Understanding and drawing strength from the regional societies helps organizations build an effective corporate culture around the world, but cultural preferences often create barriers to effective communication. It's not practical to physically travel to every country and truly appreciate the attributes that define that culture. If light, sounds, and even smells are culturally unique and essential to appreciating the cultural variables that influence organization and collaboration (Steelcase, 2015), are we behaving as globally as we perceive when we collaborate at distance? Economist Pankaj Ghemawat (2013) contends that we have only just begun to capitalize on technology to improve internal communication in the global work place. While we use standardized business tools and follow the same behaviors around e-mail and calendars, an increase in informal collaboration will bring us face to face with a wide range of cultural variables.
Like the iPhone, global adoption of desktop video gives organizations the false impression of a l tidal wave of unity sweeping across the world. Just because consumers buy the same products does not mean they think alike. In fact, the cross-border flow of cultural products accounts for only 5% of worldwide production (Ghemawat, 2013). So, while it is true that much of the cultural friction is reduced because companies are investing in unified communication platforms, the surge in collaboration tools (such as huddle rooms, application sharing, desktop video and on-demand multipoint conferencing), is just beginning. Within the collaboration experience, there is a natural increase in interpersonal communication. Companies that work across the globe can concentrate on applying cultural context to a gain competitive advantage.
The virtual experience is strategic because trust declines sharply with distance (Ghemawat, 2013). Videoconferencing provides a means of enhancing the awareness of peoples and cultures, and breaking down barriers of cultural preference without being in the same room. According to Ghemawat, “people tend to trust people from their own country more than foreigners, especially from those far away countries” (Ghemawat, 2013, pg. 14). If trust decreases as the difference between two people’s language and proximity increase, then tools like videoconferencing are vital. Improving bilateral trust can result in increased trade and greater capital investments.
The value of video in collaboration is the ability to offset the limited personal interactions that contribute to distrust, which is more important than technical connectivity or the flow of knowledge. Personal interactions can transform attitudes (more so than reading articles on appreciating cultural diversity). One word of caution: when things are bad, we tend to attribute the cause to people who are unlike ourselves. The videoconferencing experience can be more polarizing than audio conferencing because it is visually obvious that there are opposite sides on the call. At best, a video tool can only offset the frequency and does replace the need for face-to-face meetings.
TURNING POINT is Mark Peterson's personal take on innovation and collaboration influencing today's corporate strategy. To have a conversion about what takes to implement collaborative solutions efficiently and at enterprise scale, contact Mark Peterson
Ghemawat, P. (2013). How global are we? IEDC-Bled school of management. Retrieved from https://www.iedc.si/docs/default-source/iedc-publication/book-of-the-year-2013.pdf?sfvrsn=0
Hall. E. T. (1990). The Silent Language. Anchor.
Steelcase (2015). 360 Culture code: exploring workplace research, insights and trends. Issue 65. Retrieved from http://www.steelcase.com/insights/360-magazine/culture-code-issue-65/