Cultural Competency: Remote Best Practices from a Distance

Cultural Competency: Remote Best Practices from a Distance

If you’re a remote worker, make no mistake—your job is global. Because of its extremely flexible nature, remote work often crosses borders, languages, and cultures. It can mean big advantages for companies and their customers alike; it can also have a number of pitfalls, however.

When I taught a university-level course in intercultural communication, I truly believed that each and every student needed to be prepared for a future workforce that is increasingly international in nature and keep some remote best practices in mind. (I still believe this is the case; it’s the direction in which knowledge work is heading.) My students, however, weren’t so easily convinced. They were new to all of this, and if their parents or relatives had no experience working with individuals from another culture, it seemed to be a non-issue for them. Perhaps you’re a little skeptical, as well.

Just how might you encounter intercultural scenarios in your remote job? And in what ways can you display culturally sensitive behaviors, and remote best practices, in your interactions?

Your company may have customers or clients whose organizations are based overseas, or whose representatives include professionals from other parts of the world. You might be part of a global team already, or one that hires foreign contractors in various time zones. (This kind of outsourcing is especially common when localization matters.) Perhaps your boss or the head of your organization hails from another country. These are common enough that I bet one or more applies to you.

Here’s how to keep remote best practices in mind when working from a distance:

Ask yourself, are you working with someone:

 …from a high context or low context culture?

High context cultures are those where meaning is gleaned indirectly from physical, social, and psychological contexts, whereas importance in low context cultures is directly encoded in verbal exchanges. When working with Mexicans, you’ll make a stronger impact based on your attention to nonverbal cues and gestures, while what you say or write to colleagues in Israel will be taken at face value.

…who scores pretty highly on uncertainty avoidance?

Uncertainty avoidance involves the degree to which members of a particular culture feel threatened by unpredictable, uncertain, or unknown situations. While some cultures are known for their openness to ambiguity (Singapore), others inculcate a sense of cautiousness (Greece), which is reflected in everything from their level of innovation to their workforce and organizational structures.

…who hails from a culture with a vast power distance?

This is the extent to which members of a culture expect and accept that power is unequally distributed. For example, in Malaysia people generally buy into significant inequities in terms of power and access; on the other end of the spectrum, in Austria the assumption is that few barriers to these exist.

Considering the above will provide a sound basis for you to ground your intercultural interactions via effective video, phone, chat, and email messages. Keep in mind, however, that assumptions should never be made based upon appearances alone; decades of immigration have made largely homogenous cultures a thing of the past in a majority of countries. Healthy, proactive communication is paramount in remote work, and it starts with removing any biases.

The last word: when in doubt, be polite, and wait for your counterpart’s move. They will reveal their cultural preferences either overtly or subtly, and in doing so, will clue you in as to how they prefer to interact in a business context.

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By Kristi DePaul | Categories: Work Remotely

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