Cultural clashes in the workplace

October 24, 2008
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According to “The Office Code,” a new book published by Steelcase, cultural clashes are becoming more frequent as multi-national organizations bring their multi-national work force together under one roof.

The book is based on a three-year study. The company hopes it will help organizations be more successful at bringing different nationalities together at work.

“Steelcase is asked time and time again how local culture manifests within the workplace, which can be particularly problematic after an international office is acquired through a merger or acquisition, but even exists in small companies when conducting business away from home,” said Catherine Gall, co-author of the book and director of Steelcase Workspace Futures in Europe.

“With this book, we compile our years of research to illustrate how organizations can accommodate and support different values, preferences and behaviors to avoid cultural misunderstandings.”

Some differences, the study found, are due to pressing economic constraints. One example of a difference in business culture is that in Germany, being on time for a meeting is a must, while in Italy being late is acceptable and even expected.

“The Office Code” even discusses the use of office space and how different configurations can give collaboration and communication a boost.

The book, which focuses on six European countries — Germany, France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and the U.K. — was released Oct. 23 in German and will be translated into English and French later this year. It is co-authored by Beatriz Arantes, social sciences researcher at Steelcase Workspace Futures in Europe. A similar study is also underway for North America.

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