The Benefits of Videoconferencing For International Businesses

It’s hard to overstate the part that culture plays when conducting business overseas. Whatever the organization, wherever in the world it operates, effective communication is essential to success. English remains the de facto language of global business, but there are a variety of cultural nuances and business customs that can complicate our efforts to communicate with our international partners and clients. 

I recently spent some time in Japan meeting with our partner NTT, to discuss our ongoing growth in the region. To arrive on time for my meeting, I needed to be five minutes early. Before a meeting begins, it’s customary to complete the exchange of business cards (or “meishi koukan”). An exchange that acts as a formal self-introduction. Cards are given and received using both hands and are to be displayed on the table for the duration of the meeting. 

In North America, swapping business cards is not nearly as formal and many professionals don’t even carry them any longer. If the exchange of cards does happen before, during or at the end of a meeting, they quickly find themselves placed into breast-pockets or cardholders. To the Japanese, this demonstrates poor etiquette and could result in a big impact on decision-making. What is considered polite conduct in one country, may not be considered so in another. I’ve been to Japan a number of times for business and I’m grateful to have received proper guidance along the way.  

With so many exchanges taking place via email, chat and phone, many professionals tend to undervalue the importance of face time. I am a firm believer of quality face time with customers, partners, prospects and employees. Nothing quite compares to being with the person(s) with which you are meeting. While I’m often on the road, many enterprises have been cutting back on corporate travel for years.  

There are many reasons for this, though chief among them are cost-cutting exercises (international travel expenses hurt rather than help the bottom line). Complicated visa processes, higher airfares and greener tendencies have also contributed to this shift. While this makes sense when looking to minimize expenses and maximize profits, it’s to the detriment of our relationships in which the cultural preference is for face-to-face interactions. 

What is most notable when sitting and speaking with someone, is just how many communication cues are lost, or simply unavailable, when doing business by email or phone. Body language, hand gestures and facial expressions are just some of the important indicators that let us know how a conversation is progressing, or where it may be stalling.   

Videoconferencing technology brings all of those visual cues back into play. Done properly, it allows conversations to flow more naturally, and is especially important in cross-cultural communication, where there’s greater potential for actions and answers to get “lost in translation”.  

As a method of communication, video puts us in a brilliant position to change the way companies build and maintain their international relationships. By providing potential opportunities to connect and collaborate with partners and clients from across the globe, in a way they favor, companies can deepen their working relationships, defy the impact of distance and break down cultural barriers.  

By closing this divide, today’s businesses can benefit from greater collaboration and more genuine conversations. This not only ensures more productive meetings, but also provides the opportunity for more meaningful business relationships, regardless of whether you’re working from San Francisco or Tokyo, Japan.

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