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In the Netherlands, we like to make jokes about our Belgian neighbours. Usually these jokes are about how Belgians are a little dumb, and the Belgian reply to that would be jokes about how the Dutch are tight – which is not so far from the truth.

We are not unique: every country has jokes about their neighbours. But this is changing. I don’t hear those Belgian jokes so much anymore. These days, we make jokes about people, mostly politicians, around the globe. Our world has become very global.

Whether we live in New York, Shanghai, London or Tokyo, we step out of the local metro, turn on the computer, tune into the world and work together remotely. What we’ve been missing all of this time – and it’s becoming much more apparent with Covid-19 – is that it is a lot harder to make true connections when working remotely. Covid has taught us that we miss our chats by the coffee machines; that it’s harder to connect and keep our culture of collaboration going. But with remote offices, it’s always been this way.

Our tools to connect with each other have vastly improved. I remember my email exchange with China back in 1996. After finally cranking up the modem to connect to the internet, each email exchange would take 4 hours because everything was read by the authorities. While video conferencing was outrageously expensive then, we now have Teams, Whatsapp, Yammer, WeChat, Zoom, social media, you name it … and email is getting outdated.

Whilst the technology has exponentially improved, our skills stayed behind. We expect everyone to voice their opinion, be transparent, be proactive, and raise problems … and we are surprised when they don’t. Then we start stereotyping – as we once did with the Belgians. 

To truly connect, build trust, meet deadlines and increase the quality of work, intercultural differences have to be bridged between global teams. These intercultural skills have finally made it to the list of 21st Century skills.

Accountability, self-management and retrospectives work differently in different cultures. Failing fast requires vulnerability. Understanding these cultural differences in practical, immediately applicable ways means you can hit the ground running.

You can learn from trial and error. But in this age of rapid transformation, why would you waste your time and energy making preventable mistakes that impact success?

It’s time to learn the skills of the future today. The Future is here. The Future is now.