5 Tips for Managing Remote Multicultural Teams

Whether your employees come from different parts of the world or just different cultural backgrounds, it’s important that you’re all on the same page when it comes to business. A harmonious work environment is essential if the end goal is having productive employees and a successful business. This becomes even more important if you’re managing remote teams composed of international freelancers. Stick to these five practices to help create and maintain a positive, friendly and productive working relationship with your remote team members regardless of their nationality and culture.

What Is a Remote Multicultural Team?

Before we jump into the best practices for managing virtual multicultural teams, let’s first clarify the term “remote multicultural team”.

A remote team is a group of employees who work together on a unified project or a purpose. However, unlike traditional teams who work in the same room, remote teams consist of people that work from separate locations. This can mean different buildings, cities, states, countries and continents.

The challenges of remote teams include:

  • Communication problems: which can be caused by language barriers or inefficient communication tools
  • Scheduling difficulties: due to different time zones
  • Low productivity: which can be a result of poor time management
  • Lack of trust: caused by working in an isolated environment and not having regular communication with other team members and leaders.

A multicultural team is a group of employees who come from diverse cultural backgrounds. This can include talents from different countries, with different values and demeanors, as well as people speaking different languages. Although research suggests that multicultural teams are more creative and productive, they don’t come without challenges.

These can include:

  • Language barriers: especially when there isn’t one shared language everyone uses
  • Communication problems: caused by different styles of communication where some employees may find others too forward or rude
  • Cultural differences: due to not understanding other people’s backgrounds and values
  • Technical challenges: based on their education and lifestyle, some employees may not be familiar with new tech and software.

When it comes to the challenges of remote multicultural teams, you’re in double-trouble as you’re dealing with both the potential issues of virtual teams and those of the multicultural teams. The good news is, every single problem outlined here has a solution. 

Tip No.1: Work Around the Language Barrier

To fix any issue related to managing multicultural teams, you need to start with the language. If you’re managing people who all speak different languages, it’s crucial to decide on a common, shared language that everyone will use when working. Typically, this is English for most multicultural teams as almost everyone speaks a little bit of English today. However, if most people in your team speak another language – be it Spanish, Italian, French or Japanese– it’s better to choose it as your shared language.

Another tip is to have everyone in your team learn a few important words and phrases in each language, regardless of the language you picked as the common one.

Now that you have an overview of what types of tools are vital for your agency, let’s take a look at our top picks for each category.

Tip No.2: Use Different Communication Tools

When managing people from different backgrounds, it’s important to have quick and efficient communication, one that works for everyone. This is easier said than done, of course, but there is a way to make virtual communication work for every single member of your team.
Instead of relying on one channel of communication like Skype, which may not work for everyone, use several different communication tools, including:

  • Phone/Skype calls: if something is urgent, nothing beats a phone or Skype call.
  • Email: perfect for more official correspondence and folks who work in different time zones and cannot be present during a phone call.
  • Texting: ideal if you want to quickly let the whole team or just the selected members know about certain changes in the business. It also feels more personal than emailing, which is why it’s great for commending and congratulating.
  • Chat tools: chat apps like Slack, Google Hangouts and other are good for bouncing off ideas and sending memos.

Using several different communication channels is also important if your employees come from different generations. Research shows that older generations like Baby Boomers prefer phone calls, while younger generations, including Millennials and Generation Z prefer texting.

Tip No.3 Accommodate Flexible Work Schedules

If you work with people who come from different parts of the globe, you need to be able to accommodate flexible work schedules. This is one of the most important tips for successfully managing remote multicultural groups of talents. The best way to go about this would be to ask your employees what hours and days of the week work best for them.

Remote workers rate flexible work schedules as one of the biggest benefits, as it allows them to create a better work-life balance. This leads to happier employees, which in turn, leads to a higher overall productivity.

Tip No.4: Take Time Zones Into Account

When setting up meetings with employees who come from different countries, it’s crucial to take their time zones into account. After all, you don’t want your team members to stay awake during their sleep hours so you can have a quick meeting at the time that best suits you.

To schedule meetings and other get-togethers properly, find a time that falls within everyone’s workday. You can do this by collecting feedback regarding desired meetings via email. Simply give everyone an opportunity to say which hours and days work best for them and then pick a day and time that is most suitable for everyone. This might mean first thing in the morning for some members and the end of the work day for others.

If the time differences make scheduling a meeting next to impossible, a good idea is to record meetings for the members who cannot attend live.

Tip No.5: Provide Cross-Cultural Training

To prevent misunderstandings and uncomfortable work situations, and foster a healthy, harmonious multicultural environment, cross-cultural training programs are a must. Cultural sensitivity training or multicultural training is essential for both small and big diverse teams as it helps people understand other cultures and backgrounds, and overcome any challenges that may arise due to culture clashes. Cross-cultural training programs are important for all modern businesses, but are especially important for remote multicultural teams where people don’t get to spend face-to-face time with their colleagues.

To be effective, a virtual cross-cultural training program should:

  • Help your remote workers understand cultural differences
  • Help them overcome cultural challenges, including prejudices and stereotypes
  • Help them work together, respecting each culture’s customs.

Speaking of being aware of other people’s cultures, make sure you’re respectful of your employees’ holidays and vacation rules.

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