Q&A: Inclusive Work Cultures: Nurturing Cross-Cultural Collaboration with Priyanka Poojary

Q: How did you end up in a people-related role and realize that you're really skilled at understanding and managing others?

I never set out to work in HR right from the start. Originally, I was drawn to numbers and finance, so I began pursuing a career in accounting. I even cleared some significant exams in that field. But as I dove deeper into it during my article, I felt something was missing. I didn't see myself doing this long-term; it didn't resonate with me.

That's when I decided to explore something more dynamic, something connected to helping and interacting with people. I've always enjoyed that, going way back to my school days. So, I made the switch to HR, starting with a small agency as a recruiter. It felt right, and I knew I was on the right path.

Since then, I've been in the HR field for about 3.5 years. I've moved through various roles, and currently, I'm working as a talent acquisition specialist at Brainstorm Force. It's been quite a journey from numbers to people, but I'm genuinely happy where I am. Working in HR allows me to engage and connect with others, something that brings me a lot of satisfaction.

Q: How does your accounting background uniquely assist you in solving HR challenges that many others in your field might overlook?

My background in accounting and taxation plays a crucial role in HR problem-solving because numbers are everywhere in HR, from payroll to reports. Having experience in accounting helps me handle employee queries better, especially when they're related to deductions or discrepancies in their salaries. I can easily clarify these issues due to my strong grasp of numbers.

Compared to many in HR who might lack a deep understanding of accounting, I can step in and manage accounting tasks if needed. This flexibility has proven valuable, especially in a diverse setting like ours at Brainstorm Force.

Q: How did you feel about joining a global and remote team? What aspects excited you, what was challenging, and were there any missing elements in the experience?

It feels wonderful; in fact, that’s my favourite part of working with Brainstorm Force.

Aspects that excite me about working with a global team are that I get to see so many perspectives and different ideas; we celebrate each other; we celebrate festivities together. And this sense of togetherness is what I enjoy the most!

The most challenging aspects were increasing a good bond within the teams, where members hail from different countries, and increasing employee satisfaction and engagement while working remotely.

To overcome challenges as a HR, I started with one-on-one interactions with team members to get to know them better. I tried to break the ice, make them talk, share their things, and share feedback in a healthy way.

I always encourage the team leads to take initiatives to keep their teams engaged. Have weekly virtual coffee breaks and have some fun together.

My HR team conducts town halls, meet-ups, virtual games, celebrations like the Garba session, the Virtual Secret Santa, and happiness surveys, which turn out to be very helpful in increasing engagement and overall satisfaction.

Q: How do you handle cultural differences or nuances in a global workplace that might potentially lead to conflicts or hostility? What strategies have you implemented to manage such situations effectively?

I handle cultural differences sensitively.

In such situations, I try to have open communication with the team member to understand their perspective without any bias, see what can be done from our end, and try to resolve it through a fair understanding.

To potentially avoid such a situation, I feel we can have a structured approach.

Firstly, start from the roots—hire candidates matching your work culture. Culturally fit candidates blend in well and sustain themselves longer. Improve your hiring process for better filtration.

Secondly, provide training for your people. Help them understand your company's values and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Lastly, have transparent communication. Disputes are part and parcel in all workplaces, but communication can often make the route smoother. Promote open communication and foster an environment where people can share things before they escalate.

Q: How do you effectively manage holidays across different countries with varying cultural holidays while ensuring the workflow continues in a global team setting?

We don't observe specific holidays as a company policy. Instead, each team member is allocated a leave balance at the start of the year. People have the freedom to use this leave as they see fit, according to their cultural or personal holidays, like Diwali or Christmas.

It's all about effective planning and communication within the team. If someone takes a leave, it's communicated so that work can be managed accordingly. We prioritize a leave policy where we don't decline leave requests, aiming to provide a healthy work-life balance for everyone. This approach allows our team members to manage their time off according to their cultural or personal needs without affecting the workflow.

Q: How do you help individuals manage burnout and the blurred work-life boundaries in a remote setup, and what strategies do you recommend for coping with this shift?

For managing burnouts and work-life boundaries, I always suggest that people focus on working effectively rather than working more hours than their usual shift. Working more hours doesn’t define productivity!

Strategies can involve:

- Having a good schedule. Create a calendar for yourself. I love Ali Abdaal’s Trident Calendar System!

- Plan your work time and your personal time.

- Never miss out on sleep for work!

- Make sure you take leave whenever necessary

- Enjoy the perks of remote working wholeheartedly

Q: What's your opinion on prioritizing an outcome-driven approach over a time-driven approach in a remote work setting, where productivity is assessed based on achieving specific outcomes rather than fixed work hours?

In our team of over 130 members across different time zones and countries, maintaining discipline is crucial. We focus on discipline through working hours rather than directly measuring productivity based on hours worked. While we offer part-time arrangements, opting for full-time work expects eight hours to maintain discipline.

Flexibility exists within these hours—you can manage your tasks, be productive, and even take breaks as needed. The time factor helps instill discipline, especially within a large, diverse team.

We promote a "work from anywhere" culture, ensuring you can work from diverse locations. However, consistency and presence during working hours remain essential. While we don't encourage constant location changes, occasional flexibility is accepted and supported within our work culture.

Q: What specific challenges and nuances arise from managing a remote team on a global scale?

The primary challenge of managing a remote global team is availability across different time zones. Decision-making gets delayed when seeking opinions or decisions from team members in different time zones. To address this, fostering asynchronous communication becomes crucial. It's essential not to expect immediate responses and to plan tasks in a way that accommodates varying time zones.

In our team, we emphasize building a strong team dynamic. This ensures that if someone from a different time zone isn’t available, our team is robust enough to proceed with asynchronous communication. Strengthening the team's capabilities and embracing diversity helps mitigate the challenges of managing a remote global team.

Q: What role do you play in handling emergency situations at the team member’s end in this inclusive work setup?

We make sure to tackle this with empathy and understanding.

We provide autonomy in terms of leaves without expecting individuals to formally apply for leave during emergencies. We prioritize that the members attend their emergencies first. Just a simple message informing the team or manager about the situation is enough for us. Later, once things settle down and work is resumed, formal applications can be made. In case there is any feasible monetary help or other assistance needed in such situations, we are open to considering that as well.

As a remote team, our options might be limited compared to an office set-up. We acknowledge that not everyone may feel comfortable sharing personal contact details, which can pose challenges in such situations.

But we strive to demonstrate empathy in these challenging and unforeseen circumstances that arise for our team members, scattered across different locations.

Q: How does idea evolution differ in a cross-cultural team compared to a team from the same location? Can you share an example where diversity in a global team enhanced an idea in ways a homogeneous team might have overlooked?

I think idea evolution in a cross-cultural team is wider as people from various backgrounds and perspectives are involved in it as compared to homogenous teams.

In a cross-cultural team, I have noticed that exposure to new technologies and advancements often varies between countries. Having members from diverse backgrounds helps us stay updated with global trends.

Growing remotely and diversely made us consider agile methodologies!

An agile way of working is definitely something we would not have considered or implemented while working with a small, homogenous team.

Q: What practices did you adopt from global HR leaders and integrate into your team? Also, what insights or practices have you shared with your global HR team based on your experiences or expertise?

From global HR leaders, the most crucial lesson I've learned is empathy. Understanding and showing empathy towards diverse individuals is vital. Without empathy, the work culture in any company might struggle. Additionally, providing equal opportunities regardless of gender, disability, culture, religion, or country is essential. In a past experience, I witnessed a decision made based on unconscious bias, favoring one person's decision over another's, which shouldn't happen in any organization.

Consequently, in my team, we emphasized empathy, transparent communication, and understanding. In a remote work setup, communication becomes even more critical. Unlike in a physical office setting, where emotions can be better assessed by being around the person,. In remote settings, we have to have frequent check-ins virtually through one-on-one meetings or through a simple ping on Slack! Not everyone expresses themselves the same way, so having empathy and understanding each individual's situation is key.

Q: How do you establish rapport within a team that predominantly uses English but occasionally switches to another language, like Hindi, for emotional connections?

I believe building a rapport with team members from different cultural backgrounds is crucial, especially while working remotely.

While in our onshore team, which hails from India, we can occasionally switch to Hindi or Marathi for emotional connects or fun moments, but with global team members, we provide comfort through English!

We make sure we stick to English whenever we are collaborating with our offshore team members. We do sometimes teach them a few words from Hindi or Marathi to have a light moment!

To build rapport, our HR approach involves building personal connections and sometimes initiating discussions beyond work.

Additionally, we organize "Brainstorm Force Employee Experience" meetings quarterly, aimed at understanding each other better. Monthly town halls are also held, providing a platform for everyone to join in, share updates, play games, and integrate new team members.

These efforts to create a welcoming environment and involve everyone have been effective in fostering a sense of camaraderie among team members, especially when welcoming someone new to the team.

Q: How can HR effectively measure and manage people's emotions as an outcome, blending emotional intelligence with established processes?

I believe HR plays a pivotal role in shaping the work culture within a company. It's about setting the tone, values, and vision alongside the leadership team. In our company, diversity is the norm, and as HR, our aim is to connect diverse teams, build bridges, and foster interactions among employees. Despite potential barriers and occasional conflicts, our approach matters most. Wearing multiple hats, we navigate these situations, striving to maintain a positive work environment.

Q: How do you ensure the connections you build between people remain strong?

I think open communication, feedback, and team-building activities are the cornerstones for keeping the bond strong!

We make sure there is open communication within teams. We seek feedback, even using anonymous forms like our recent Happiness Survey. This helps us gauge overall happiness at work and allows us to work on any areas that need improvement.

Team-building activities like virtual games and virtual festivity celebrations work amazing!

Recently, we had Navratri, Halloween, and virtual Secret Santa celebrations with the team!

I even hosted a Garba session during Navratri, and it was heartening to see colleagues from different countries joining in and dancing with us virtually!

It was an incredible experience that highlighted the power of inclusion and engagement!

Q: What's your view on the various leadership styles emphasizing rewards, team spirit, or output metrics to motivate and manage teams?

In my view, the best leadership approach, especially in the context of a global team, involves three critical qualities. Firstly, empathy stands out as the most crucial attribute. Understanding team members' situations, recognizing their challenges, and supporting them during difficult times creates a cohesive and supportive work environment.

Secondly, fostering trust among team members is paramount. When leaders demonstrate trust in their team's capabilities, it often motivates individuals to perform better and take on greater responsibilities.

Lastly, clarity in communication and vision is essential. It's vital for leaders to articulate their expectations clearly to avoid confusion among team members and ensure everyone is aligned towards achieving common goals. So, empathy, trust, and clarity are fundamental aspects that, in my opinion, make for effective leadership, especially in diverse and global work settings.

Q: In the coming decade, what percentage of the Indian workforce, particularly Gen Z and millennials, do you anticipate will prefer remote work and engaging in global teams? Additionally, what potential challenges might this shift pose for them?

I foresee that in the next decade, around 70% of the Indian workforce, particularly Gen Z and millennials, will lean towards remote work, while about 30% may prefer an office setting for various reasons. Remote work offers flexibility and the chance to balance personal life with work. As for challenges with global teams, communication obstacles, and legal barriers (sanctioned countries), cultural sensitivity can persist. . However, having the right values, hiring suitable individuals, providing adequate training, and fostering a supportive environment can help navigate these challenges effectively.

Do you work in HR?

Email abhash.kumar@springworks.in and let’s talk :)

Note: All views expressed in this interview are personal and not linked to any organization.