Working Seamlessly within a Diverse Workforce

“Overcoming barriers to performance is how groups become teams.”- Anonymous

Even at the risk of sounding repetitive it must be said that digitization and globalization has shrunk the world. Virtual communication and teams have become a reality since companies now can reach out to customers and target audience across the globe and boundaries don’t seem so real anymore. Global customers also means that companies need to employ task forces that understand the local customers and their preferences and so are better able to service them. It is therefore vital that all learn to work seamlessly within a diverse workforce since it is now a reality and will remain so going forward. A diverse workforce brings with it many advantages but also can potentially create barriers if not managed well. Employees from different demographics bring with them new ideas, different cultures, innovative ways to get a job done and myriad other experiences that prove beneficial and help a company to grow. However, these very experiences and cultural diversity could also be the cause of friction and differences within teams if there is a lack of appreciation and understanding of working seamlessly with these differences. The understanding and creation of a seamless culture within such a diverse workforce is the responsibility of the leaders of the company.

It is important to recognize the usefulness and vitality of a diverse workforce and as such each culture and other reasons of diversity must not only be understood but appreciated and celebrated. Building tolerance by regular training and coaching on managing diversity and understanding different demographics is necessary for a diverse workforce to move together seamlessly and without friction. We have already mentioned in another write-up that a happy set of employees is critical for a company’s success and hence building connections and affinity within a diverse workforce becomes even more crucial. Imagine a situation where one set of employees cannot see eye to eye with some others only because they have different beliefs and come from different cultures – there would be a breakdown in communication, low work output and customer service levels would drop as a result. No company wants or needs unhappy customers.

A report reveals that at least 78% people have worked or are working within a diverse workforce and it should be believed that this number will only increase with time. Diverse workforce transcend boundaries of countries and hence there would be a plethora of cultures, time zones, languages, beliefs and other such conditions which could either be highly beneficial or become huge formidable stumbling blocks for a company. Companies have no choice but to turn these differences to advantages to avoid the risk of poor customer service and low employee productivity.  Is your company working with a diverse workforce, if so, what are you doing to ‘keep it together’?

– Start by sensitizing your local workforce about the differences that would be present when working with their counterparts in other parts of the world. Each workforce in different parts of the globe must receive regular training and coaching on managing diversity, understanding the different cultures and backgrounds, knowing what to say and words to be avoided and briefings on what can be construed as impolite and be potentially offensive in a particular culture. It would be best to hire people who have experience in working with a diverse workforce and if not then this training of sensitization must happen at the outset and on an on-going basis. The company too must display tolerance and deep appreciation for diversity and inter-cultural development must be part of the culture. In addition, prejudices, biases and intolerant behaviour must be dealt with severely such that every employee, across all regions, understands that the diverse workforce must be respected and a zero-tolerance policy for any breach is in effect in the company.

– Another method that some companies follow is to have an ‘employee exchange’ program. Deserving employees are assigned projects / assignments in offices in other countries and locations and work together with a diverse group to complete the project / assignment. Such opportunities not only sensitize the employees from both locations but also help them to gain more skills and knowledge and also spread this to their co-workers. Such high-potential employees then move on to becoming global leaders and gain plum jobs either within their home location or any location across the globe. Hence being able to work within a diverse workforce not only benefits the company but individuals too – it paves the way for better opportunities and faster professional growth.

– When working with a workforce spread across the world, it is crucial to also realize and be respectful of their time-zones and office work hours. They would also have holidays different to your own and even festival days would vary – remembering and being careful not to impose on these days and their ‘off-times’ would help to foster better relations. Companies must provide a list of holidays for their offices in different locations and also train their staff to be aware of the varying time zones. Office timings for each office location must also be mentioned and it would also be simpler to have these reminders in place for each individual team. Communication in any form must be scheduled to match the timelines and office hours of the location to where it is being sent.

– As mentioned, it is important to know and understand what certain phrases and words mean in different cultures. In the event, that you are unsure it is always better to first check before speaking or completely refrain from uttering anything that could be construed as misdemeanour and an insult. It is better to use plain and simple language that would be acceptable and cannot be interpreted in a wrong way. It is crucial to remember that what constitutes fun and jokes for you, could probably be cause for a major misunderstanding and also be highly crude and offensive for someone else, and hence their usage must be restricted for your circle of friends and co-workers who share the same culture.

– When working within a diverse workforce there would be a number of small and big things that you would encounter for the first time, for example names and surnames. If you think that you would not be able to pronounce someone’s name, it is alright to ask the person the correct pronunciation rather than distorting the name in any manner. A person’s name is the single most important identification for a person and they would rather spell it out for you rather than hear something that infuriates them. Being attentive and thoughtful in small measures usually adds up and makes for a sizeable scope of better relationships and seamless working within a diverse workforce.

– Managers and team leaders must ensure that similar teams in different locations ‘get together’ at least once every two months. This is where the modern technologies of virtual communication become so important. Video meetings, conferences and other virtual meeting technologies will help the teams know each other by face and name and this builds affinity and rapport. This task is not a nice to do but is absolutely essential when working within a diverse workforce. It is a great idea to also show live the celebrations of festivals in other locations. This increases interest and ‘participation’ and brings people closer and increases awareness of the culture and traditions of their counterparts in other parts of the world.

There is no escaping that companies will continue to expand and the need for a diverse workforce will increase. Companies must have a forward looking approach and factor in the sensitization of their workforce through training, coaching, events and other methods to break down cultural barriers and provide a solid foundation for each one to work seamlessly within a diverse workforce.

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