We’re proud of our remote culture at Axelerant. But that’s not to say it’s always easy. Remote teams do face their own challenges.
We’re a distributed team of 86, spread across (soon-to-be) six countries. If we stopped being intentional about making it all work, we would fail.
One of the challenges we’ve run into in recent times is that of language. Our team has a lot of diversity in language, since India alone is home to so many different regional languages.
A quick question posed on our company Slack about how many languages each person can speak drew responses from 28 team members, spanning across a staggering 26 unique languages! On average, each team member speaks close to four languages.
Some of the languages spoken by our team:
But in recent times, this has led to certain challenges as well.
After English, the next most popular language spoken among our team is Hindi. And naturally, some team members are native speakers of Hindi, and more comfortable speaking in Hindi.
This means that during certain meetings, team members sometimes split off into side conversations conducted in Hindi (most commonly), or Gujarati, or any other dominant regional language, while others who don’t speak that language feel excluded by this behavior. It also makes it harder for non-Hindi speakers to find their tribe at Axelerant.
This is something that we worry about because in the long term, it impacts our culture. We don’t want to be the kind of workplace that alienates people. We recognize that the effects of this kind of alienation can be powerful, especially when someone is just starting out in a new job.
This issue has come up from time to time, and while we’ve addressed it on a smaller scale each time, this time we decided to open up the question for debate, in order to be able to hear everyone’s thoughts on how best to address it.
We started a Slack thread where people could share their inputs.
While it would have been fairly easy for us to impose English on our team for all our activities, we’re not sure that would have fully addressed the issue. There’s more context around why we’re doing what we’re doing that’s important for us all to understand.
We’re glad that people are responding, giving us the opportunity to hear their perspective and engage in constructive debate.
Here are some of the key aspects that have emerged.
These are some of the perspectives presented by team members in our Slack thread discussing this issue.
We can proactively ask if others on a call are comfortable with switching to a regional language, but it may not always work.
People in the minority may not always feel free to speak up about their discomfort. Peer pressure may cause people to keep their concerns to themselves, even when questioned. And this puts us on the road to assumptions, mistrust, and feelings of isolation.
English is a language that’s spoken by us all, and it makes sense for us to use it most of the time.
Using English would help us attract talent from different locations. It’s also the language we use when communicating with our clients.
Therefore, it makes the most sense for us to adopt English in all activities and gatherings.
No one likes the idea of imposing any language.
No matter what the language in question, imposing a language is like putting a bandaid on the larger problem.
A more effective solution may be to have a guideline in place, explaining to people why it’s important for them to try to stay with a shared language as far as possible.
Further, educating people and making them aware that their behavior may be causing others discomfort is the key aspect here.
These are our takeaways.
Cultural differences compound these challenges. And often these are amorphous things that are learned through experience and are difficult to teach. We can encourage people to read books and watch videos to help them bridge these gaps. But none of these can offer a complete solution in itself.
Ultimately, it's a matter of how we can all coexist.
Mandating that everyone speaks a single language doesn’t solve the larger issue. It simply shifts the problem to a different place.
The goal should be coexistence. And to do that, we have to come together and agree to something, and then that becomes the rule.
Parth Gohil, People Operations Manager
Inclusion goes both ways.
It's a two-way process. At the end of the day, the onus is on us to make the effort to understand each other—not just by speaking in a common language, but also trying to be aware of other people’s constraints, irrespective of the context.
And that comes down to us living our value of kindness. It's not about what language we speak. It's about being kind to the other person.
Mridulla Harshvardhan, Engagement Manager