Internationally known, New York City based virtual teams expert and author of ‘A Manager’s Guide to Virtual Teams,’ Yael Zofi, recently traveled to Israel to investigate the business climate and see how virtual teams were being run in the Middle East. When asked her about her impressions and experience, she discovered that the cross-cultural adventure and working as a virtual team member had its challenges.
Q1. Interviewer: “What kind of changes have you noticed in Israel since you were last there?”
Yael Zofi (YZ): “It was quite obvious to me, from the moment I landed and ensconced myself and family members in a rented apartment outside of Tel Aviv, that Israel has accomplished a lot that was visible to any traveler, and also within the overall global business environment. A nation coming into existence in 1948, sitting in a desert, obviously has transformed itself into a country with a huge worldwide presence having modern cities alongside farmland. There is much gentrification in the cities themselves and the suburbs.
Oftentimes, while traveling up and down the country, I felt I was back in the States. Seeing similar buildings, cities and suburbs and crowded centers of population with contemporary malls and glass structures reminded me of modern urban metropolitan locations around the world. Even the neighborhood around the farm I grew up on is almost unrecognizable.
Israel now is seen as a center of technology and innovation. I was reminded of that every day when I was driving the roads using the Israeli developed Smartphone app – ‘Waze’. Now Waze is used around the globe helping drivers navigate around traffic problems, road hazards and even the police – thankfully.
For such a young country they have made so many advancements, despite their challenges.
There used to be a water shortage, but they have created a conversion system. There is a special way to water the plants- now used all over the world, long tubes with holes, a slow watering mechanism. As a child, I remember we weren’t allowed to water plants in the summer. And now they’ve figured out how to change salt water into sweet water.
If there’s a problem, they create a solution. That’s what’s kind of cool about the country often called ‘The Startup Nation’. A small nation surrounded by enemies, Israel has learned how to survive and thrive despite their challenges.
It’s very energizing to see such a mindset of innovation in such a concentrated space. Israel doesn’t get the credit it deserves – how advanced, how loving, positive and inviting, what curious learners they are, how much they like to travel, innovative. A democratic country in the Middle East – an amazing phenomenon…”
Q2. Interviewer: “What are some uniquely Israeli ways of doing business that you feel all cultures could benefit from and why? And how would you compare it to the way business is conducted in the USA?”
YZ: “I think, what I really like about Israeli business culture is its directness in conversation. It’s typical to ask personal questions, about upbringing, about where you went in the military, where your family is from, etc. Just about everyone I met- we shared something personal. There was a real cross-cultural connection at the relationship level. Interestingly, as someone who lived there until I was 10 years old, I found that the Israeli’s business English terms are similar, so I found it easy to converse in Hebrew. I think the unique thing was the way that one would say something and another would jump in – we often jumped into one another’s sentences.
In the US we seem to be more “polite” and “reserved” when conversing about potential business deals. Israelis are more open and direct – even at times coming across “brusk”. For example, In Israel, people are not afraid to ask how much it costs, how much you charge. These are not conversations you have in the US. In my experience, Professional Services Fees are always a difficult conversation to have with any US client. It’s sort of a guessing game. But in Israel, those conversations were easier, and even expected.
Overall I found that these types of sensitive topics are considered normal and straight to the point in Israel. I think it creates a kind of ‘Instant Trust’ that it is quite refreshing.”
Q3. Interviewer: “How was your experience of being a virtual team member for an extended amount of time?”
YZ: “Technology did indeed provide some communications challenges. When I was remote, especially when my phone died four times, I had only intermittent connection with my home based team. I was often unable to make a phone call back to the States. I was therefore not able to check on most things being done directly.
I had to count on my virtual team members and their email communications in order to follow up by seeing their beginning and end of day reports. I also struggled a lot with the time zones. It was difficult to have a double schedule – where I had daytime meetings, and then at 9 pm and even 11pm I had to participate on conference calls back in the States, which was 7 hours earlier.
As a virtual team member I didn’t want to be on a call at 11 pm every night, so that was frustrating. I can relate – you are the furthest one away. At one point I had a virtual coaching call lasting a few hours, I was extremely tired, maybe still jet lagged. So, what I did in order to stay alert and not sound sleepy, was to make sure I sat upright, so my voice would sound more awake and confident.”