Virtual workplaces, like anything, have their pros and cons. They facilitate quick and multichannel communication in this day and age in which people consult their technology upwards of ten hours a day. They increase accessibility and availability as in the case of the Plus3 Program: teammates who are unable to travel due to the pandemic are still able to collaborate with each other and form online relationships. All this being said, there are specific challenges with the virtual setting for working cross-culturally and several necessary personal initiatives in order to establish team and client trust.
It is very challenging to find common ground to relate to each other within cross-cultural teams in a virtual setting. It is very easy to be ignored or face awkward silence during a Zoom call in which people might rely on others in a social loafing type manner to respond to conversations. This leads to that infamous moment in which callers play chicken to see who will unmute their mics first. Since this is a common occurrence in the virtual setting, many people refrain from engaging in meaningful conversation in fear that they will not receive immediate responses or acknowledgement. This facet of reality within the online workplace makes it extremely difficult to form meaningful connections with your coworkers, or in our case, teammates. However, as I previously mentioned in my last blog post, we have been able to combat this with a structured get to know each other initiative. The about me presentations really forced us to get outside of our comfort zones and share more about our personalities to make our team feel more connected and fostered an open environment.
There are a few things that I further do to help create this open environment with my team. As Mariana and Pamela remind us every meeting, one of the best ways to help make the virtual setting more group friendly is to turn on your camera. When I am in breakout rooms with my team, I try to make a habit of turning on my camera. Most human communication is gestural as opposed to virtual, so I believe it is necessary for us to see each other smile, wave our hands around, lean forward, and etc in order to establish trust in each other. This holds true for building trust and a solid relationship with our client, Senior Concierge. Our goal as a team is to have the best solutions for Macia’s problem, but also to display that we have confidence that they are the best solutions. Gestural cues like hand gesturing for dramatic emphasis, nodding your head in agreement, and smiling are all essential additions to an effective display of team confidence beyond a level, enthusiastic presenting voice. Especially given that my teammates and Marcia are not from my home culture, it is essential to have this added layer of gestural cues because actions like a smile are universal human language whereas cultures are split up. In the case of Salette, the operations manager that did not speak english, these gestural cues from having my camera on were the only tools that I had at my disposal to form a personal connection. Thus, turning your camera on in the virtual setting is the best and easiest method of forming trust in a cross-cultural community.
A perhaps more difficult solution for more shy students would be to make a habit of fitting in small personal details when you speak to your teammates. For example, fit in a small tidbit about yourself during your greetings at the beginning of the call. Some things I have said were:
“Sorry if my camera is off, I’m eating my favorite breakfast – an omelette!” Which prompted a funny conversation about when it’s necessary to turn off Zoom cameras and a quick debate on the merits of omelettes. We also got a chance to talk about go-to native breakfast foods.
“Guys, I almost missed class today- my alarm went off five mins before 10am!” Which prompted a passionate group conversation about early class times, sleeping in, and more background regarding each team member’s school and work status.
These simple conversation starters have allowed me to establish a rapport with my teammates while giving us an opportunity to learn more about each other and joke around. In the case of the omelette comment, we found common ground in joking about Zoom and learned more about foods within our different cultures. With the alarm clock story, we were all able to joke about the desire to sleep in and learn more about each other’s professional academic and work lives. Thus, small comments like this are an amazing way to start lighthearted conversations within a virtual setting that foster a more open environment conducive to more effectively sharing ideas and opposing opinions. However, there are challenges in the virtual environment beyond establishing connections and trust over Zoom.
One issue with the virtual environment is generating interest and motivation in any given task. It is so easy to turn off your camera and mute your mic and escape notice in order to let the rest of your team handle the workload. My team combats this by finding fun ways to get enthusiastic about our proposal like designing our slides to look pretty on canvas or featuring each other’s individual passions in our final solution. For example, my teammate Valeria feels very passionately that there are several misperceptions in the healthcare industry in Latin America. She expressed several times these perception issues, and so we decided that should become a component of our final product deliverable. I have faith that this video will be well executed and a client favorite because it is something Valeria is passionate about and consequently motivated to do a good and thorough job on. I think in general, my team does an excellent job about brainstorming how to incorporate individual passions into our final recommendations to Senior Concierge.
Personally, I have found no opposition or resistance when I try to express my recommendations and ideas for our final project. When we created our project outline, we wrote down everyone’s ideas and decided how we could piece them all together for the final presentation. In general, I tend to be a very passionate person, so when I come up with an idea, I often feel strongly about it. When I advocate for my opinions, I always look to back them up with substantial evidence. This has been paramount in helping me not only express the legitimacy of my ideas, but also find my team’s support for their adoption. This justification of our recommendations is evident in the advising advice from Professor NAGAI and Skip. They both advocated passionately for the creation of a process map, so our team could analyze the pain points of the organization and anticipate how our solution could address them. In this way, the professors are setting us up to present evidence for the necessity and justification for each of our solutions much like I do when I advocate for my ideas to my team.
Overall, the Plus3 program has presented me with a unique challenge: learning to foster trust and an open environment within a cross-cultural team in a virtual setting. I think I am learning a lot about how to make myself more open to others and to work hard at making others feel comfortable and acknowledged. Thus, I am grateful for this challenge, and to see it develop during the advocacy stage of this challenge.