Hiring employees from other countries and working with companies all over the world can improve your business. Not only will you get to hire people with a unique assortment of skills, education, and training, but you'll also get exposure to different cultures. Higher diversity in business can lead to more innovation, higher productivity, and greater morale.
But there's one significant hurdle to hiring and working with people in other countries: the communication barrier. In some cases, you may not speak the same language (at least not as a mother tongue). In other cases, you may struggle to bridge the gaps between your cultures.
Fortunately, several strategies can help.
Meet in Person When Possible
While right now you should be meeting virtually because of the ongoing pandemic, eventually business travel will become safer and more available. When that happens, thanks to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), it's easy for people in other countries to visit the United States; citizens in 39 countries around the world (plus Croatia, beginning in September 2021) can travel to the U.S. for business purposes for up to 90 days, no visa required.
Take advantage of this and try to meet in person whenever possible. You'll especially want to meet in person a few times during the interview process if the position you're hiring for is significant to your company. Talking over the phone or in a video chat simply doesn't carry the same weight; in person, you'll be able to bond more effectively, witness each other's body language, and hopefully, communicate more effectively.
Learn the Language
If this person is applying to your job in the U.S, they probably speak at least a little English. But it's also a good idea to learn their language--at least the basics and key phrases used in your industry. There are some issues that may be difficult to resolve in one language or the other, but if each of you speaks a bit of the other's language, it will be much faster and easier to reach a place of mutual understanding.
Additionally, learning someone else's language (even if it's on an elementary level) is a sign of respect and appreciation. The other person will value your efforts, leading to a stronger professional relationship.
Overcome Time Zone Barriers
There's a good chance your team will be split across multiple time zones. If your new employee lives halfway around the world, your day and night cycles will be practically reversed. If there's an emergency or if you need to have a team meeting, this can make communication alignment hard to manage.
The best approach here is to establish a proactive understanding of how to navigate these differences. Is this person expected to be available during U.S. work hours? How much overlap should there be? What are the protocols for an emergency situation? It's best to clarify these questions as early on as possible.
Understand Different Points of Etiquette
People in different cultures are often used to different kinds of business etiquette. It pays to learn the hallmarks of other cultures, specifically, so you avoid offending someone.
- Punctuality and timing. In the U.S., we tend to take time very seriously and attempt to be on time as much as possible. But some cultures are even more serious about timing and punctuality; for example, in Germany, 85 percent of people take appointments very seriously and expect others to do the same. Being late can be considered offensive.
- Appropriate dress. Different cultures have different standards for what is considered "appropriate" business attire. While your khakis and a collared shirt may be perfectly fine in the United States, it may be considered underdressed elsewhere.
- Physical engagement. You'll also need to think about how you physically engage with others. In some cultures, it's not only common but also expected to shake hands, make eye contact, or even hug. In others, it's better for business people to keep their distance.
- Gift etiquette. Business associates in Japan frequently exchange wrapped gifts. In China, it's polite to give gifts--but it's also polite to put on a show of refusing gifts before eventually reluctantly accepting. In other cultures, gift giving is frowned on or uncommon.
- Power dynamics. Depending on where you're working, it may be seen as offensive or disrespectful to question authority. If you're expecting honest criticism from your employees, this can be a problem.
Generally, you can improve your position by communicating openly. Be open and honest about your expectations and do your research. Every culture is different and it's your job to learn what those differences are.
Identify and resolve points of contention. Look for potential points of contention and resolve them however you can. Also, compromise when possible. Try to find a middle ground if you disagree or if you have different cultural values.
By following these strategies, you can greatly increase your chances of successfully onboarding someone from a different country and an entirely different culture. Both of you stand to benefit from this relationship, so it's well worth the investment.