Ongoing Challenges for Companies in the Virtual World

Yvonne Burton, Business Editor

In my work with Japanese corporations and individuals over the years, I have noticed the subtle differences in communication when relating person-to-person and when relating by phone or in virtual meetings.

The nuances that are “easier” to identify and manage when in the presence of a person of another culture are now made more elusive and challenging when in a virtual or remote setting. Yet, that is when it is most important to be able to recognize and manage them.

Understanding these nuances, especially culturally related ones, are now more important than ever when going about our business dealings and relationships in the virtual world.

I have attended, lead, facilitated or co-facilitated hundreds of virtual meetings/workshops over the course of the past pandemic year, and I learn something new from each of them. In one recent workshop, someone used a cartoon slide that was making its way around the internet. It asked, “Who leads the digital transformation in your company?” One choice, in addition to CEO and CTO, was COVID-19.

Yes, we all know that COVID-19 is the most important driver of technology usage and transformation in this past year. Not only has it forced us to look at things such as personal relationships and interactions as well as our business and services in new ways, but it has also forced us to transform them as well.

Companies are virtualizing their existing services, but that is not enough. They must also look for ways to pivot and create new services designed for the virtual world or the hybrid world that will continue to exist after the pandemic ends.

COVID-19 has shown many companies, especially Japanese firms, their weaknesses (their strengths also, of course) and areas that need drastic and immediate attention and improvements. Weaknesses include technical infrastructure and business ecosystems. It has uncovered the critical need for improvements in innovative thinking and employee self-motivation and actualization.

It has revealed to me the added importance of my cross-cultural background when working with my Japanese clients virtually (as well as the overall need for creating “understanding and engagement” with any client).

How are employees managing the freedom from the usual micro-management of their managers? Are they employing more self-discipline and creative thinking, or are they stuck and still need constant managing?”

Still Adjusting to Working from Home

For the Japanese, the added stress factor of the “abnormal” condition of working from home, which is very much the antithesis to the separation of Japanese business and social structure, creates a necessity for leading, managing, and relating in new ways.

How do you respect and manage the traditional Japanese construct of “face” virtually?

How do you handle the persistent anxiety that the pandemic brings and the blurring of professional and home lives and spaces?

How do you manage or allay fears around job performance due to the lack of office structure and protocols?

How are employees managing the freedom from the usual micro-management of their managers? Are they employing more self-discipline and creative thinking, or are they stuck and still need constant managing?

What are the new dictates of leadership? Is it still one-directional (top-down) or leading from any chair, where employees are more engaged in their own development as well as have more input in company decision-making processes?

These are some of the questions that are in the minds of leaders, managers, and workers alike. It is an evolving process to find the answers and a balance between these intersecting concerns.

Their ultimate success or even survival depends on how they deal with these types of questions.

Yvonne Burton provides services to Japanese firms operating internationally and companies operating in the Japanese market. To learn more, please visit burtonconsulting.biz.