Teams - Remote and Virtual

by Claire Snowdon and Mark Bouch

Culture

In today’s global economy, with organisations that have diverse teams located around the world, cultural differences and how they are managed and leveraged can have a big impact on the success of a VRW team.

Cultural dimensions

These cultural differences can be grouped together and described as dimensions, in which people from different cultures or with different cultural experiences can have differing values on the cultural dimensions scale. Here are some examples of cultural dimensions and how people can differ, depending on where they are on the dimension scale. They are partly based on Hofstede’s dimensions.

Hierarchy – power distance

  • High power distance – status is emphasised, hierarchy and privilege is the accepted structure.
  • Low power distance – status is played down and equality and flat structures are the norm.

Group – individualism versus collectivism

  • Collective – emphasis on group performance and interdependence
  • Individualistic – emphasis on individual performance and self-reliance

Communication – direct versus indirect

This is also known as high context versus low context.

  • Direct – explicit, frank, precise and clear when communicating
  • Indirect – implicit, subtle and diplomatic when communicating

Long– or short-term orientation?

The long-term orientation dimension can be interpreted as dealing with society’s search for virtue. Societies with a short-term orientation generally have a strong concern with establishing the absolute truth. They are normative in their thinking. They exhibit great respect for traditions, a relatively small propensity to save for the future, and a focus on achieving quick results. In societies with a long-term orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results. (For more, see An example of LTO by Geert Hofstede.)

Time – monochronic versus polychronic

  • Monochronic – one task at a time, time scheduled, closely managed
  • Polychronic – relationship focused, do many things at once

Using/adapting to cultural dimensions

Knowing your team and understanding their cultural style and preferences can be vital when working in or managing teams with cultural differences. Below are some examples of how differing cultural dimensions can impact working styles.

Email

Be sure you know who you are writing to and how to frame your message to ensure the appropriate receipt and result.

  • When email is not answered within a certain time frame problems can arise.
  • In more collective cultures, email can seem cold and impersonal and these people may prefer face-to-face communication or video conferencing.
  • Because email lacks power symbols, it may be difficult for people from high power distance cultures to establish the correct way to treat power differences.
  • In many collectivist cultures, you won’t, for example, get an answer to the question ‘is it OK to use your first name’ or you may get a positive answer, no matter how the person truly feels.
  • Some people who have a more direct communication style write very terse and informal emails, which can come across to others as rude.

Discussion forums

Team members from more collective cultures or high levels of power distance may find it difficult to participate in the discussions unless the relationship has been long and is trusted and safe, with all participants on the same level of hierarchy. People may not feel comfortable saying anything different from the boss.

Instant messaging (IM)

If an agenda hasn’t been set in advance, the message can be unproductive and frustrating for individualistic or monochronic people. Individualistic people may view team building through IM as a waste of time and monochronic people will not enjoy the interruption when they are working on something else.

To be successful when leading and working with cultural difference, refer to Tips for successful VRW leadership.