Videoconferencing Across Cultures

This post is part of a series examining articles on the communication aspects of videoconferencing.

Article Reference Dustdar, S., & Hofstede, G. J. (1999). Videoconferencing across cultures – a conceptual framework for floor control issues. Journal of Information Technology, 14(2), 161-169. doi:10.1080/026839699344656


What are you things that you do in a face to face meeting that are hard to do in a videoconference multipoint videoconference meeting?

  • Stand up, pace or gesture menacingly if you want to impress authority on others
  • Fidget to signal that you want to talk
  • Hum or gesture to indicate support or criticism

Floor control is who gets to speak and what mechanisms are used to see who can speak in a meeting. These meeting norms may also be different based on cultures.

This article was considering desktop videoconferencing where people pay for the videoconference and want a quality meeting experience. Only one person can have the floor (permission to speak) in an electronic meeting.

Cultural differences noticed in this study are Hofstede’s 5 Dimensions: power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, competitiveness vs. cooperativeness, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term vs. short-term orientation.  (Take a moment to just read the quick wikipedia overview. It’s interesting!)

Differences in culture can affect what method of getting floor control is used. Maybe the person with high prestige is the person who says who gets to talk. Or everyone just jumps in and sometimes talks on top of each other. Floor control becomes more & more important the larger the meeting is. The differences in culture can lead to severe communication breakdowns that are magnified by the videoconference.

Other challenges in a videoconference meeting include:

  • Saying yes or hmm mm, or mm to let a listener know that you agree or are hearing. With all the sites muted, you can’t get this feedback.
  • You can’t turn to your neighbor for a side conversation. (This can make meetings get done faster! On the TWICE board which meets only twice a year face to face, many of us also use Skype, so we can Skype chat with each other if we have a side comment. )
  • There might be other people in the room listening to what you have to say that you can’t see. In my opinion, it’s really rude to be part of a meeting and let someone listen who isn’t part of the group. They should be shown on screen & introduced.

Suggestions for applying culture understanding to cross-cultural meetings:

  • Individuals from low power distance cultures should get used to waiting for a silence before they talk. Wait time!
  • With a variety of power distance cultures, one should make sure that all participants are invited to give their feedback.
  • Laying out the rules of the meeting up front will be helpful for everyone. Who will get to talk & when? If you want to talk, how do you get permission? Figure it out and tell everyone!
  • Make sure the participants know who is in the “meeting room” and something about them. It should not be “on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” People only feel comfortable when they know something about the other people in the meeting.
  • Plan to orchestrate the meeting more than a face to face meeting.
  • Be sure to stay within the stated time length of the meeting.

Suggestions for designing software include having all these capabilities:

  • A way to indicate you want to interrupt
  • A way to show people’s responsibilities
  • A way to grant floor privileges to others
  • A way to know more about the other participants
  • A way to have a side-chat
  • A formal protocol

In my opinion, without software, these can be designed by the meeting leader with a little thought and creativity.


  • This article had great tips for meetings, whether cross-cultural or not. If the meeting leader considered these ahead of time, it would make for a smoother videoconference meeting.
  • It would be so interesting in a high school international videoconference to discuss the five dimensions of culture and compare notes. This would help raise students’ awareness beyond “what do you eat” and “what music do you listen to” so that they have a deeper understanding of cultural differences.
  • Raising awareness of these issues before an international videoconference may make students and teachers alike more sensitive to the needs and perceptions of the other class.

Your Turn: What do you think? What tips do you want to apply in your next videoconference meeting? What about in your next international videoconference?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.