Crossing Cultures in the Workplace

Hong Kong has forever been a melting pot of cultures, bringing together many different people from various creeds and religions to live and work together; it is one of the many things that make this city so great. However, within the workplace, when things are a little more serious, we see vast differences in work cultures that have to be clashed together. For many of our Hive members who are looking to start or expand their businesses to Hong Kong (and potentially greater Asia), there are many obstacles and barriers you must be able to break down in order to succeed. Using the research paper entitled “Culture Code” from 360° Magazine by Steelcase, we get an insight on the differences of work cultures found in 11 different countries (China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Russia, Spain and the US), and what you can generally expect bringing your own work culture into something so different.

Assimilate or Push for Change.

Within businesses of Hong Kong, we can comfortably state that being so multi-cultural there is not a unified working culture. We see that the creator of the business, the owner or boss, generally projects the particular working culture within. According to Steelcase, we see some general stereotypes confirmed. Chinese workers are mostly focused on their long-term career prospects amongst all the countries, Russia is the most autocratic, the US is the most individualist, Indian workers are very focused on status and their hierarchy, Spanish workers are focused on their short-term goals, and so on. This means that any expatriate looking to create their business here has to deal with the local expectations. Looking towards start-ups, if they wish to hire from the local population, they have to deal with these stereotypes, and their choice is to either assimilate or to bring your own culture in, as they will already have an idea of what to expect preceding their employment.

Optimizing Space vs. Hierarchy.

For SME’s standpoint, the businesses that optimize the space in which they are working in will always have a leg up on their competition, especially in cities where real estate is expensive (ie, Hong Kong!). However, thanks to Steelcase, we are given insights into what certain working cultures value more in terms of space vs, “saving face”. Countries such as China, India, Morocco and Russia have highly dense workspaces, but in order to achieve them and implement the hierarchy, the space is maximized for executives and managers, leaving the workers to divide what is left. The assumption is that your space should reflect your authority and position. On the other side of the coin, Netherlands, Great Britain, US and Germany, the trend is to reduce costs on their real estate in order to optimize their space. They are willing to try new ideas in order to foster innovation and creativity, this can be done by trying things like coworking spaces, or integrating executives and managers into the same space as their workers. We see this in the popularity of coworking in those particular areas, with Deskmag reporting that Asia has less then a quarter of the coworking spaces then North America, and less then one-fifth of that of Europe. Whilst the phenomenon has been rapidly growing the past years, it still has not quite boomed in Asian countries.

Collaborative and Working differences

In Great Britain and the US, the state of the working environment of the individual does not tend to matter. Especially in regards to our entrepreneurs and start-ups, the work-life balance often gets blurred and can occur anywhere. Work is ubiquitous. This places a higher emphasis on collaboration as despite working at an office or home; coffee shops, coworking spaces and airports give individuals a chance to interact with others and collaborate, as creative collaboration can occur at anytime. Whilst Germany and the Netherlands have a similar track, they generally understand the difference between private work and peer interaction. Working outside of the office is a natural occurrence, but this tends to occur in a coworking space, as opposed to home or any other areas to ensure that personal lives stay away from professional. This familiarity with coworking may explain why these two countries are considered the highest “sharers” or the 11. Each collaborative environment is structured, in order to bring the best out of the participants. However, in a large country like China, their hierarchy reflects their collaborative abilities. Generally the work is confined to an office space, and alternative spaces are rarely sought after like their European and American counterparts. Collaboration only occurs within those walls with carefully selected participants, as (like Russia) internal confidentiality is of the highest importance.

So if you are bringing your business to cross cultures, what do you do? Do you attempt to bridge with your clients/customers/employees and adapt to your surroundings? Or do you continue to work like you are used to yourself? The inherent ideals or the article are not the reshape, but to rethink. When you move into a new market and new culture, rethink your own ideals, but do not reshape them. If you can meet halfway and adapt accordingly, you business will succeed.

 

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