Many factors influence the feasibility and success of virtual assignments. According to a study conducted by Mercer’s partner, RW3 CultureWizard, Trends in Global Virtual Work – 2020, working virtually across cultures presents significant challenges. Moreover, 94% of respondents want to continue working virtually—at least part time.
The additional cultural challenges of collaboration, leadership, and relationship-building when working virtually have strong implications for assignment success and need to be addressed.
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Main challenges of virtual assignments
The collaboration challenge: technology makes collaboration possible, but personal skills make it successful. The highest barrier involves creating collaborative, inclusive virtual environments. Adding to the difficulty of building collaborative relationships are a number of other issues: for example, over one third of respondents indicated that building relationships (37%) and managing lack of responsiveness (20%) posed additional problems.
The leadership challenge: the role and expectations of leadership seem to be changing. Team leaders still must accomplish their business goals, but also need to develop additional skills to maintain high levels of engagement. New requirements include identifying the risk of cultural misunderstandings and serving as coaches for their team members.
The challenge of building trust: establishing trust between virtual workers and management is an essential step to implementing viable remote work practices for international assignees. RW3 CultureWizard’s survey explains how trust requires team members to be responsible, reliable, open to sharing information, and willing to give recognition to others. It’s easy to see how diverse teams, working remotely and meeting virtually, can encounter difficulties building the trust necessary for effective collaboration. Establishing trust across cultures that have different expectations about workplace behaviors, responsiveness, and respect is extremely challenging.