The Challenges of a Dispersed Workforce


How can culturally diverse and globally dispersed professionals harness the knowledge, skills and expertise necessary to make their companies agile in their approach to business systems and structures? How can they realize the power of their companies’ multifaceted, client-focused business models and globally distributed organizational structures?

First, here’s a look at diverse and dispersed teaming around the world. Worldwide, the number of people on dispersed teams is growing. According to the International Data Corporation annual tracker, Japan has the highest mobile worker saturation, at 65 percent; followed by the Americas, at 22 percent; Asia (minus Japan), at 19 percent; and, lastly, Europe, at 12 percent. These data points illustrate that to fully engage the global workforce, employers must turn their attention to tapping into knowledge and expertise without being held back by boundaries of location or proximity.

Illustratively, a recent research project by the Economist Intelligence Unit titled “Competing Across Borders” found that cross-border collaboration leads to innovation.  However, the most frequently cited disrupter of collaboration is the traditions unique to each culture that lead to misunderstandings and confusion, often lengthening project timelines and reducing productivity.

The Economist study also found that 25 percent of global employees are expected to speak a language in business that is not their native tongue. While almost 1 billion people around the world speak English, the English being used in today’s business looks and sounds as diverse as the individuals using it. The newest term for this lingua franca based on English is “Globish,” which was coined by Robert McClum in his book of the same name. For example, in the Indian business sphere, people speak “hybrid English,” which combines British vernacular with an Indian accent and Hindi language-based sayings.

Differences in location, language and culture can thwart the work of diverse and dispersed teams. With a global workforce more connected and interdependent than ever, gaining cultural competence is a key to effective collaboration across borders and cultures.

Lynne Putz