Rigid Vs. Flexible Concepts of Time

Looking Back

We’ve been exploring some cultural differences in the past few blogs – comparing the characteristics of “hot-climate cultures” to “cold-climate cultures”.

Previously, we’ve looked at relationship versus task orientation and how this might affect workplace dynamics. We’ve also considered indirect and direct communication styles and the impact these have on employee relationships. Most recently, we explored individual and group identity.

Orientation Towards Time

Recently, a friend of mine, not known for punctuality, returned from a trip to Germany. She arrived early for a meeting, and joked that she was still “keeping a good German schedule”.

This illustrates a key difference between hot-climate and cold-climate cultures – the way time is viewed and managed.

In a cold-climate place, like Germany, time is rigid and scheduled. A high value is placed on efficiency and timeliness, and events generally start at the announced time.

In a hot-climate place, like Kenya or Mexico, schedules are viewed as flexible, with less of an orientation towards the clock. Events begin when everyone is ready, regardless of the announced start time. Relationships and “experiencing the moment” are given priority, in many cases.

For both hot and cold-climate cultures, informal visiting may be part of an event and may be essential to interpersonal connection. In a cold-climate culture, this informal time happens before or after the scheduled event. In a hot-climate culture, informal visiting may be considered part of the event itself and go on through the scheduled event time.

A few things to keep in mind if you are a cold-climate culture person supervising hot-climate culture employees:

  • Know that your orientation towards time may be different than others, perhaps even the majority of your team. Expect some differences and don’t allow these differences to become major points of tension.
  • Communicate your expectations kindly and clearly – if you expect to start a meeting promptly at 10am, encourage your team to arrive at 9:50 if they would like to visit informally, and to be ready to meet at exactly 10. Consider building some “relational time” into your scheduled events to allow people to visit together, as this builds connectivity and trust.
  • Think about what you can learn from your teammates who are spontaneous and flexible in their schedules – there are benefits to adopting some of these skills in certain contexts!

As always, in all aspects of cultural differences, mutual respect, communication, and a sense of humour are the best assets. From the team at Twassistant, we wish you the very best as we begin 2016!

Interested in learning more? Contact Twassistant to learn how you can access global talent to meet your team’s needs.