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Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams | Ricardo Fernandez | TEDxIESEBarcelona

good afternoon everyone I have someone
actually joining us here today so give
me one second hello mark can can you
hear me mark there’s tons of static mark
is that you mark king can you change
your line mark mark sorry sorry everyone
so up until about six months ago this
was my normal morning call now my normal
morning is I wake up between 7:00 to
8:30 in the morning every day we’re
neither my kids jump on my bed they
start screaming they start hitting each
other they start crying something always
happens and I get out of bed I make the
most of the morning I play with them a
little bit I mean it’s an absolute blast
then I take a few steps and in less than
5 seconds I’m at work I get into my
study I open up my computer and this is
what I see boom 1 2 3
sometimes up to 20 different people with
other their faces or names on screens on
my computer 30 different people from
over 10 different nationalities spread
all around the world talking nonstop 5
different offices around the world 5
different time zones complete chaos but
it’s actually a blast so I do this
between 2 to 6 hours
every single day of the week I currently
manage a team of 30 people from 10 very
very very very different nationalities I
don’t actually know what is tougher the
remote part of having to interact with
all of my team just using Skype
videoconference telephone or email or
the different cultural interpretations
to everyday things that happen in the
luckily my own personal journey has been
a bit of a nomad experience I was
actually born here in Spain and before I
was even a month I moved to Africa then
I spend five years in Puerto Rico then a
few more years in Spain then five years
in the Netherlands then I spent 10 years
between LA San Francisco in New York
please don’t try to add all of this up
it’s a little bit chaotic before I move
back to Europe travelled a little bit
around and finally settling down back in
Madrid I am no expert in cultures I
haven’t studied about cultures and I
haven’t read many books about cultures
but I’ve had hundreds of experiences
managing everyday problems that arise
from managing a multicultural team
remotely and still I make many mistakes
so why am I talking about this today
because this situation that I face every
single day will happen to most of you if
it already hasn’t happened people want
flexibility people want the choice of
word work and they want it now take a
look at this graph here so this is what
Millennials want from the workplace they
want training I think we can all agree
with that you know they want to learn at
work and they want flexible working
hours they want to work remotely they
want to choose when they work they want
to have flexibility during the day they
want this above cash bonuses they want
this above private health care they want
this above more vacation I mean they
want this above maternity paternity
benefits people want flexibility
many people on my team how great it is
to work remotely the reality is that
they end up working a lot more hours
actually a ton more hours very late at
night but they love the flexibility that
they have during the middle of the day
and remote working will become even more
common because the new generation of
managers wanted in their workplace and
the beauty about remote working is that
you’re actually adding a huge employee
benefit for much less cost and you’re
actually creating loyalty for people in
the workplace it’s a killer addition for
people but with all this flexibility you
know it’s actually not easy to make it
happen it’s actually quite tough there
are tons of problems that arise from
everyday situations in the workplace to
illustrate how simple yet complex this
problem is I I wanted to share a story
that happened to me about two years ago
when I first started working remotely
with my team in South Africa I’ve been
doing this for about five years um and
as usual I was sitting down in front of
my computer in Madrid and I had one of
my first conference calls with my team
in South Africa conference call when
when grade and at the end of it one of
my team members tells me I’ll call you
just now which I thought oh great I mean
I was actually very excited to get into
the into the detail of it so I ended the
call and I waited in front of my
computer and I waited and I waited and I
waited and then after about 15 minutes I
sent a message to my team member in in
South Africa and I told him hey are we
talking just now – which responded yes
yeah just now and he pinged me this
message sent me this image describing
how South Africans define time so just
now wasn’t you know I think what we’re
all thinking right now you know we’ll
talk in a couple of seconds or a couple
of minutes for South Africans just now
can me can mean you know we’ll talk in
the future hopefully today if not
tomorrow maybe someday in the distant
future you don’t really know when you’re
going to talk
how could something so simple such as
expressions about time lead to such
misunderstanding and this had been an
internal meeting so it wasn’t a big
problem but imagine this had been an
external meeting with clients cultural
differences can lead to huge
misunderstandings and the remoteness
part of it made it even worse because I
couldn’t get out of my desk go around
the hallway tap the person in the
shoulder and say are we talking just now
and of course this was my first week at
work and I didn’t want to sound like an
idiot asking these questions with my own
team remote working situations can be
even more confusing so just this week we
we launched the project in India and it
went extremely well and I wanted to
share my enthusiasm with my team so I in
one of our weekly weekly calls I shared
with with the rest of team and I told
one of my Indian co-workers you’re
killing it out there and the next day –
to my surprise I get an email very early
in the morning from my Indian team
member asking me up what did I what did
I do wrong
can can you give me advice can you tell
me how I can improve and I was taken
aback I I was actually trying to express
my enthusiasm and the great job that he
had done and he had interpreted
something completely different the exact
same sentence in the exact same language
being understood in two completely
different ways the lack of context
created this misunderstanding context is
absolutely necessary when working with
remote teams so even with two teams with
the same natural language such as
English there are still problems created
due to due to lack of context so about a
year ago I was having quite a few
communication problems between my US and
my London based teams we had tons of
meetings probably too many nowadays and
in most companies and lots of actions
were coming out lots of activities were
doing lots of things but
the results were poor people were not
communicating well too well with each
other and people were getting extremely
frustrated so I needed to do something
about this so I bought 30 copies of a
book about how to work with people from
different cultures and I gave my whole
team this book here the culture map by
Aaron Mayer and the effect was
absolutely amazing it brought out in the
open in plain sight how different people
are on the team so I had 30 different
people from 10 very different
nationalities that were all speaking the
exact same language in this case English
but we’re all saying things that were
completely different and were acting
completely different in the same
situations so for example my team in
Latin America they’re very hierarchical
so they didn’t understand when people
were responding in certain ways or my US
and my Dutch team is based in in London
they found it completely normal that in
the middle of a conference call you can
interrupt the person and you can say
your opinion and other people were going
absolutely not to this this
self-awareness and bringing this out in
this open was absolutely amazing it was
a key driving force for our success so I
think we all agree that remote working
is great and now having this flexibility
in the workplace is absolutely amazing
but it can actually also lead to
loneliness in my case over the last five
years I’ve actually felt lonely quite a
few times sitting in my my little study
in front of my computer all by myself
and when I’ve been in the office with
other people and actually have to travel
I felt very lonely on the road I had to
take lots of conference calls in hotel
rooms in trains in planes in public
bathrooms even you know in in horrible
situations I had to take calls in the
middle of the morning now very late at
night at three four five six o’clock in
the morning I mean really horrible
situations both physically
and mentally challenging situations so
you have to find a way to make yourself
be in a comfortable situation co-working
areas such as this one here are great to
solve this problem you I mean you can
feel that you’re part of a company you
can feel that work is being done sitting
around with other people you can network
with others you can get inspired by
others you know you can inspire others
you can just get out of your chair grab
a coffee and have a conversation with
someone from a completely different
company you just feel that work is being
done so remote working and what
co-working areas are absolutely great I
think there’s there’s no doubt about it
but the reality is that you still need
physical presence to create a truly
incredible team you can have amazing
relationships just via video conference
via email you can you can establish some
sort of relationship between your team
but you need the physical presence to
create empathy to really add empathy to
your team so remote working is the
future but you need physical presence at
least a couple of times a year to truly
create an amazing team so I want to
leave here today with one last thought
to share with everyone I want you to
start thinking about what you need to do
to be able to wake up in the future
hopefully not a very distant future and
to be able to get up every morning with
your loved ones and with your family and
be able to take your first call in a
place such as this sometimes being away
from your co-workers isn’t such a bad
thing thank you
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