs, social expectations, and achievements of a region or nation. It frames the way people look at the world and approach life events, communication, and even their work tasks. 

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Understanding these frames of reference will help you:

  • Foster an inclusive, multicultural workplace that embraces diverse viewpoints, ideas, and ways of working. Everyone has something unique to bring to the table, and your team should be open to hearing it.

  • Eliminate practices that may be tone-deaf to cultural norms, so multicultural employees can feel understood and accepted rather than feeling torn between their work lives and their roots.

  • Improve remote collaboration and communication between employees and with leadership. Connect and engage with your multicultural teammates, and you’ll be better able to relate to where they’re coming from. 

  • Transcend cultural differences to work harmoniously and cohesively as one. Cultural differences don’t have to create friction or tension. Your policies can unify everyone across cultures to strengthen your company culture and further your mission.

Every remote team can benefit from being more culturally aware. But the process isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. So let’s talk about the considerations you’ll need to think about and address to do it well.

Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams: 5 Considerations Every Team Should Have

Managing cross cultural remote teams requires policies that work for everyone, not just a preferential few. So here’s what you’ll want to consider with your team:

1. Customs for Religious and National Holidays

Some religious observances can last anywhere from one week to one month. And national holidays vary from country to country. So you can’t expect your remote employees to follow the same schedule or calendar of events.

Research the religious and public holidays where your employees live. This will give you a better idea of which employees will be available for meetings, projects, deadlines, etc.

Create a shared calendar for employees to put in their time off. Some employees may not celebrate the holidays where they live; others may take off more time around them. Give everyone the ability to add their days off on a cloud-based schedule, so you can quickly see who’s available and who’s out of the office.

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Consider a holiday matching program to equalize days off. If you have an unlimited vacation day policy, it won’t matter how many days off employees take. 

But if you give US employees paid time off (PTO) for Thanksgiving and Christmas, for example, you should either give these same days off to your global employees or let them work these days and bank the same number of PTO days to use whenever they’d like.

2. Gender Roles (Including Paternity and Maternity Leave)

Despite your company’s gender equality policies, many countries still have defined lanes in which men and women are expected to stay. 

For instance, women in some countries may not feel empowered to question or disagree with a man on their team. They may also resist speaking up during meetings or let others know when they’ve made a mistake. Some men might even behave passive-aggressively if they have to take direction from a female leader.

Similarly, men in certain cultures may not feel comfortable taking paternity leave. And women may not want to take maternity leave if they fear the time off would jeopardize their chances of a promotion.

So in addition to creating remote work policies that promote gender equality, you may also need to educate those less familiar with these practices.

3. Communication Standards

When English is a second or third language for employees on your team, you’ll need to make an extra effort to communicate well. It’s very easy for jokes, sarcasm, and local expressions to get lost in translation.

Video calls add another layer of understanding because people can pick up on the context of the conversation and nonverbal body language. These visual cues help explain when someone’s happy or upset, as opposed to a confusing emoji or potentially vague tone via email.

At the end of each meeting, consider wrapping up with a verbal rundown of what was discussed and a written recap emailed later. This ensures everyone’s on the same page.

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However, you’ll also need to think about how comfortable employees are being on camera. In some cultures, it’s far too intrusive to allow your coworkers to see your home environment. So give employees the option to be off-camera and always schedule video calls in advance, in case they wish to hold the meeting outside of their home.

Psst! Check out these virtual meeting alternatives to avoid Zoom fatigue too!

Stick to formal writing and avoid slang, abbreviations, jargon, etc. When most people learn another language, they study the proper way to write and speak. They may be unfamiliar or unpracticed in casual conversations. This disconnect could increase misinterpretation and miscommunication. 

So use these tips to improve remote work communication in eight easy steps.

4. Collaboration and Feedback

Different cultures also have varying styles of collaborating and participating. Some people may be more dominant during meetings, while others are more accommodating. 

So during your virtual onboarding process, try to ask new employees if they prefer to be called on to share their opinions or if they feel more comfortable jumping in with their ideas. Make sure everyone has a voice and no one’s pushed to the side.

When it comes to feedback, some cultures are more direct and explicitly state what’s wrong. But others prefer addressing things privately. Someone from a more reserved country who’s not used to outspoken criticism may feel attacked by the former and appreciate the latter.

5. Team Building and Camaraderie

Building a community when you work remotely is essential for supporting mental health in the workplace. Without regular social interactions, remote employees may succumb to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

However, being friendly and casual with your coworkers may not be in one’s culture.

In these cases, you can make attempts to get to know your employees, but you can’t push them to do anything that makes them uncomfortable or feel less professional.

So you may need to take tiny steps to open the door for further conversations. Try using your non-work-related Slack channels to ask about their background, interests, pets, or hobbies. Be curious about their national holidays or what movie/TV show is currently popular in their country. 

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You can even schedule Show-and-Tells where employees can talk about something meaningful or interesting about themselves. Each conversation helps teach and connect people on your team, allowing them to learn from each other.

You should also consider some non-cheesy team-building activities, such as playing virtual games together, hosting weekly happy hours or coffee breaks online, etc. This will help build trust and rapport. 

Show everyone they belong to your remote work tribe and that their cultural differences are what makes your team so special.

3 Ways To Boost Cultural Awareness When Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams

No one’s born with cultural awareness; it’s something we all have to learn and keep on our radar. So to help your remote team practice cultural sensitivity, you should:

1. Set Universal Standards in Your Company Culture and Remote Work Policies

To create a strong company culture with your remote team, everyone needs to be on board with your mission, values, and goals. These should be followed regardless of where someone lives.

Having a shared goal and mission aligns and unites everyone on your team with the same purpose. It shows them how their contributions matter and brings individuals together for the greater good.

So your remote work policies should outline rules for:
  • How to use project management software and other remote tools
  • Deadlines and deliverables
  • Which communication channels are appropriate for each situation
  • Expectations and responsibilities 
  • Respecting coworkers
  • Creating a healthy work-life balance

Remote teams should all know the rules and standard operating procedures to follow and adhere to, and what happens when they violate these norms. This should streamline tasks while teaching others with different cultural guidelines what you expect.

2. Create a Cultural Awareness Program for Sensitivity Training

A dedicated cultural awareness program helps educate employees about how to interact with their coworkers from different parts of the world. Teaching your team to identify and embrace cultural differences should lessen tension and conflict stemming from unintentional ignorance.

So your training program may include:
  • Annual sensitivity, empathy, and awareness training
  • Business etiquette and respectful communication practice
  • Assistance or counseling to support employees

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This framework makes it easier for teammates to see things from their coworkers’ unique perspectives rather than judging situations from their own point of view.

3. Send Out Anonymous Surveys and Deal With Conflicts ASAP 

You should always promote open communication with your remote team. However, if employees don’t feel comfortable approaching you directly, you can capture intercultural insights using anonymous surveys.

Send these out every month or quarter to hear what your employees think and feel about your policies, the work environment, their coworkers, etc.

It’s your job to create a safe environment for your employees, where they feel supported, respected, and valued.

So if you hear about conflicts or things that violate your company culture, address these immediately. Give your employees a chance to apologize and learn from their mistakes. But if they repeat this, it may show an insensitivity you probably won’t want on your team.

Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams Is Totally In Your Wheelhouse

As you’ve seen today, managing cross cultural remote teams takes intention and practice. But each meaningful, thoughtful interaction you have provides the opportunity to learn and grow together.

Follow today’s tips, and you’ll foster stronger cross cultural relationships and build a more cohesive, collaborative, and productive global remote team.

Want a more diverse workforce? Check out this guide on hiring overseas employees next!

And if you’re feeling more confident about hiring from the worldwide talent pool, post your remote job ad on We Work Remotely today. One of our 3 million monthly visitors may be your missing puzzle piece!

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