Working Across Cultures
Managing projects with international teams is about so much more than keeping track of time zones.
While we have an overabundance of digital project and telecommunications tools available, differences in culture may impact your project and relationship with colleagues and clients more than practical considerations.
Diverging views on time orientation and the exact meaning of a deadline; hierarchy and leadership; individualist versus collective perspectives; directness of communication – especially concerning the handling of bad news; and work-life balance all impact how people organize their work schedules, and how they communicate as a team.
Taking the time to learn about these cultural differences will help you build a framework to optimally work together, as well as create an environment of trust and understanding – with your staff as well as with your clients – while being able to deliver excellent service no matter the time of day.
Here are a few things we’ve learned at Mach Media:
• Use time zones to your advantage
For small teams, in particular, having staff in more than one time zone can be a great benefit as it extends the team’s availability to the client.
• Video calls are more personal
Most interpersonal communication happens via body language and facial expressions. Replace regular phone calls with video calls to make people feel more closely connected. Video calls also force you to be a better listener as you can’t get too distracted with other tasks.
• Transparency promotes trust
Share your calendar with your team. Let your team and clients know if you’re going to be out of office or exceptionally leaving work early – and who will be your back-up in case of urgency. Provide frequent status updates on project milestones and deadlines. Share openly what you’re working on every week, where things are going well, but also where you may have hit a snag. Simply knowing what is going on can mean the difference between trust and suspicion.
• Respect cultural impact on schedules
When people are available during the workday depends on more than just whether they’re busy. Cultural norms may impact whether you’ll be able to reach people during their lunch break, or even on their days off. Religious observances, national holidays and amount of paid time off also impact availability. Being aware of and working with these differences helps you plan while making people feel respected – always a great motivator.
Focus on results
Since the Industrial Revolution, working hours in most countries in the developed world have steadily declined, but there remain vast differences in the length of the working week throughout the world. Sweden introduced the 36-hour work week, with conflicting reports of success. France recently granted workers the right to disconnect, igniting debates about work-life balance and productivity. The suicide of a young woman in Japan due to excessive overtime led to the resignation of the ad agency’s CEO and put legislative reform on the agenda.
With vast differences in global working hours, reward your international teams on what they ultimately deliver and the value they bring to the company – both individually and together.
Consider Interim Support
The US is one of only eight countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. Most countries do, and many now also offer paternity leave and/or another form of parental leave. Many countries, particularly in Europe, also have a minimum amount of vacation time for employees to take. Plan ahead to bring in interim support to avoid stalling projects.
At Mach Media, we love our international team and our global clients. Have a look at how our team may help yours – whether it’s as an ongoing remote extension of your team or to provide interim full-time support to keep your projects on track. We’d love to hear from you!
By Kim Bratanata, Consultant