One of the most notable changes that many employees have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in virtual meetings with colleagues locally and across the globe. As restrictions on travel have prevented organizations from moving their workforce, either on long-term assignments or simply for business travel, employees are being required to communicate virtually more than ever.
Virtual meetings present a number of new challenges. Whilst there has been a great deal of focus on the role of technology, with many having to quickly become familiar and comfortable with this being their sole means of communicating, virtual meetings can also present challenges with ensuring effective communication within teams, particularly when they are spread across multiple countries and cultures.
With this in mind, here are three key considerations to keep front of mind in order to enhance cross-cultural communication as we navigate a world where virtual meetings have become the norm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been experienced in vastly different ways across different countries and communities. As well as varying levels of disruption and social restrictions, cultural groups will react differently to the common experience of uncertainty and anxiety. Awareness of the differing experiences of others may enable greater empathy for the viewpoints and reactions of others and foster a greater understanding of this shared experience, with the potential of enhancing the quality of remote and virtual communication.
Whereas previously colleagues may have gathered in one place for a face-to-face meeting, it is probable that many organizations have found their employees dispersed across the globe. This can present a number of logistical challenges for communication. For example, holding a virtual meeting with many international participants will involve multiple timezones, meaning that the timing may present more difficulty for some than others. The same can be said for different holidays and significant events that occur in different countries and cultures. By demonstrating awareness of the contextual factors, greater common understanding and sense of value will be fostered among participants.
In the context of virtual meetings, non-verbal communication can assist with conveying meaning and increasing a shared understanding. Gestures can aid colleagues from high-context cultures who rely more heavily on non-verbal communication to make their viewpoint heard or for their understanding of others. This can also be helpful for those whose ability to communicate may be impeded by a language barrier, a difficulty often heightened when not communicating in-person. Not relying solely on verbal communication conveys a commitment to inclusiveness and ensures that no one is left behind.
Many organizations will be experiencing the challenges that can arise with global teams at an enhanced level during the current pandemic. Additional training to assist employees with identifying how they can work better in a cross-cultural setting can be of great benefit, especially as they settle into the ‘next normal’ of virtual working. There are many resources out there to assist organizations in better equipping their employees with the skills they need to be successful.
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