There was a time when face-to-face interaction was the norm for the workplace, and relationships with bosses, colleagues, partners and customers were based on personal rapport and frequent ‘live’ communication.
But with globalisation and technological progress, communication in the workplace is now much more likely to be virtual – whether it’s with local teams in different parts of the country or region, with international team members, or with colleagues and clients across many geographies, time zones, cultures and generations.
Nowadays the main or only contact many people have with their remote co-workers is by email, or conference call.
With increasingly sophisticated connectivity, however, comes a major challenge: how to maintain and strengthen relationships when you can’t ‘see’ the other person face to face.
When team members rarely or never meet, vital nuances and understanding are often lost in conversation, resulting in damaged relationships, failed projects, poor decisions and unnecessary confusion.
Here therefore are 5 tips to rapidly improve your virtual teamwork:
- Go for the personal touch. When you hear of a new member of your team, or if you are a new member yourself, introduce yourself with a personal phone call and find out something about your new colleagues’ backgrounds, interests, hobbies, which may be useful in future calls or emails to break the ‘distance’ barrier.
- Take the time to relate. Discuss local cuisine, sports, a festival, a special tradition or national custom, and add a phrase you’ve learned in a local language to your calls or emails. Many cultures around the world emphasise relationship building rather than getting straight down to business.
- Make sure you speak clearly and at a regular pace, without using lots of English slang or business-speak phrases. If English is your first language, remember that for people from other countries or cultures it is a second or third language. Also, don’t become impatient when those less fluent than you speak, and don’t try to answer back in loud English. Think instead of empathy and tact.
- Remember the importance of face. In many global cultures, saving and giving face (respect) is essential to good social communication. Asians are very aware of this ‘preserving the harmonious surface’, but so too are Arabs, Latin Americans and southern Europeans, among others. Rephrase critical comments into more diplomatic language that suggests how others may have a valid viewpoint and seek a common goal.
- Watch out for body language – both of other people and of yourself that may cause offence. In many ‘high context’ cultures, facial expression, movements of the head (India), a sharp intake of breath (Japan), or simply impassive silence may mean the opposite of what you assume. Without the guidance of verbal clues, it is essential to read the non-verbal signs to achieve greater understanding and rapport.
Generally speaking, the clearer you are in your communication methods, the more you are likely to work well in virtual teams.
As in all work with cultural intelligence, the time spent on learning a basic ‘global mindset toolkit’ will dramatically increase your co-workers’ engagement, your team’s performance and profitability, and your own satisfaction in the virtual workplace.
Working in global markets or with (virtual) multicultural teams? Apply for a complimentary 30-minute Global Business Coaching Session with me via Skype to obtain your Global Mindset Toolkit and Action Plan.