Advances in information and communications technologies have revolutionized the business environment of the 21st century, making it possible for people in different cities, states - even nations - to work together on one team. If businesses are to succeed in this global culture of collaboration, experts say they must understand how people in various parts of the world prefer to communicate with one another.
Tom Peters says today's business environment is totally different than the one that existed just a decade ago. "We really do have a global economy, and an economy which no longer just consists of Japan, the United States and Germany," he says. "We have one technological revolution that's pretty far along -- information technology, the web being the latest and most radical example. We have a life sciences revolution, which is revving up as we speak, which I think will make the information technology revolution look like small change."
The management consultant, who helps companies respond to 'disruptive business environments,' says success today requires a new way of doing business, "competing like crazy with another company" on one hand, and "doing joint ventures with them" with the other. "There is an awful lot more flexibility," Peters says. "So you see seven companies in six countries from three continents get together to create an answer to a software issue or an aircraft issue."
And that's what Jaclyn Kostner calls collaboration. She specializes in teamwork in the virtual world. "Today, by a ratio 4 to 1, our work requires us to collaborate with someone that's somewhere else in the world," she says. "So when we're global, collaboration is working together without physically being in the same location, we've got to connect through some technology like e-mail, web conferencing and other kinds of technology."
Because people who collaborate using those communication tools often have different cultural backgrounds, it's inevitable that culture interacts with technology, and that, Kostner says, often leads to mis-communication.
"The Americans are rugged individualists," she says. "We love to work on teams, but we love working alone as well. So we are very comfortable leaving voice mail, sending e-mails and even when we are in real-time meetings, going off on our own and doing multitasking. It's very typical of our culture."
Kostner says European business culture is very different. "People in Europe love real-time communication. So if they are at their desks and the phone rings, they are going to answer it." That's not true in the United States, she says. "When the phone rings we may very likely let it ring into the voice mail so we don't get interrupted." And that can lead to problems if a European is calling an American. "They are kind of expecting to have a conversation," Kostner says. "When they get the voice mail, they will probably hang up and call back, because they want that real-time collaboration with you."
Those were some of the findings of an international study of nearly 1,000 business leaders from the United States, Europe and Asia.
Kostner says professionals in the Asia-Pacific region, more than anywhere else, want to be in touch constantly during the workday. As a result they find the phone to be an indispensable tool and prefer instant messaging to e-mail. "We like to call them the planned communicators, because with that whole array of technology out there, they were the ones who are the best at deciding which technology they're going to use, and how they will use it when they get in place," she says. "The rest of the world can learn a lot from the people in the Asia-Pacific region in that regard."
Kostner says business professionals in the Asia-Pacific region are also the most frequent telecommuters. "That surprised me a lot. I expected most of collaboration [there] to be face-to-face, but in fact, there are a lot of people that are doing telecommuting and using technologies to get a hold of one another."
The Meetings Around the World study - sponsored by Verizon Business and Microsoft - also found that people in the Asia Pacific region feel that meetings conducted via audio or videoconference technologies can be more productive than meeting face to face and less costly.
As more international virtual teams are set up, management consultant Jaclyn Kostner says companies around the world are not only pushing their corporate performance to new heights, they are bringing people a bit closer, in spite of geographic and cultural distances.