In the evolving world of the global workforce, one of the greatest challenges can be to manage employees who hail from many different countries, where attitudes toward careers, families, work-life integration, and boundaries can vary greatly. Understanding how to manage cultural differences can have a huge impact on your success in coordinating a global workforce.
Like most issues employers confront when dealing with a distributed team, determining best practices to help manage cultural differences can be accomplished by studying the challenges, strategizing with supervisors, and communicating with employees to understand their concerns about cultural issues.
Here are tactics you can use to manage cultural differences and make your team stronger:
1. Educate yourself about what it means to be “culturally sensitive.”
For some companies, a Western or U.S.-based approach to the workplace is the dominant cultural modus operandi. Rather than projecting unfamiliar or uncomfortable cultural values on workers from other countries, and requiring them to “adapt or die,” research ways to encourage communication about what works for them.
For example, ask team members how a task might best be approached or accomplished in their country or culture to gain deeper perspective on how to solve problems and keep cultural misunderstandings to a minimum.
2. Have a broad understanding of how work ethics play out in other cultures.
In India, some employees might be at work for 12 hours, but they may take more frequent breaks throughout the day. In France, August is a near-universal vacation month. Workers in the U.S.—especially millennials—are embracing flexibility and demanding more latitude in choosing when, and where, they work.
From one culture to the next, the differences in how workers approach their day can be astonishingly broad. The upshot? What a strong work ethic looks like in one culture might be completely different compared to another.
3. Set up a “diversity calendar.”
It’s imperative to know when major religious holidays or cultural events in other countries might affect workflow and the ability to meet deadlines for your team overall.
This can mean a real patchwork of schedules to keep up with, but it’s worthwhile to do so as a way to build a cohesive, inclusive workforce and manage cultural differences.
4. Use cultural differences as a reason to celebrate, not separate.
Have fun with the idea of using cultural differences as a means for your entire team to learn more about one another and educate themselves about far-flung countries and unfamiliar customs.
Consider creating a remote work employee resource group—a voluntary, internal organization of team members who can connect, brainstorm, and help make your company’s diverse employee base a thriving force for success.
5. Emphasize the team’s shared mission.
Even as you work to manage a geographically distributed workplace and understand the diverse cultural elements of your employees, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover how much your global team members have in common. The more you can find ways to focus on common goals and values, and the shared mission of your global team, the greater your chances for success in your efforts to manage cultural differences.