Managing Cultural and Language Divides within Your Remote Team

Managing Cultural and Language Divides within Your Remote Team

Companies no longer need to stay within a certain geographic location when seeking out candidates. This avoids a myriad of traditional business expenses such as employee relocation costs, office space costs, and a host of other expenditures associated with keeping employees happy, comfortable, and productive within one location.

As with all new business practice developments, new obstacles for you to manage will arise. Skillfully managing these obstacles could have the potential to make or break the operations and efficiency of your entire company.

Two of the main challenges you’ll encounter are successfully managing cultural divides and  language barriers within your remote team, but how will you do this?

Establish a Remote Work Culture

Remote employees will most likely come from different parts of the world. Your company should develop and communicate a strong tolerance policy as well as adopt a global attitude which will need to be expressed clearly and frequently. You will not have the option of a common area where employees can meet face to face and develop a connection on a deeply personal level.

Focus on Open Communication

Different cultures celebrate different personality traits. Hiring the right type of employee, no matter where they are from or what language they speak, is another important step in managing language and cultural divides.

Because of stereotypes, you may imagine the ideal remote employee to be the quiet and hyper-organized type. In actuality, you may want to consider hiring an extroverted candidate or someone with an extremely outgoing personality. You want your remote employee to be someone who will not mind reaching out and communicating.

Encourage open communications from day one, especially with the internationals on your team. For instance, employees from Japan, who typically speak perfect English and can communicate with ease, tend not to do so because it is traditionally not within their culture or rights to express their own opinion in the workplace.

Make Communication Easy

There are also cultural differences such as time zones, traditional work schedules, and religion. A company based on the East Coast will have to adjust their expected deadline times to account for workers in other time zones. For example, make it clear from the beginning that when deadlines are set, they are all given in East Coast time.

Having a plan to manage employees across different time zones becomes increasingly important when your employees are outside of the country.

The differences in traditional work schedules and religion will need to be addressed up front also. For instance, remote workers from Israel are used to having Fridays off due to religious reasons. Employees in South America and other Latin countries may be used to having many mid-day hours off, but have no problem working late into the night.

Having an extremely open door policy, being aware of cultural nuances, and using different methods of communicating such as video calls instead of just email and chat services can help bridge cultural differences.

Establish a Company Language

Another initial problem with virtual teams made up of international remote employees is the language barrier. Managing this obstacle is another example of where you’ll need to establish a plan to overcome this challenge early.

Despite the thousands of different languages spoken across the world, English, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish are the most common. Choosing one of these can alleviate and possibly eliminate the language barrier.

Within this obstacle, there is still the problem of cultural nuance. One word or phrase in the U.S. may have a different meaning in Australia or the U.K. Clear communication, precise phrasing, and omitting the use of slang or acronyms can get the point across without losing time in translation.

Take Advantage of the Differences

The benefits of remote employees far outweigh the costs and obstacles you will face. Overcoming and mastering the differences in culture and language allows your company to appeal to a vastly wider audience. Take these challenges and make them your company’s strengths.

Deven is a polymath who loves the art of learning, writing about his journeys, and everything he’s learned along the way. Visit Deven at Serviceable. Contact Deven at