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Cultural Barriers: How to Manage Cross Cultural Remote Teams in Africa

February 23, 2024


Cultural barriers pose a significant hurdle for managing cross-cultural remote teams with different communication styles, work ethics, and expectations.

This article explores how to manage cross-cultural teams, addresses the cultural barriers encountered by global companies and offers strategies to foster effective collaboration and productivity.

Managing cross-cultural remote teams' hinges on fostering connections within a diverse virtual workforce.

While navigating the complexities of virtual team building, remote team managers must also work towards uniting their teams across cultural divides, time zones, and other distinct factors.

Recent studies reveal that 62% of virtual teams have members from three or more cultures, yet only 15% of team leaders have effectively managed cross-cultural remote teams. These figures underscore the urgent need to enhance cross-cultural remote team management 

How to Manage Cross-Cultural Teams?

In today's remote work landscape, cross-cultural virtual teams have become common.

These teams comprise individuals from diverse global backgrounds, whether freelancers worldwide or remote team members within the same country.

Remote work experts define culture as a nation's or region's unique social expectations, customs, and achievements. One's cultural perspective influences their approach to work, life events, and communication.

According to a report from Gitlab, over 25% of employees worldwide work in a 100% remote work organisation that observes virtual team collaboration, where every employee works in her or his own domestic time zone.

Managing a cross-cultural virtual team requires a thoughtful approach to communication, collaboration, and cultural understanding.

To effectively lead such teams, it's essential to establish clear communication channels, utilize technology for seamless interaction, and foster a culture of inclusivity and respect.

Additionally, acknowledging and embracing cultural differences while promoting cultural awareness among team members can help mitigate misunderstandings and foster a more harmonious working environment.

Regular check-ins, team-building activities, and cultural sensitivity training can strengthen bonds and enhance team cohesion.

While these distributed teams offer diversity, the varying cultures and time zones can present challenges in collaboration and communication.

Some Cultural Barriers in Cross-Cultural Employment

Cross cultural barriers in the workplace encompass variances in values, beliefs, and behaviors, which may result in misunderstandings and conflicts among individuals from diverse cultures.

Overcoming these barriers proves challenging, given their deep-seated nature stemming from cultural upbringing.

Communication Barriers

Varied communication styles, both verbal and nonverbal, exist across cultures. Some cultures favor direct communication, while others prefer indirect approaches.

These differences can result in misunderstandings and conflicts, mainly when individuals are unfamiliar with each other's communication norms.

Work Ethic

Cultural variations in work ethic abound, with some cultures emphasizing hard work and long hours while others prioritize a balanced work-life approach.

Such disparities can lead to conflict among team members with differing work expectations.

Management Styles

Cultural diversity extends to management styles, with some cultures favoring authoritarian approaches and others favoring democratic ones.

These differences in leadership styles may breed conflict, mainly when employees are not accustomed to their manager's preferred management approach.

Workplace Culture in Some African Countries

Cultural Atlas explained the nuanced business cultures of some African countries


In the public sector, decision-making flows from superiors to employees, while in the private sector, ideas often flow from employees, yet decisions primarily come from superiors.

South Africa: In South African workplaces, hierarchical structures are prevalent, and final decisions typically rest with those in higher positions, often reached through consensus with subordinates.

Similarly, South Africans exhibit strong loyalty to their companies and careers, with many individuals opting to remain with a single company for their entire lives.


Recognising and honoring Egyptian culture is of utmost importance.

Within the workplace, adherence to hierarchical norms and addressing colleagues and superiors with appropriate titles are indispensable aspects of etiquette.

Additionally, punctuality is greatly esteemed, demonstrating professionalism and reverence for the workplace environment.


While Mauritians are known for their hospitality, they adhere to certain social norms. Gift-giving is customary, and preserving one's reputation and that of others is valued.

Consequently, they may hesitate to refuse outright if asked for something. One should observe body language and periodically rephrase questions to ensure instructions align with their capabilities.

Various languages are employed in different contexts. English is predominant in business, while French dominates the media.

Code-switching between languages is expected. Despite these linguistic differences, there are shared corporate values.

Timeframes are flexible, and it is a collectivist culture that respects hierarchy.


In Nigerian work culture, hierarchy is highly esteemed, and respect for superiors is paramount.

Titles and positions carry significant weight; addressing individuals by their proper titles is crucial.

Similarly, age commands excellent reverence, with older individuals esteemed for their wisdom and influence

Challenges of Managing Remote Cross-Cultural Team

Managing cross-cultural teams entails both advantages and obstacles. While assembling a team with diverse global talent enriches the company's skill set, each member brings their own practices, preferences, and perceptions of company culture.

Consequently, integrating seamlessly with the team may need some help.  Additionally, team managers face the unique challenge of fostering multicultural team cohesion in a virtual environment.

Without the interpersonal dynamics of a physical workspace, cross-cultural remote teams are susceptible to conflicts and communication barriers.

Some challenges faced by business leaders when managing cross-cultural remote teams are:

Work Style Variation

In the public sector, decision-making flows from superiors to employees, while in the private sector, ideas often flow from employees, yet decisions primarily come from superiors.

South Africa: In South African workplaces, hierarchical structures are prevalent, and final decisions typically rest with those in higher positions, often reached through consensus with subordinates.

Similarly, South Africans exhibit strong loyalty to their companies and careers, with many individuals opting to remain with a single company for their entire lives.

Information Disparities

Information disparities pose significant risks for cross-cultural remote teams in the virtual system.

Any information gap can impede processes and hinder the flow of data. Ensuring all team members have access to appropriate resources is essential for successful collaboration.

Motivational Factors

Team leaders must consider how cultural differences influence team members' motivations to manage their teams effectively.

Motivational factors for cross-cultural remote teams differ from those in traditional settings. While tangible rewards like bonuses may be incentives, others may prioritise intangible benefits such as recognition and job satisfaction.

Cultural Influences

Managers of cross-cultural remote teams' grapple with the challenge of certain factions attempting to sway the group.

If certain team members share a cultural identity, they may wield it to dominate discussions or outcomes, potentially leading to conflicts and tense work environments.

Effects of Cultural Barriers in the Workplace

Cultural barriers can significantly impact the workplace, resulting in various adverse outcomes, such as

  • Misunderstandings and conflict: Cultural differences may lead to employee misunderstandings and disputes, ultimately harming relationships and productivity. 
  • Diminished employee engagement: Cultural barriers may create an atmosphere of exclusion, diminishing employee engagement and morale within the workforce. 
  • Decreased productivity: Difficulties in communication and collaboration due to cultural differences can hamper teamwork, leading to reduced productivity and missed deadlines. 
  • Elevated turnover rates: Employees feeling marginalized due to cultural barriers may opt to leave their positions, resulting in increased turnover rates and associated costs for organisations. 

Bridging the Gap Between Cross- Cultural Virtual Teams

Managing cross-cultural remote teams begins with prioritising virtual team building. While cultural backgrounds may introduce unique challenges, the key lies in fostering teamwork.

Establishing an effective strategy to close gaps and foster stronger personal relationships among team members is paramount.

By actively enhancing connections among team members, you can mitigate the initial challenges of remote work. Additionally, team members with shared bonds can more effectively navigate emerging cross-cultural hurdles.

Consider leveraging intentionally crafted games and activities, such as icebreakers, to bolster connections among team members.

Individual Strategies

  • Embrace open-mindedness and respect: Cultivate a willingness to learn about other cultures and show respect for their differences. 
  • Practice clear and direct communication: Avoid ambiguity and indirectness to prevent misunderstandings. 
  • Exercise patience and understanding: Building relationships and trust with individuals from diverse cultures takes time, so be patient and understanding throughout the process. 
  • Seek feedback: Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from trusted colleagues when navigating cultural differences in specific situations. 

Organisational Strategies

  • Offer diversity training: Provide employees with training sessions to enhance their understanding of different cultures and improve intercultural interactions.
  • Foster a culture of inclusion: Promote inclusivity within the workplace by implementing diverse initiatives, such as employee resource groups and cultural celebrations. 
  • Facilitate cross-cultural interaction: Create opportunities for employees from diverse backgrounds to interact and collaborate through team-building activities, social events, and cultural exchange programs. 
  • Utilise project management tools: Incorporate free project management tools to streamline project planning, organisation, and execution, thereby enhancing communication and collaboration among teams. 

Ways to Manage Remote Multicultural Teams

In the digital realm, the landscape of company culture is ever evolving. Leaders must embrace a continuous learning mindset to effectively steer a diverse ensemble of cross-cultural teams to optimise their performance.

Business leaders can lead their remote team to excellence by refining proficiency in:


Managing remote multicultural teams successfully relies on the leader's capacity to comprehend each team member's work style and adapt accordingly.

While maintaining your leadership style, integrating diverse behaviors, perspectives, and commonalities is vital to fostering relatable leadership approaches.


Self-awareness stands as a cornerstone skill for leaders navigating cross-cultural teams. Given the potential for conflicts in virtual settings, vigilantly monitoring and managing personal biases is paramount.

Cultivate patience and empathy in communications, regularly challenging your perspectives to navigate cultural complexities effectively.


Clear communication is indispensable when collaborating with a cross-cultural virtual team. Prioritising precise and deliberate articulation enables leaders to ensure every team member comprehends messages effectively. Encourage a slower pace for members prone to rapid speech to enhance understanding.

Writing Proficiency

In virtual interactions, written communication is a crucial tool to mitigate the risk of misinterpretation. Leaders should cultivate adeptness in conveying information through writing, ensuring accessibility and clarity for all team members.


Cross cultural remote work barriers pose a significant challenge for multinational remote teams, but with dedication and empathy, they can be surmounted.

With the shift to remote work, leadership opportunities abound. As your team diversifies culturally, your leadership prowess should also evolve.

At Workforce Africa, we support global businesses in managing cross-cultural remote teams and fostering connections across diverse cultures in Africa.

Schedule a consultation to delve into the intricacies of managing cross-cultural remote teams. 

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