6 keys to bridging cultural barriers on your remote team

If you have remote workers at your company, chances are you have a variety of cultures represented on your team. If you do, congratulations! Multicultural backgrounds provide a broader range of perspectives, drive innovation and nurture personal and professional development. Fun fact: Culturally diverse work teams are also more productive and perform better.

That said, cross-cultural communication can be a challenge, especially when working from home. Even non-verbal cues can be misinterpreted. For example, giving the “OK” sign in one culture could get you into a fight in another one.

If your cross-cultural team is going to perform at the next level, you’ll need to learn how to understand and communicate with each other. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of practical, handy ways to develop better communication with your remote team.

The “new normal” for communication
Different cultures have different values, and those values come out in communication habits. If your team isn’t aware of them, you’ll get frustrated and your collaboration will suffer. But you can nip it in the bud by training your team members to communicate cross-culturally.

Each culture relates to work, time and relationships in its own unique way. When we understand different cultural languages, communication is smoother at all levels. If you aren’t aware of cultural norms, you run the risk of misinterpreting subtle signs and signals.

What are some common cultural norms that impact communication? There are countless, but a few include approaches toward:

• Conflict
• Completing tasks
• Decision-making
• Disclosure and transparency
• Roles and hierarchy
• Gender and age differences
• Showing honor and respect
• Punctuality

The list goes on.

With all those potential differences in culture, how can anyone hope to work effectively across cultures? Fear not — we’re going to lay it all out.

Bridging cultural divides on a remote team

The number one thing is to start with an attitude of humility and respect. Do that, and you’re halfway there. Your team members will forgive a gaffe if they know you’re trying.

That said, it’s still critical to learn how different cultures communicate and do business — and how they perceive your own idiosyncrasies!

Here are some practical steps to overcome cultural communication barriers

  1. Acknowledge your differences. Seems simple, but you’d be surprised how many organizations forget this crucial step in opening up a dialogue.
  2. Make respect a right, not a privilege. To create a cohesive work environment, your team members need to feel they can be their true, authentic selves.
  3. Learn about your teammates’ cultures. Do some basic research on each culture’s business communication styles. Compare them to your own.
  4. Establish your own communication norms for the team. This will probably be an evolving set of agreements, but having a set of initial expectations lights the way for even better communication down-the-road.
  5. Get face time together. Non-verbal communication can help prevent so, so many misunderstandings.
  6. Don’t assume you’re being understood. Avoid idioms and clichés that could be misinterpreted. If someone seems confused, clarify.

Taking small steps like these will have a tremendous effect on your remote team’s cross-cultural communication. They could be the difference between constant underlying tension, and a team that spurs one another on to greater work.