Building strong company culture across remote and global teams

To create a strong company culture, you must understand how cultural differences impact work

Company culture, including mission and values, might be the last thing on a busy CEO’s mind but it’s one of the first things considered by prospective employees.

Why company culture matters

According to research from Glassdoor, over 77% of workers would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there and over half say it has a bigger impact on job satisfaction than salary.

Aside from attracting talent, a positive work culture encourages productivity, reduces the risk of burnout, allows employees to reach their full potential, builds employee loyalty, and leads to higher retention rates.

However, a bad or toxic work culture – as starkly illustrated by Activision Blizzard – can not only be traumatic for team members, it can directly damage consumer relationships and a company’s bottom line.

But positive company culture isn’t a free gym pass, it’s much more than that and, if you’re an international business, it needs to work with different national and regional cultures. So, how can companies create a culture that truly helps employees flourish and can extend across remote, global teams?

Understanding cultural difference

The first step in creating a positive, strong work culture is investing the time to understand how cultural differences impact work styles and priorities. It sounds simple, but one of the biggest mistakes CEOs make with international relationships is failing to anticipate this.

National and regional cultures and religions can have a big effect on the way employees communicate, respond to different management styles, prefer to work, set goals, and place value. Refusing to acknowledge this can lead to miscommunication, missed potential, and tension.

For example, some cultures tend to emphasise individualism whereas others are more geared towards collectivism, and this can lead to working styles that are either more independent or more collaborative.

Employees in different countries may have different attitudes to work-life balance, be used to different levels of directness in communications, may prefer more authoritarian management rather than a more egalitarian style, and might be more, or less, comfortable about speaking up at work.

Whatever the case, it’s important for company directors to think deeply about the way cultural differences manifest if they’re to build a unifying ethos that works across their global teams. However, in this exercise they must be careful not to fall into harmful stereotypes – not everyone from one country will act the same – and should recognise that it’s not a case of some countries getting it ‘wrong’ whilst others are ‘right’.

Shared beliefs and values

Once cultural differences are sensitively understood, the next stage is to use this knowledge to build a company culture based on widely shared beliefs and values.

For instance, a company may traditionally have had a more competitive or even confrontational approach to business which may be effective in some cultures but doesn’t translate well to others.

If such a company wants to work effectively abroad and establish a sense of community between its international teams, it should consider adapting its approach to encourage a more cooperative mentality, since this style of approach is more common across different cultures.

A useful starting point may be to consider the Schwartz theory of basic values: a theory that defines ten broad values that could be considered universal as they are structured similarly across culturally diverse groups although groups may differ on levels of importance.

These ‘basic values’ are self-direction, stimulation, hedonism (seeking pleasure), achievement, power, security, conformity, tradition, benevolence, and universalism (regarding the welfare of all people and nature).

As these values in some way transcend culture, using a combination of them to build out a company’s mission will enable that mission to easily and smoothly translate into different contexts.

Although you will be working to create a unified company culture, the goal isn’t to erase cultural differences and homogenise employees. Diversity is essential for progress: hearing from only one viewpoint restricts creativity, misses out on nuance, and risks insensitive or offensive mistakes that can cost a company in sales and reputation.

In fact, McKinsey’s 2020 Diversity Wins report found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies in the fourth quartile, and companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed by 36% than those in the fourth for profitability.

Ethics aside, it’s clear there’s a strong business case for increased company diversity.

Maintaining company culture

Working out what your company stands for is just the beginning. Culture isn’t static: it’s continually created through the actions of a community. It’s all very well to write down the perfect work culture but if that’s not shared and turned into action then it doesn’t exist.

Whatever you decide about your company ethos, you should clearly spell it out both internally and externally. It’s an idea to include well-defined values and practises in your employee handbook so new hires understand its importance and how it’s expected to inform their work.

Make a point of sharing your company culture on your website and other platforms, such as your LinkedIn page, to help prospective employees learn more about your company and keep your own teams accountable. Does your business’s mission statement really reflect the experience of each team’s day-to-day? If not, it’s time for reflection and change.

However, a strong, global company culture won’t make international HR issues simpler. Systems of payment, benefits, vacation times, and other crucial work components are all dependent on each country’s laws and customs and local experts are needed to ensure complete compliance. Working with  Globalization Partners is one way to smoothly handle this is as our AI-driven global employment platform will make it fast and easy to hire anyone, anywhere, within minutes, compliantly, without setting up subsidiaries freeing up management to look after the day to day running of the business.

Company culture isn’t something any business can afford to get wrong but it can be tricky to build and just as hard to maintain. The challenge is even bigger when working with remote, global teams.

By taking the time to understand cultural differences, identifying shared beliefs and values, and continually reinforcing their ethos, companies can meet this challenge and create a positive working culture that supports employees and business growth.

By Nick Adams, Vice President of Sales, EMEA at Globalization Partners based in London, UK.

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