Are your Freelancers Polychronic or Monochronic?

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đź–Š This article was last updated on October 3, 2019

Thanks to the rise of freelancer platforms such as FreeeUp, solopreneurs have unprecedented access to a worldwide pool of talented experts ready, willing, and able to help them reach their business goals. You can be working from your home office in a small town in mid-America and employ a VA located thousands of miles away in somewhere like Manila, Philippines. The cultures are, of course, very different, but in ways you might not expect…

Sometimes, it’s not only distance and time zones that separates us. How we view and manage our time is very personal, but it can also be dictated by the place we are from. Some cultures have an approach to time which is polychronic while others are more monochronic. Being aware of these cultural differences can be the key to a successful remote business relationship.

What Does Polychronic Mean?

The dictionary definition of polychronic is, “Performing elements of different tasks concurrently (as opposed to sequentially)”. Polychronic cultures tend to do many things simultaneously, so it’s basically a culture built on multitasking!

If your freelancer is from Latin America, Southern Europe or the Middle East then you may find them writing an email, having a Skype call and working across multiple screens, apps, and programs and for different projects all at the same time.

Generally speaking, people from polychronic cultures manage interruptions well and are more flexible when it comes to change.

Let’s say some unexpected business comes up and you’d like your freelancer to shift focus quickly, if they are from a polychronic culture then they are more likely to take it in their stride.

Polychronic cultures also value long term relationships. This can be great for solopreneurs looking to hire someone for projects that need stability over longer periods of time.

Polychronic Cultures and Time Management

In a polychronic culture, time is a more fluid, free-flowing thing which changes according to the situation. Often the focus will be on the task at hand rather than the timeframe of the task.

So, if you have a Hangout meeting with your freelancer and they are a few minutes late, it’s not because they don’t care but simply that their priority is the meeting itself and not necessarily the timing.

I used to get frustrated with freelancers who, to me, seemed very laid back when it came to deadlines! But being aware of cultural differences has been the first step towards a better understanding.

Don’t just assume that your freelancer experiences time in the same way you do. Having a conversation about timing expectations before starting a new project will avoid any miscommunications or missed deadlines!

Map of Monochronic and Polychronic cultures.
Based on Morden, 1999; Kotabe and Helsen, 2001
Map of Monochronic and Polychronic cultures (click to enlarge)
Based on Morden, 1999; Kotabe and Helsen, 2001

What About Monochronic Cultures?

Monochronic cultures prefer to focus on one thing at a time and without distractions or interruptions. Schedules and sticking to them is hugely important, as are previous commitments. Once a plan is made, it’s followed through and changes to those plans will be taken very seriously and viewed as an inconvenience.

If you live in the US, Canada or Northern Europe, you’ll likely be nodding your head with this. You can already see how the singular focus and time structure of monochronic cultures may have some difficulties when working with multi-focus, more relaxed time of polychronic cultures!

Monochronic Cultures and Time Management

For a person living and working in a monochronic culture, time is a more rigid, stable thing. If a time is set for a meeting, they will likely be early and if you’re late, then it will be noted and won’t be appreciated!

If you are working with a monochronic freelancer, keep in mind that they like to work on one task at a time. For them, switching back and forth between tasks will not only be incredibly frustrating but they also will struggle to do their best work. It’s not that they aren’t capable or don’t have the skills necessary for the task, but rather the way they regard time and how they focus needs different parameters.

Monochronic CulturesPolychronic Cultures
They prefer doing one thing at a timeThey prefer doing many things at the same time
They concentrate on their tasks and try not to disturb othersInterruptions aren’t really interruptions, they can still carry on with what they’re doing now or later
Time is linear, they take deadlines and time schedules seriouslyTime is spatial. Deadlines and time schedules can be kept to, if possible
Their communication is low contextTheir communication is high context
They need explicit informationThey don’t usually need explicit information, because that is what their network is for, to keep them informed up to the minute
They’re task orientedThey’re relationship oriented
They do their work swiftly and promptlyHow swiftly and promptly they work depends completely on how good the relationship is
They make plans and keep to themThey make plans and change them with the greatest ease and flexibility

Conclusion

Time and timing are relative. We all experience it, but how we experience and how we function in it differs from person to person and across cultures. What is every day and normal for one, may seem chaotic or even rude to another. Set in stone schedules, hugely important for some, will seem meaningless to others. So, as you go about your business with your remote freelancers, keep in mind their perception of time and your own!


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