Working in a distributed company. Communication styles

I work at Automattic, one of the largest distributed companies in the world. Working in a distributed company means that everybody in this company works remotely. There are currently about one thousand people working in this company from about seventy countries. As you might expect, the international nature of the company poses a communication challenge. Recently, I had a fun experience that demonstrates how different people are.

Remote work means that we use text as our primary communication tool. Moreover, since the company spans over all the time zones in the world, we mostly use asynchronous communication, which takes the form of posts in internal blogs. A couple of weeks ago, I completed a lengthy analysis and summarized it in a post that was meant to be read by the majority of the company. Being a responsible professional, I asked several people to review the draft of my report.

To my embarrassment, I discovered that I made a typo in the report title, and not just a typo: I misspelled the company name :-(. A couple of minutes after asking for a review, two of my coworkers pinged me on Slack and told me about the typo. One message was, “There is a typo in the title.” Short, simple, and concise.

The second message was much longer.

Do you want to guess what the difference between the two coworkers is?
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Here’s the answer
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The author of the first (short) message grew up and lives in Germany. The author of the second message is American. Germany, United States, and Israel (where I am from) have very different cultural codes. Being an Israeli, I tend to communicate in a more direct and less “sweetened” way. For me, the American communication style sounds a little bit “artificial,” even though I don’t doubt the sincerity of this particular American coworker. I think that the opposite situation is even more problematic. It happened several times: I made a remark that, in my opinion, was neutral and well-intended, and later I heard comments about how I sounded too aggressive. Interestingly, all the commenters were Americans.

To sum up. People from different cultural backgrounds have different communication styles. In theory, we all know that these differences exist. In practice, we usually are unaware of them.

Featured photo by Stock Photography on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Working in a distributed company. Communication styles

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