6 Ways to Successfully Manage Cultural Differences in the Workplace
The modern world, with migration and remote work, means that there are bound to be plenty of people with different cultures and backgrounds working in one company. This is generally a great thing: different cultures and ways of life can all benefit businesses in different ways, and employees can equally benefit from working with people of different backgrounds hugely.
However, it is inevitable that, when people from different countries are put together in offices or even in remote work spheres, cultural differences in the workplace will occur. This can happen when anyone of any nationality goes to work in an office somewhere that is even slightly different to their own country – cultural differences can happen when a British person goes to work in the United States, or a German works in France, for example.
Of course, sometimes when the cultures bear more differences, and different religions come into account, there can be a lot more to consider. But this kind of cultural exchange can be even more rewarding, as long as teams focus on maintaining culture in the workplace and ensure that any differences are taken into account and dealt with.
When hiring any team member, it is crucial to have a chat about what they expect from the workplace, and get some of an idea of their needs. This helps to build a positive workplace culture, and while it is important for any team member it is especially crucial for those of different cultures to have an open line of communication. Make sure that you make it clear to your team that any comments, complaints or suggestions are always welcomed and encouraged.
One great way to ensure open communication is to have frequent meetings with your team, and address any issues or invite them to share any problems that they may have. Having a huddle room is great for small, casual meetings – and if your team is more remote, making use of an interactive display is a great idea, as they can join in the meeting from their personal device – it’s the next best thing to being there!
Of course, interactive displays are fantastic for non-remote meetings as well, as it serves as an interactive whiteboard alternative where websites can be pulled, notes can be taken and everything is saved and synced onto people’s individual devices.
Even though some cultures can be very different and have alternate ways of life, it’s important to remember that deep down we are all really the same. Team building is a great way to realize this, and to make sure that you forge and retain a strong team.
Make sure that it’s something that every member of the team will enjoy. If in doubt, ask everyone if your idea is something that they would want to do.
When hiring team members from different cultures, it is of tantamount importance to ensure that their culture is respected and appreciated.
Make sure that everyone knows that xenophobic or racist comments, even if they are intended as a joke, are strictly not ok and will result in a disciplinary. While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to include any other prejudices in that: whether they be homophobic, sexist, ableist or sizeist – creating a diverse workplace is all about acceptance.
Also be sure to appreciate any cultural needs that your team may have. Some people wear headscarves for religious reasons, others don’t eat certain things. Make sure that all of these are accounted for and included, and make the rest of your team aware of them.
Scheduling and Time
When managing cultural differences in the workplace, it’s important to remember that time is treated very differently around the world. For example, time in countries like Germany and Switzerland is stuck rigidly to – being a minute late for something is considered bad. To a lesser extent, time is kept this way in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.
However, for Southern Europeans – notably Spaniards and Italians – and Arabs, time is fluid, and a meeting time is generally suggestive rather than accurate. This is the same in Latin culture as well, influenced by Spanish and Portuguese colonists.
East Asians, on the other hand, generally have a cyclical view of time, meaning that they see the same opportunities coming around again, so also have less urgency than Northern European and North American (exempting Mexican) cultures.
What does this mean for your business? You’ll need to either make it very clear what you expect in terms of timekeeping, and be patient if it takes some people a while to adjust to, or be flexible yourself with time.
You could schedule meetings for the middle of the day if you are concerned about people coming in on time, and have a relaxed policy that means employees just need to stay for 8 hours from when they come in. If that doesn’t work with your business model, you’ll have to make sure your expectations are very clear before hiring someone.
Make Sure You Have Matching Values
People can be from completely separate areas of the world, but still have the crucial values to make a fantastic business relationship.
The more you meet people from different cultures, the more you realise how similar everyone is – most people want to do something they are passionate about, spend time with good people, and earn enough money to live a good life.
That being said, there are definitely niche values that suit each company specifically. Making sure that any employees you hire have similar values – whether that be a passion for whatever your company does (very important!), a cheerful ‘can do’ attitude, or an ability not to take themselves too seriously.
You’ll find managing cultural differences in the workplace to be a lot easier as long as you ensure that you have the same values!
Appropriate training is of tantamount importance when dealing with different cultures in the workplace. This ensures that employees know exactly what their expectations are and how to treat the workplace. It also helps to overcome any language barriers that might occur as a result of hiring people from different cultures.
Training involves all areas of business, but for staff of different cultures, you might want some specifically targeted training at exactly what you expect in your business. Mentioning things like time, discussion during meetings, or general courtesies that you expect, as well as things that you do not deem necessary, is a great way to start this training.
When doing this, it’s important to make sure you are not patronising; at this stage, it might be a good idea to also ask what your employers expect from a workplace, and whether they have any suggestions or anything that they prefer in regards to courtesies and workplace culture.
Doing this at the beginning of their employment will set the foundation of what you expect from the office and will hopefully foster a happy workplace for months and years to come!
While hiring people from different backgrounds can provide some challenges, the benefits of learning from another culture far outweigh the challenges that might incur. Dealing with cultural differences in the workplace doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds, as long as these steps are adhered to and cultural differences are accepted, there is every reason why your workplace can be happy and inclusive.