Intercultural Competence in Remote Work?
Remote work opens up the possibilities of having a global workforce without anyone leaving the comfort of their living room. In my remote work, I have worked seamlessly with people working from the United Kingdom, Japan, Dubai, Germany, Israel, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and Canada, so Intercultural competence in remote work has been vital for my business
Yeah, on occasion, I did screw things up rather royally. I once made a gesture to someone that in their culture meant, you are a filthy animal, but the person did realize that I did it out of ignorance rather than malfeasance. That could have been a disaster, though, for both my company and me.
Even in the United States culture, at one time, if you insulted someone, they could challenge you to a duel to save face. Something not good! Thankfully, those days have long passed. However, you can still have the equivalent for your business if you don’t have intercultural competence.
In the Era of Remote Work, Interculture Competence is even more critical. Although an insulted stakeholder couldn’t pull out a Derringer and shoot you in the liver, he/she could still block you on Facebook and give you a One-Star on Yelp. That’s even worse!
So, suppose you are Sam Drucker at his General Store in Hootervile. In that case, Intercultural competence is far less significant than it would be for a global high-tech firm. Actually, in my parts (The San Francisco Bay Area), a corner grocery store would have customers from all over the world who spoke a multitude of languages (Deardorff, 2009)!
I have been talking about Intercultural competence, but what the bleep is it anyway? Intercultural competence is the ability to act in a culture other than your own. Intercultural competence has to do with demographics, religion, and country where one is doing business. A high school teacher who wants to be interculturally competent needs to know about Miley Cyrus and all the other mashugana pop cultural stuff that the students follow. Someone who is doing business in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, who likes to lace their speech with Yidishisms, would need to know what mashugana means.
I may have been exaggerating earlier about being shot in the liver for committing what a social faux pas in another culture is. There is a cost to not being interculturally competent: the team isn’t as cohesive as a unit, or if it is with your customer, it means that there is just one more thing to get in the way of doing business. Of course, as Malcolm Gladwell (2009) discusses in Outliers, the cost of a lack of intercultural competence could be the life and well-being of the clients or customers should the business be an airline and should there be miscommunications because of a misunderstanding of power distance.
So what can we do to develop intercultural competence in remote work?
- Have an open mind and be willing to learn from others. Knowledge is infinite, and o it dramatically enhances the experience to be open to new information and multiple perspectives and interpretations other than your own. I am not saying to agree with all views but to be available to them.
- Be aware that others may not share the same cultural values that you do. When working with people from all over the world with different backgrounds, this awareness is a necessary step to intercultural competence in remote work. Realize that you don’t know everything, and yours may not be the best way to do something. Be willing to learn from your cohorts and not automatically think that your way is the only way.
- Develop the ability to adapt and accommodate behaviors to a different culture. Team members must be willing to assimilate new cultures.
- Connect and listen to people. Have the ability to visualize the situation of another person intellectually and emotionally, show compassion for your team members, think from more than one perspective, and listen actively.[
Business at one time could get away with not having a multicultural business model, but in this post-COVID world, unless you are that general store owner in Hooterville, you would need to have a multicultural business model. A lack of intercultural competence in remote work can lead to bad relations due to cultural misunderstandings, inefficient teams, and even lawsuits.
I can help you to develop intercultural competence in remote work and help your remote teams increase their effectiveness with my CAUSE PROGRAM
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Deardorff D. K. (2009), The SAGE handbook of intercultural competence. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Gladwell M (2009) Outliers. NY Little Brown