Hybrid Work As a Jumpstart for Building Cross-Cultural Trust
Until Corona, multinational companies worked remotely in offices spread throughout various countries. Due to that format, they emphasized meeting in person at least a few times a year, but the daily or even weekly routine was to operate separately.
Consequently, “cultural gaps” were one of the major challenges faced by remote employees, meaning not only language barriers and cultural differences, but also the work of individuals far away from the organizational “hub” – the decision makers at corporate headquarters.
Then came the pandemic, with everyone working remotely – both those in far-off countries and those assigned to the main office but sheltered down at home. A total game changer! The challenges faced by a minority of employees turned into a situation shared by the entire company, so handling those challenges of remote work and virtual meetings became a top priority for CEOs, senior executives and obviously HR managers.
These days, life is partially returning to normal with a new work model: hybrid work. In fact, this is the new normal. The hybrid model enables employees to combine different work modes: from home/on the go (remote) or at the office (face-to-face).
Here are common challenges and ways to address them in hybrid work:
- The need to be “seen”
In general, those working far from the hub feel isolated from organizational success. Remote employees tend to feel underappreciated.
To remedy this, managers need to ensure similarity between remote and in-person performance evaluations and the acknowledgement/reward of professional success.
- The need for continuous communication
International companies usually hold annual or semiannual conferences and make certain to conduct regular meetings with employees in other countries – both face to face and via videoconferencing. Hybrid work, however, demands that we pay much more attention to continuous communication and to making both physical and remote attendance into viable options for every single meeting.
So managers need to ensure that a videoconferencing link and digital tools support every meeting, and not to forget during the meeting to engage with remote attendees as much as with those present in the room.
- Working remotely shrinks networks and thus harms innovation
An analysis (see Microsoft research) shows that interaction with employees’ close networks increased when working remotely, while interaction with their more distant networks diminished. This means companies became more siloed than they were before the pandemic.
Dr. Nancy Baym, Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft says, “When you lose connections, you stop innovating. It’s harder for new ideas to get in and groupthink becomes a serious possibility.”
So it is important to encourage meetings among permanent team members and also for heterogenous groups. Employees should furthermore be assigned joint projects tackling different subjects requiring global cooperation. Such collaborations
enable transparency, encourage open and honest communication, build psychological confidence in the wider team as well, and actually lead to more innovation and new initiatives.
- Building trust from a distance
Trust is built up among coworkers and teams not just by working together but often also by forming personal relationships. (Each culture is different in this regard. In some, friendships are critical to business success.) When there is no physical presence and no opportunity for breakroom banter and other informal conversations, it is hard to get to know one another on a more personal level and build relations based on familiarity and trust.
I therefore recommend that the weekly schedule for the hybrid work model include some “meetings” for informal purposes. They should include open dialogue on various subjects, with both managers and junior employees expressing their opinions and giving feedback.
- Focus on short-term tasks and long-term objectives
These challenges and the suggested solutions are extremely important for the global company’s success and its employee retention over time. Communication is key, as always, but so is building relationships that lead to trust among the individuals that make up the organization as a whole.
So the manager’s main role in hybrid work is to keep teams connected, which is all about:
- The place: Focus on physical space, time zones and technology
- The people: Focus on personal connections
- The practices: Focus on communication structures and norms
(Read more about connecting people when not together in Google’s research.)
Again, these challenges have always been present in cross-cultural business for those who only kept in touch virtually. And now that they have become a pressing need for top managers, hybrid work is creating new opportunities for better collaboration across diverse cultures, and everyone can benefit from the change. J