Globalising Our Virtual World: The Necessity for Remote Intercultural Skill Sets

Syd O'Wesney

The Case For Remote Work

If you haven’t noticed yet, remote work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Covid-19 has stretched over a year now, marking one year of remote or hybrid working for many people around the world. Despite the distribution of vaccines underway in both the United States and abroad, the way we work won’t exactly go back to normal. Or at least, it won’t go back to the old normal.

Covid-19 has provided a strange catalyst for various industries to adapt to technology in order to survive. Despite the constantly advancing technological advancements that we have, it has taken a global pandemic to realize the full benefits of these options. There was a wariness pre-pandemic about the idea of remote work and whether it would be truly beneficial. It turns out that a majority of these concerns are unfounded. Remote work has a wide range of benefits for both employers and employees to enjoy.

The biggest theory holding back remote work was that it would make people lazy and less work would get done. Surprisingly, even studies done pre-pandemic were indicating that working from home actually boosted productivity rates (check out this TedTalk regarding a 2 year Stanford study from 2017!). Although employees tend to take more breaks while working remotely, those breaks seem to provide the relief needed to find greater productivity throughout the day. They are also far less distracted than workers in an office setting. This busts the laziness myth.

The benefits don’t end at productivity, though. Employers can save thousands of dollars on rent and utility expenses by reducing office space. The carbon footprint from both commercial real estate and commute could be reduced by over 50 million tons, greatly benefiting the environment as well. Overall employee satisfaction with their positions increases with remote work due to the flexibility that this type of work provides. Employees wouldn’t feel pressured to still come into work to get things done while sick, often infecting the entire office (we’ve seen this issue to a radical extent nowadays). For our eager globetrotters out there, remote work would provide the ability for employees to work from anywhere. Actual vacation days would still exist, yes, but imagine getting to spend an extra week or two in another country or state where your only locational necessity for work is a stable internet connection?

Another positive to remote work is that companies and institutions will have access to a wider variety of applicants, actively diversifying their workplace. Remote work would often mean hosting the interview process remotely as well, making opportunities more accessible to everyone both in country and abroad. This is where the global component comes in. The workplace was rapidly globalizing even before Covid-19. Now, with the clear necessity for the world to learn how to work together, workplaces will continue to become more intercultural to include voices and perspectives from around the world and around the country. This is why intercultural experiences are so important, even within remote work.

The cons of remote work are few and far between, mostly focused on mental health due to work isolation. I have to wonder though how much of that would be alleviated once the pandemic is over and we can log off from work everyday and go out and interact with people anyway. Remote work is obviously not a catch all for every kind of occupation in the world. There are plenty of positions that require in-person work or interaction, but there are also options to make certain jobs hybrid as well. The details of how the world will virtualise post-Covid are still up for debate, but it’s likely that many positions that can switch to a remote or hybrid setting will do so.

The Need for Global Virtual Experiences

Now that you’ve heard my spiel about the impending virtualisation of work, it’s time to get into what that means for those preparing to enter the workforce in the coming years. With a growing switch to remote work, the desire for remote working skills will increase. The technological needs are more obvious, like the familiarity of working with platforms like Zoom or Teams, for example. Yet there are less obvious skills that are crucial to a virtual work environment. 

Forbes states that the five must-have skills of remote work are: strong written communication, focus, adaptability, collaboration, and time management. Three out of the five of these directly relate to intercultural skills as well. Not only that, but the way in which we learn to apply these intercultural skills changes in a virtual environment as well.

 

Communication

If you have any international or intercultural experience, you know the importance of effective communication. Language barriers and cultural differences mean that ensuring you are clear and concise to collaborate effectively with your team/coworkers/colleagues, etc. This is something that many students benefit from by interning abroad. Yet, the way in which you communicate changes drastically when it comes to remote work. The lack of in-person proximity means that you can’t just stop by a colleague’s office to update or clarify something for them, and vice versa. Video conferencing through Zoom and Teams are meant for scheduled meetings, rather than popping in to make sure you’re on the right track for a project. Therefore, written communication through email and quicker platforms like Slack, WhatsApp, and Google Chat provide a way for quick communication without cutting in to someone’s workday. 

This is a vastly different experience than communicating in person. Written communication requires more thought than simply chatting face to face, and any cultural barriers may manifest differently over a text than in person. Email and Slack etiquette may vary widely depending on the country or workplace as well. There is no standard etiquette for communication, but there are ways to make sure you’re communicating efficiently and precisely. This is a practical skill that can be learned through remote experiences like global virtual interning.

Adaptability

Adaptability is something you see a lot in both intercultural communication and desirable workplace skills. As the technology we use to work and communicate continues to evolve, we need to be able to evolve as well. Being able to adapt to a variety of different technological platforms is one thing, but translating your skills to the global work environment is crucial as well. Tasks, work ethic, and expectations differ greatly all over the world. Whether your company works with global partners or you work at an institution abroad, the ability to adapt to the needs and environment of that workplace is essential to working in a globalising and virtualising world. Knowing how to adapt to both will make you a more viable employee during the job search process.

Collaboration

If Covid-19 has proven anything, it’s that the world needs to work together in greater and more effective ways if we are to continue to create a better future post-Covid. The inability to work together effectively on the global world stage to combat Covid-19 has only proven the necessity for global collaboration rather than competition. Globalisation is a force that can’t be stopped or even slowed down, and it means that we need to produce more globally-minded citizens if we are to do better in the future. 

Virtual spaces work similarly in that greater collaboration skills are needed in order to get things done. A lack of physical space to meet in means that this skill is more necessary than ever to hone in a remote way. Learning to collaborate interculturally adds another layer to this desired skill, and one that can be satisfied through global virtual experiences. Solid experiences like this can not only develop a participant’s skills in collaborating virtually, but also prepare them for greater global collaboration as a whole.

In Conclusion

If you take anything from this article, I hope that it’s that we need greater intercultural skills, both remotely and in person, if we are to rise from the ashes of a global pandemic. Alongside this, remote work is a strange but welcomed side effect of this life changing event that may bring about positive change to workplaces around the world. This article focuses on global virtual experiences like interning because it’s something offered here at Learn International, but it’s also a call for people to start working toward a more globally minded strategy in their careers. Through learning remote skills of collaboration, adaptability, and communication, I hope that more people, young and old, learn that working together is the future that a post-Covid world needs, and is crying out desperately for.

References

https://www.cmswire.com/digital-workplace/6-proven-business-benefits-of-remote-work/

https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/a-2-year-stanford-study-shows-astonishing-productivity-boost-of-working-from-home.html

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/333010

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2020/07/30/5-must-have-skills-for-remote-work/?sh=3a28162133c4

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