A remote team manager's guide to cultural diversity in the workplace

Remote Work & Culture

Recent attempts at companies promoting diversity have highlighted one core aspect we’ve all been leaving behind: Diversity is controll...

Alexandra Cote
January 21, 2021

Recent attempts at companies promoting diversity have highlighted one core aspect we’ve all been leaving behind: 

Diversity is controlled by a company’s people.

A leader’s own inclusive behavior aids the people management process, helping individual team members make the right decisions and overcome unconscious biases. Even in a remote setting.

So what is cultural diversity and is it really enough to maintain a cohesive remote workplace?

A diverse team refers to having employees of different genders, nationalities, religions, races, upbringings, etc. So simply putting together a diverse workforce is likely to get out of control if you don’t know how to nurture inclusiveness and integrate cultural diversity into your day-to-day work process.

From here on, we’ll refer to diversity only in relation to inclusion and how you can make individuals feel like they’re part of the team and not missing out on anything.

Taking advantage of a diverse workforce

Accessing a varied talent pool, allowing people from all over the world to be a part of your organization, and improving remote teams’ productivity are three of the most common cultural diversity benefits in the workplace.

There are also fewer personality differences clashing due to fewer communication opportunities. Specifically, non-formal chats that would cause misunderstandings and biases are now rare and can be replaced with formal meetings that focus on keeping productivity high instead.

Beyond this, promoting cultural diversity in the remote workplace helps you gain the respect of your clients and boost your reputation on diverse markets you want to cater to. 

Or, change your product altogether:

“One of the advantages of diversity on our team is that it helps us better serve our clients. We’re an international business, with clients across the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Singapore, Indonesia, India, and other regions.

Because many of our team members are based in the US, some of the early feedback we got about virtual events was that they were ‘American-centric’. For example, our trivia was based only on American pop-culture or references.

As we’ve grown and diversified our team, we’ve gained valuable insights into other cultures, which influences how we communicate with clients, how we facilitate events, and more. One measure of success is that we've seen an increase of five-star reviews from international participants along with more repeat business and referrals.” - Michael Alexis, CEO @TeamBuilding
Screenshots of people on a Zoom call

The greatest advantage of respecting and accommodating cultural diversity in the workplace remains the competitive advantage it gives remote managers and teams alike with regards to employment and performance:

“There’s a direct correlation between DE&I and competitive advantage. 
A McKinsey report found that for every 10% increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5% and that companies with significantly more racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform competitors. 
However, we must not forget that DE&I is really about people. We should do better to serve our employees, teams, partners, and communities. This is a human necessity that happens to also be good for business when done properly. 
As many teams have moved to remote work with all of the impacts of 2020, those who lead diverse teams, need to lean in and be aware of the needs of their teams. With the decline of in-person connections, greater attention to verbal and non-verbal cues are needed to maintain the advantages for your people in the sense of their belonging and being heard as much as for your businesses bottom line.” - Deanna Ransom, Global Head Of Marketing & Marketing Services and Chairperson of Diversity & Inclusion @Televerde

Complying with diversity laws in every country

Along with the EEOC laws US employers have to follow, other legal issues that leaders of remote teams need to be aware of include:

  • Privacy and security laws - These restrict what type of data you’re able to store and process and can differ from one country to another. This document from BrightTALK develops upon some of the restrictions by country.
  • Payroll - There’s no limit to how much you can pay someone. Still, many fully-remote companies offer to pay their employees based on the average income and cost of living in their respective countries. This can create further complications and clearly doesn’t reduce bias as lower-pay employees will know that someone else putting in the same work is getting paid double or triple the amount they get.
  • Other international law related to employment and hiring - When hiring and working legally with an individual from another country you’ll need to be aware of the specific labor laws and requirements. How salary payments are made, what benefits employees can get, and even what free days they’re entitled to get all differ from one country to another. Certain countries like Canada or Brazil have their own discrimination laws to be aware of. In addition, you’ll want to file the right tax forms and provide appropriate benefits based on the country’s employee classification.

But we’re here to make the process as smooth as possible so you won’t have to open up a local branch, file for a bank account in another country, or keep up with any labor policy changes yourself.

At Panther, we automatically connect you with entities around the world that act as a local employer-of-record for your own employees. This places your team on our own payroll so you won’t need to work with foreign subsidiaries. We’ll ensure your company complies with local laws, while also supporting social and pension contributions and income tax retention.

Spotting potential issues

Conflicts, harassment, not taking into account the diverse needs of individuals with different backgrounds, and fighting unconscious bias are just a couple of the daily challenges remote team managers face. 

If you’ve switched from an on-site team to a remote one, hidden problems such as these could be exacerbated. What does this look like? People left out of virtual cocktail parties, Slack groups, and even project-related discussions.

I’ve reached to a couple of leaders and diversity experts who will present you with a menu of actions to take against those problems that could impact your remote team:

“People may not always feel comfortable in diverse teams. Because everybody is so different, it is easy to overlook how people are feeling and whether they’re truly okay with the way a team functions. 

A good manager needs to have frequent evaluations with workers to make sure there’s no tension building up in the background. These evaluations can have different forms, but their goal should be to give people a chance to express themselves and identify potential issues. 

The earlier managers encourage such an open culture, the smaller the chance of having serious problems that can impact the entire business is. Once a problem is identified, there has to be a quick and concrete course of action that will show employees they’re truly being heard and supported in a remote company.” - Stefan Chekanov, CEO @Brosix
“Different individuals provide different perspectives that may be blindspots to a monocultural company. Now there is a more active legal front for diversity and this must be embraced. 

Remote team managers can handle these by becoming intentional with their hiring to support cultural diversity in the workplace. Understanding what each voice can bring to the team and how they fit into the positive business strategy of your company. 

One way they can handle this is by prioritizing diversity instead of making space for underrepresented voices as an afterthought. If your team is already composed of people from a singular culture, make it a point to diversify and proactively look for different profiles. This helps narrow down the search and avoid long-term negative consequences.” - Tom Winter, Co-Founder @DevSkiller
“Cross-cultural communication is a major focus in modern business and HR programs. Successful communication on a multicultural team involves not only a high level of emotional intelligence among team members, but a constant emphasis on openness and collaboration. 

I’ve found with my own remote team that by making my communication expectations clear, I have been able to avoid many of the culture-based communication pitfalls, such as an unwillingness to speak up during meetings or offer constructive criticism during brainstorming sessions.” - Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer @Resume.io
“Remote employees may not know when or how to bring up what's on their minds. So create an opportunity for them to do that.

Set up 20-minute one-on-one Zoom calls with everyone, making it clear that this is not about evaluating them in any way but about checking in on them. If it's a busy period and that's not feasible, create a free form/survey/poll and ask them to tell you about their experience at work this year. I can guarantee that you'll discover what wouldn't have come up naturally otherwise.

You can also look out for patterns in the feedback you receive. If you spot something, acknowledge it, talk about it, and even encourage your remote team to think of ways to address it. Doing this will help you get ahead of small issues before they grow and affect your team's overall happiness and engagement at work.” - Janice Burch, Founder @Before Diversity
“Participating according to your social responsibility is difficult when your values do not align with what you believe in. This is why I always reiterate to my employees how we should meet halfway when it comes to our beliefs before adding them to our team. It's best when your group stands on the same ground. 

The most appropriate way we were able to live our values was through hiring a diverse team and not putting these social and cultural divisions as a factor when it comes to hiring someone. Opening our door to people in the community, no matter their race or religion, gave everyone a background of what diversity means and made them understand how vital it is to include people into their own circle. 

Even if we are not yet a big company that can procure many people, the greatest takeaway in being small is how everyone is able to know each other. They’re no longer acquaintances but friends too. This makes it easier for remote team members to connect with each other and build better relationships which is in turn beneficial for the job. 

Through cultural diversity in the workplace, we were also able to acquire a lot more customers from the social group our employees belong to, making a bigger circle out of the small ones that used to be.” - Willie Greer, Founder @The Product Analyst

Listing out your cultural diversity policies in your employee handbook

Sometimes all it takes to face a problem is to list out your policies and clearly write down what’s not acceptable and what the consequences of a deviation are.

Starting with day one, onboarding materials allow you to share knowledge like what workplace accessibility can be used and if you provide any training courses or workshops to managers who want to become more involved in the issue of cultural diversity in the workplace. A Slack channel for D&I will also work at keeping your team hooked and active at fighting the issue.

Use your employee handbook to list down what’s accepted and what’s not. Define what unconscious bias and microaggressions look like. The latter in particular are three times more likely to cause your employees to leave the company.

Maintain zero tolerance to any deviation if you want your team to know you’re serious about guaranteeing acceptance and cultural diversity in the workplace. Hold regular check-ins to visualize where your team is at in terms of physical, emotional, and intellectual health. Pair this with anonymous surveys or feedback notes where employees can voice their real concerns without worrying about what others think or how they’ll treat them in the future.

Take note of what other companies are doing. The Lever.co team has put together a comprehensive diversity and inclusion handbook for their leaders that anyone can use as an inspiration. The Buffer team is sticking with their transparency value to offer a close look at their exact diversity stats. And other organizations are including workplace cultural diversity into their mission statements.

The bottom line on cultural diversity in the workplace

Remote work provides a leveled playfield for employees from all over the world. Along with the benefits of supporting cultural diversity in the workplace, this does pose a couple of challenges leaders have to handle. Acknowledge your shortcomings and strive to defeat them at the pace of one tiny goal per day.

The good news?

We can take care of employment processes so you’ll have time to keep your team engaged and happy. Panther helps you employ and onboard new teammates in just a couple of hours, no matter where they are in the world, while also ensuring you’re sticking to all national labor laws and policies.

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