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Relationship Building in a Cross-Cultural Remote Team

Introduction

In today’s work environment, managers and team leaders are faced with the reality of a growing need for a remote workforce to remain competitive and economically viable. This need for a remote workforce has come about due to companies’ and multinational organizations’ quest to expand into emerging markets, make use of cost-effective opportunities in other regions, and their hunt for the best talents around the globe.  It is no surprise businesses are putting so much emphasis on human capital development compared to other areas in today’s work environment. According to a recent 2019 IWG study, 62% of remote work teams are comprised of workers that are three or more cultures around the world and only 15% of leaders have successfully managed a cross cultural remote team (Ferguson, 2022, June 22). In a separate citing Mesolu et al (2020), 80% of corporations remote work policies have shifted to virtual or mixed team of virtual collaboration and 64% of those virtual teams may likely remain permanent (Anthony, 2022, November 6). With these statistics in mind, I cannot overemphasize the dire need for team leaders to improve cross cultural remote team management in our global business climate.                                          Evaluation and Analysis of the Video

After a careful viewing of the video from Ricardo Fernandez, it’s fair to conclude that the most immediate issue team leaders face in managing a cross-cultural remote group is getting information across to team members effectively. And the best communication skills needed for success in managing this type of diverse remote team is understanding the context in which you communicate with your team members. The interaction between Ricardo and a team member from India where he (Ricardo saying “you’re killing it out there”) intended to commend his teammate (who understood it to mean “he’s not doing well”) clearly demonstrates the danger in not considering context of the cultural implications of one speech in a global setting. For example, you should avoid comparing other cultures to yours and understand that people from different cultures will have different communication styles – and so a leader must adjust their communication style to suit context. So, to effectively lead a global team and communicate effectively, managers and team members must have some cultural intelligence training to help leaders understand team members cultures – “One way is to visit foreign lands and talk with local people about their customs and social norms. Another way is to study the works of noted anthropologists and other social scientists. A third way is to consider the observations of people whose opinions we respect” (Steers & Nardon, 2014).

Another skill to communicate effectively is for a leader to avoid slang and jargon, but instead speak plain direct language that involves cultural nuances. (Bullock and Sanchez, 2021 March 22). Multilingualism (the ability of leaders to speak 2 or more languages) is also a vital skill needed in a global work environment. It is vital because it improves communication, builds relationships, and positively influences community building and networking. Diversity or inclusivity training is another skill to communicate.  This type of training helps managers deal with team members of diverse cultures more effectively by helping them understand the assumptions, values, and communication styles of the people that they may encounter in the workplace. “Language capabilities. Learning local languages facilitates learning local cultures. It also helps the manager develop close personal and business relationships abroad” (Steers & Nardo, 2014, p. 285). With this in place, managers are better prepared to be effective communicators in the workplace and understand the message of others and get their own message across as well.   

                                                                                                 Challenges

Managing these remote teams in cross cultural workplaces has numerous advantages if managers and team leaders do harness and utilize the necessary skills and tailor them to organizational goals. However, these success stories do come as enormous challenges that organizations must overcome to obtain their goals and success. As stated earlier, communication is the immediate hurdle in working with a diverse remote team but there are other difficulties that team members must overcome. To name a few of these challenges, team members face difficulties (i) communication and collaborating with each other, (ii) loneliness physically working solo, (iii) unable to unplug and focus, (iv) distractions at home as is mentioned in the video by Ricardo Fernandez, (v) different time zones which means some members must work odd hours making it hard to keep up, (vi) keeping motivated by oneself becomes harder when alone, (vii) taking some vacation – the work seems to follow you everywhere, (viii) no reliable internet – as is seen with Ricardo, poor internet or wi-fi hinders communication, and (ix) other cultural challenges as outlined in the graph below (Anthony, 2022).

Description: A graph of a number of peopleDescription automatically generated with medium confidenceSource: Anthony (2022)

 Relationship Building in a Cross-Cultural Remote Team

To build a successful relationship for a remote team, leaders must be willing to listen more, get feedback from the teams and learn more about different cultures and their backgrounds. Leaders must understand what their team members want and provide them with the necessary tools to motivate them. For example, Ricardo Fernandez in his video “Managing Cross-Cultural Remotes Teams believes that the workforce of today which predominant are made of millennials –  “By 2029, more than 38.5 million people ages 35 to 44 are expected to fit that definition, outnumbering all other age groups in the labor force” (Torpey, 2020); want training and development, flexibility of work hours, cash bonuses, private health care, retirement schemes, vacation allowances, housing assistance, company transportation, higher wages over benefits, help with debts, and childcare (Fernandez, 2017). On the other hand, other generational diversities like baby boomers might prefer different things in a remote team to motivate them. Unlike millennials, baby boomers may want higher benefits to higher pay to be motivated for example. Understanding these needs not only promotes job satisfaction but is indeed part and parcel of relationship building in a cross-cultural team.

Adaptability is an integral part of relationship building in a remote team and a productive team is based on a leader’s ability to understand individual work styles and make the necessary adjustment skillfully blending one’s own leadership with the team cultural nuances. Remote team leaders must also have excellent Self-awareness skills to pick up constant changes around the cross-cultural teams they manage by constantly monitoring feedback to avoid, or promptly resolve conflicts when they arise. There is no “one size fits all’ in managing a culturally diverse team; team leaders must adapt to the group dynamics regarding age, gender, cultures, and other aspects when communicating or building relationships for organizational goals. For example, while it may be acceptable sending a contract proposal to a western millennial, it is risky or completely unacceptable sending the same contract proposal to a 60-year-old Japanese because of the diversity of their respective cultures. A western millennial is more tech savvy and flexible and will most likely see nothing wrong with the medium of communication. However, Japanese combine both non-verbal and verbal communication styles in communication and believe in bodily gestures to transmit respect avoiding eye contact – “Previous literature has found that, compared to Westerners, Japanese tend to rely more on vocal tones than verbal contents or facial expressions when inferring emotions. These findings point to the possibility that Japanese people tend to both express and perceive emotions through nonverbal vocal information to a greater degree than Westerners” (Yoshie & Sauter, 2020, p. 516).

As stated earlier, clear Articulation is a masterful tool for relationships building as it sends information to and from team members with little risk of miscommunication. Equally important as articulation is Writing Proficiently – leaders should always practice putting verbal meetings in writing so team members get all information including those that might have been lost in words or pronunciations (Ferguson, 2022).

Multilingualism, though an important and effective communication skill, is also a vital tool for relationship building in a global work environment. It is widely assumed that English is the preferred language in most international or global diverse team meetings which can be an advantage to English speaking team leaders, but at the same time it is a drawback when it comes to relationship building with other team members who speak other languages – “English speakers have an advantage in international English-speaking teams, but this apparent “political” advantage masks potential negative consequences” (Henderson, 2005, p. 77). Leaders who are multilingual and speak the local language of team members communicate efficiently and build trust and understanding that is way more efficient than leaders who don’t.

                                                                                      Conclusion

Human capital is now the sine qua non in all culturally diverse organizations in today’s business climate. That’s why it is vital for managers and team leaders to have the requisite training and cultural intelligence to successfully navigate the cultural and diversity hurdles in the global workplace to obtain organizational growth and sustainability. The workplace as we know it, is largely and gradually moving towards a virtual, remote, and culturally diverse global village and business must get prepare and gear up to meet the challenges that the global workforce is throwing at us.