Working in a Global Community
One of the many ancillary changes to result from the pandemic is an increase in global connectedness (or at least in our awareness of the phenomenon of globalization)—economically, socially, digitally, epidemiologically, and every other way.
Two major changes in workplace dynamics have resulted in more people regularly interacting with co-workers and clients who reside around the world: (1) More employees working in remote or hybrid situations, which has opened the floodgates for hiring managers to be able to bring on individuals in more far-flung locations (seeing as no one needs to regularly come into the office anymore); and (2) worldwide talent shortages—fueled not just by the Great Resignation, but also by increased automation and digitization, which has led to skills gaps—and thus an increased reliance on both distantly-located freelancers and business process outsourcing organizations (BPOs).
In many ways, this trend towards increased globalization is exciting—the world opening up has offered us all opportunities to share new ideas, collaborate with different types of thinkers, and innovate to solve bigger and more complex problems. However, as with any changes, globalization also brings new challenges for interacting with a diverse and disparately located workforce.
With that in mind, here are some tips to keep these relationships smooth, tension-free, productive, and have everyone working in sync—even when the work is asynchronous. (I’ve been waiting to make that quip!)
1. Be mindful of time and date differences
This sounds pretty minor, but when you're working in, say, Singapore, Malaysia, or Philippines, and someone calls a meeting for 9am US East Coast Time, that’s 9pm your time. Calling meetings like this without being respectful of participants’ locations is inconsiderate, and there’s a tendency to default to the American time zones for all business operations. When in doubt, check your iPhone clock, or www.timeanddate.com. And if these meetings that put some participants at odd times are absolutely necessary, at least ask beforehand if it’s okay to schedule then, or if there’s anything to be done to mitigate the inconvenience.
2. Be respectful of religious or cultural observances
April has been a month full of holidays. And while those in America and Western Europe are mostly focused on spring and their observance of Easter Sunday (this year on April 17th), this ignores the fact that several other major religious festivals are also occurring: the Jewish holiday of Passover, from April 15-23, the Muslim observance of Ramadan, from April 1-May 1, and Greek Orthodox Easter on April 24th. This may mean office closures in countries where predominant portions of the population adhere to these traditions, as well as other commitments for certain individuals: For Jews, this means four days of higher-level religious observance, where devout individuals will be attending synagogue and maintaining dietary restrictions that will limit their ability to eat out of the home. For Muslims, this means individuals may be fasting during all daylight hours, followed by a festival, Eid, at the end of the month. Keeping these restrictions in mind when planning events, and going so far as to wish your coworkers a happy (Orthodox) Easter, Eid Mubarak, or Chag Sameach is a small step that can go a long way towards fostering cultural sensitivity.
3. Consider linguistic and cultural differences
We actually talked about this in a previous blog, but when company materials, training programs, or other shared documents for all members of the company—irrespective of location—are disseminated, they should exhibit a cultural sensitivity and awareness. This may mean offering documents in other languages, if large numbers of coworkers are not native English speakers. This also means respecting coworkers' needs to wear certain garb (such as a hijab), and keeping in mind appropriate culturally-centered formalities when making introductions. And, materials should avoid idioms that may not be understood by all users, as well as stereotypes or assumptions that might be offensive and alienating.
4. Exhibit awareness of what’s going on in the world
So, we’re about to talk about Ukraine. Many companies have business, clients, and coworkers who have been affected by the war in Ukraine. Obviously, it’s important to check on the well-being of any Ukrainians in your circle, and to keep professional expectations reasonable and accommodating, given the desperate situation on the ground there. It would also be appropriate to extend some consideration to employees in neighboring countries, such as Poland, where large numbers of refugees are finding safe haven due to Polish citizens’ willingness to leverage their own resources to help their neighbors. Above all, it’s important not to simply terminate a contract with vendors or employees in the Ukraine, assuming that they will be unable to meet objectives; individuals there are facing (along with everything else) dire economic straits, and may be scrambling to hold onto any means of livelihood and stability they have. Communicate with these individuals, and offer grace. Be a good human.
On a practical level, there are resources that can help you create positive interactions with a global workforce. GlobeSmart is a learning resource for companies to “advance inclusion, increase collaboration, and eliminate boundaries.” It can help you and your team to identify differences in work styles or habits that may be based on culture or geography, and find strategies to work around and through these, in order to facilitate effective working relationships between colleagues locally and abroad. GlobeSmart can help “minimize misunderstanding, and maximize success”--and it’s available in 13 languages.
Adopting a global mindset isn’t too hard of a shift, but it is an important one, as we enter this age of further interconnectedness. Companies that are prepared to do so will leverage the diverse knowledge and skill sets of a global labor force, much to their benefit. The reality is that companies prepared for increased globalization can view it as an opportunity; those that aren’t may find themselves left behind.
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The Girard Training Solutions team includes experts in Learning and Development, Management Development, Facilitation, Learning Experience Design, Project Management, and Graphic Design.