Cultural differences do have an impact on remote teams. Influencing how team members communicate, collaborate, and understand each other.
Firstly, communication styles vary greatly across cultures. In some cultures, people tend to be more direct in their communication, while in others, indirect communication is the norm.
This can lead to misunderstandings in a remote setting where non-verbal cues are less apparent. For example, a team member from a direct communication culture might perceive a colleague from an indirect communication culture as evasive or unclear, while the latter might find the former’s directness rude or abrasive.
I personally believe that to be an upside since I’ve always been genuinely interested in different cultures across the world. My first remote job was for a company building two translation products, and I truly enjoyed the experience for the very same reason.
I feel that it’s more common than not, considering the millennials’ passion for traveling and exploring different cultures.
Stay As Far As Possible From
Then again, it is not for everyone. Some people can’t grasp that and don’t want to comply with the basic norms and moral standards. That’s one of the first tests distributed companies need to align on — you want to stay as far as possible from racism, xenophobia, chauvinism, or any form of discrimination whatsoever.
Certain behaviors may be fine in a small team or over drinks after hours. But a larger distributed team may cause some friction if you don’t understand everyone’s culture.
Disclaimer: certain customs may be different for various groups of people, I’m speaking from experience and there may be certain inaccuracies that need clarification.
Some examples on top of my head:
- Americans and Eastern Europeans tend to swear a lot more compared to others. This may come off as a lot more offensive than you can imagine.
- Some people are quite religious. Messing with that even indirectly may be considered harmful. Also, they may drop the occasional “God bless you” which may be interpreted in different ways.
- Many Muslims take occasional prayer breaks throughout the day. This may be quite surprising to others, especially since the prayer times depend on the position of the Sun and the locality of the individual. It may very well fall in the middle of a meeting and you simply need to understand that.
- Food discussions are safe most of the time, but not necessarily. Jewish followers stick to Kosher food, Muslims don’t eat pork (and usually don’t drink). We have vegetarians and vegans, gluten-free people or lactose-intolerant ones (did you know that 90% of Asian-Americans are lactose intolerant?) On top of that, vegetarianism breaks down into other areas, pescatarians are vegetarians who eat fish, but not all vegetarians do; Jains in India don’t eat root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or onions, and the list goes on.
Also, cultural references of local areas (food chains or supermarkets), movies, sports may get weird. For instance, I hadn’t heard of Tesco or 7-Eleven before driving through the UK and visiting the US a few times. I often see references of Indian actors or politicians on Quora, and I know nothing about cricket (and almost nothing about baseball or American football).
I won’t even touch on the metric vs. imperial system, currency exchanges, certain numeric gotchas (i.e. lakhs and crones in India) and the like:
Bottom line, it could be quite fun, entertaining, and enlightening if you’re open-minded and into that. But it’s not for everyone so bear this in mind if you’re in an international setup.