A zoom meeting with a diverse workforce

How to Deal with Cultural Barriers at a Remote Workplace

With more and more companies adopting the remote lifestyle, it’s becoming increasingly common to see employees from all around the world being hired and collaborating on a remote basis.

However, with this great diversity comes the challenge of cultural barriers. When you’re not face-to-face with someone, it can be easy to misread their tone or intention. This is why it’s important to be aware of potential cultural barriers to communication.

It is hard enough collaborating effectively on a face to face basis, so dealing with cultural barriers in a remote workplace is doubly difficult. In this article, we will go through why it’s important to deal with cultural barriers, and cover a few of the best ways to deal with these barriers in a remote workplace.

Benefits of a diverse workforce

You may think — well, what’s the point of having a diverse workforce if I have to consider how to deal with cultural barriers remotely? All it does is increase the chance of an issue occurring. Surely it’s much easier to just hire locally, and avoid any potential hiccups?

We’re here to tell you that is absolutely not true.

A global workforce brings with it a diversity of skills, experiences and perspectives. It also allows you to tap into new markets and provides that extra competitive edge.

Hiring employees from all around the world provides a wealth of benefits that you simply cannot get by remaining local. Check out a few of the main benefits as highlighted below:

Improved creativity and innovative solutions

When you have people from different cultures working together, they each bring their own perspective to the table. This can lead to more out-of-the-box thinking and improved problem-solving skills. Enhancing your pool of talent can only lead to a more productive and innovative workplace.

Greater understanding of your target market

If you’re trying to break into new markets, it helps to have employees who understand the culture and can act as a bridge between you and potential customers. They can help you develop marketing materials and strategies that are more likely to resonate with people from that background. It’s also significantly easier to gain trust and build relationships when there’s a human connection between client and customer.

Improved problem-solving skills

When you have a group of people from different cultures working together, they’re more likely to approach problems from different angles. This can lead to more comprehensive and well-rounded solutions.

Keep your unconscious biases in check

When you’re only exposed to people who are like you, it’s easy to develop unconscious biases. These can lead to all sorts of problems, from making bad hiring decisions to creating an unwelcoming environment for employees. Having a diverse workforce keeps these biases in check.

So, whilst it may seem like more work to deal with cultural barriers at a remote workplace, the range of benefits highlighted above show it’s definitely worth the effort.

Examples of cultural barriers in business

There are a few key cultural differences that could lead to miscommunication and other issues occurring at a remote workplace. Here are the most common cultural barriers found in the business world:

Language Barriers

In modern society, it’s important to remember that not everyone speaks your language! If you and your coworker are not speaking the same language, or there is a clear difference in your levels of proficiency — there is potential for misunderstandings to occur.

It’s important to use clear and concise communication when possible. If you’re unsure about something, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.

Time Zones

If you’re working with someone in a different time zone, there can be a disconnect in terms of availability. Taking care of your employees and being aware of their needs is an important part of retaining them in the long-term.

Hence it’s important to be considerate of different time zones and plan accordingly.

Work/Life Balance

Different cultures have different expectations when it comes to work/life balance.

For example in some countries in the Middle East, weekends are observed on Friday and Saturday — whereas in other countries weekends are observed on Saturday and Sunday.

It’s important to be respectful of these differences and try not to put pressure on others to conform to your own standards.

5 ways to deal with cultural barriers effectively

Dealing with these cultural barriers effectively is an important part of running a successful business. Here are 5 ways in order to do so:

1. Avoid Assumptions

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when communicating with someone from another culture is to assume that they think or feel the same way as you do. Just because someone is from a different country or region doesn’t mean that they share the same values, beliefs, or even sense of humor.

It’s important to avoid making any assumptions about someone else’s culture. Instead, take the time to get to know them as an individual and judge them from there.

2. ​​Learn about each other’s cultures

One of the best ways to overcome cultural barriers is to learn about each other’s cultures. This way, you can be more understanding and respectful of someone else’s way of life.

It doesn’t have to be something super complicated. Simply take a few minutes out of your day to Google a person’s country, customs and general way of doing business.

Even though they will not match up exactly to what is said online, it will give you a rough idea of what to expect and will aid your first few interactions immensely. You can also find some guaranteed no-go topics and avoid some potentially awkward moments! Doing some light reading also shows you took the time to learn about your team member’s culture, and is taken as a sign of respect.

There are many resources available online and in libraries that can help you learn about different cultures. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to ask your co-workers questions about their culture and life experiences — everyone loves talking about their respective cultures and where they came from, so this is a guaranteed win.

3. Be patient

When you’re communicating with someone from a different culture, it’s important to be patient. They may not speak the same language as you, or they may not be used to the same communication style. Allow extra time for them to respond, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re unsure about something.

Remote working means we tend to communicate through messaging services more often. As an alternative, try your best to encourage video calling rather than messaging via text. A face-to-face conversation is always going to be the best way to communicate — but if you can’t be in the same room as someone, the next best thing is to see their face.

This way, you can pick up on any non-verbal cues that may be missed in a text-based conversation on video calls more often. When calling a colleague, remember to talk slowly and enunciate your words to make yourself easier to understand.

Patience is key when dealing with cultural and language barriers at work. It means misunderstandings and cleared up, and makes sure that everyone is happy and comfortable with any communications going around. As they say: ‘You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.’ Be patient, and let the egg hatch!

4. Introduce diversity training

By effectively educating your employees on different cultures and customs, you can help to break down any barriers that may exist.

You can do this by incorporating specific modules on cross-cultural communication into your onboarding process, or by holding ‘culture days’ at the company where you all talk about your respective cultures in a virtual meeting. Even something as simple as sending a company-wide email celebrating a festival from a different culture can make a big difference.

Not only will this educate all your employees, but it will help them feel like their company really cares about their wellbeing and their culture. That feeling of togetherness will be more present.

5. Keep it simple

When in doubt, keep your communication clear and concise. This will help to avoid any misunderstandings and ensure that your message is received loud and clear.

Avoid complicated language where it isn’t required, and get your message across as simply as possible without the additional fluff.

Using language that is specific to your region is also a no-no, and is frankly unnecessary. It can make some of your colleagues feel uncomfortable and left out as they can’t relate.

Slang is one particular form of language that should be avoided at all costs. This may sound like an extreme measure, but it’s crucial to understand that slang can be interpreted differently in different cultures.

It’s best to avoid it altogether to prevent any confusion.

The bottom line

Cultural barriers aren’t easy to overcome — especially when we’re talking about a remote workplace.

Even though it can seem difficult to handle initially, the benefits of having a diverse workforce composed of different cultures are vast, and will put your company ahead of the competition.

Use the tips above to deal with cultural barriers effectively, and you will find your remote workplace will be more efficient, more friendly, and more collaborative than ever!