Remote hiring 101: Your guide to workplace culture in Southeast Asia and Taiwan

Irwan Shah
Irwan Shah
March 7, 2023

Every employer aspires to expand their business beyond their home grounds. It’s something that takes a lot of time and dedication and can come with its fair share of risks. However, there are many reasons why employers choose to do so. In countries where supply is scarce, employers can find skilled remote talent by looking beyond their borders and tapping into other talent pools. 

With the global bear market weighing on everyone’s shoulders, many employers have chosen to cast a wider net into Southeast Asia (SEA) and Taiwan (or Greater Southeast Asia), as a more cost-efficient measure. Nevertheless, before hiring talent in these markets, there is one critical factor that employers must consider — culture. 

Greater SEA is a region of vast diversity, consisting of numerous distinct cultures. While there are certain similarities among these cultures, employers must be attuned to the nuances of each nation’s cultural norms to build successful cross-border teams and avoid cultural faux pas. To help you understand their working culture, we’ve gathered best practices across six key markets — Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Singapore: Balancing collectivism, hierarchy, and innovation

Singapore has long been regarded as the Switzerland of Asia, considering that it’s a small country that draws in swaths of foreign investors and businesses while maintaining an overall stable economy.

The island nation — also known as the little red dot —  is different from its neighbors in many ways. It’s a true melting pot of cultures, with people from all over the world calling it home. And because of its location and stable economy, Singapore attracts top talent from around the globe.

Despite its cosmopolitan vibe, Singapore still has a unique work culture. Many multinational corporations here have adopted a Western-style work ethic, while local organizations tend to follow traditional Asian customs. Overall, Singaporean employees value collectivism over individualism — prioritizing harmony and cooperation in the workplace.

Hierarchy is also very important in Singapore’s work culture. Respect for authority is crucial, and executives and high-level employees wield a lot of power. Workers lower down the chain are expected to follow directions without questioning their superiors.

Singaporeans are also known for their strict adherence to rules and regulations. The country has a lot of laws and heavy penalties for breaking them. This mindset extends to the workplace, where patterns and routines are established and rarely deviated from. While this can create a stable and predictable work environment, it can also stifle creativity and innovation.

So, while Singapore may be a unique and exciting place to work, it also has its challenges. Employers need to strike a balance between maintaining order and fostering an environment where employees can think outside the box.

You can read more about Singapore in our hiring guide here.

Malaysia: Bridging relationships and religious values

Singapore and Malaysia share many traits thanks to their shared history, considering that at one point in time, they were both part of the same nation. The two countries are multicultural and embody various different Asian values. Like Singapore, the workplace culture in Malaysia is driven by a desire for collectivism rather than individual wants or needs. 

Despite the similarities, there are still many differences that uniquely sets Malaysia apart from its neighbor. For example, Malaysia has a strong religious influence in the workplace. Since it’s a Muslim-majority country, the nation’s values revolve around modesty and gratitude. 

Also, during the holy month of Ramadan, employers are expected to provide concessions for their employees, such as allowing them to leave work earlier for iftar — the breaking of the fast. Similar concessions are expected for Muslim employees where they will be allowed to take time off for obligatory Friday prayers during working hours.

Malaysians are relationship-oriented people and place a high value on trust in the workplace. Building such relationships require employers to expand their social skills and get to know their employees, including learning about their personal lives and their families. Such a relationship enables employees to be more forthcoming with their opinions, which is different from the traditional tendency of keeping quiet to avoid conflict.

Hence, while religion plays a significant role, the importance of trust and relationships in the Malaysian workplace cannot be devalued and requires employers to develop social skills to build rapport with their employees. This will lead to more open communication and a departure from traditional communication patterns.

You can read more about Malaysia in our hiring guide here.

Indonesia: Practicing good manners and workplace harmony

Indonesia is the 4th most populous country in the world and is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Like Malaysia, religion holds a significant influence in the workplace. Employers are expected to provide concessions for the holy month of Ramadan and also encouraged to give time off to employees for obligatory Friday prayers during working hours. 

In the workplace, Indonesians have a non-confrontational approach when communicating with their colleagues or superiors. This means that they value peace at work and may choose to keep their honest opinions to themselves, rather than badmouthing their employers or peers. They would prioritize following their employer’s directions and keeping them satisfied. While this may seem positive, it’s important to note that employers will need to seek alternative ways to gather the honest sentiments of their employees.

Good manners and gratitude are also highly valued in the Indonesian workplace. For example, employees will never hesitate to say “thank you” after receiving help from their colleagues. 

Everyone generally abides by the workplace culture of respectful social hierarchy, which means that salutations are usually used when addressing people at work. 

Senior colleagues are addressed with polite salutations such as ‘bapak/pak’(sir), ‘ibu/bu’ (ma’am) followed by their names. Peers address each other with ‘kak’ (brother/sister) or ‘mas’ (mister) or ‘mbak’ (miss). 

Overall, the cultural traits of religion, hierarchy, and respect for authority are significant aspects that shape the workplace dynamics of the Indonesian workplace culture. The non-confrontational communication style of Indonesians also impacts how they express their opinions at work. Thus, employers must pay extra attention when gathering feedback before making key decisions for the organization.

You can read more about Indonesia in our hiring guide here.

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The Philippines: Honing cross-cultural adaptability with pride

The Philippines — also known as the Pearl of The Oriental Seas — is home to a diverse group of talent that has established a strong presence in many parts of the globe. Its people have seamlessly ingrained themselves with Western culture while preserving and maintaining their strong Southeast Asian identity. 

The unique culture can be traced back to the nation’s long history of interaction with both the East and West. Because of this, Filipinos excel in adapting to different workplace cultures, often communicating efficiently in a cross-cultural setting. This is a plus point for employers when considering hiring Filipino remote talent.

Filipinos take a lot of pride in their work. A Filipino value called ‘hiya’ or ‘mahiyain’ emphasizes the importance of how others see them. This means that they will always show their best selves at work to safeguard their reputation and not be embarrassed in a public setting. 

Another value that is deeply ingrained in Filipino workplace culture is ‘kapwa’ — meaning fellowship or togetherness. Like other Southeast Asian countries, Filipinos are collectivistic and have a shared identity between groups of people they bond with despite their differences. 

The Philippines’ diverse talent and unique culture have made it a valuable resource in the global workforce. They take pride in their work and prioritize harmony. With their innate ability to adapt to different workplace cultures, Filipinos are an attractive option for remote work and are a valuable addition to any team or organization.

You can read more about the Philippines in our hiring guide here.

Vietnam: A hierarchical mix of resourcefulness and dependability

Straddling between Southeast Asia and the Sinosphere is Vietnam, a nation with over 99 million people. Throughout the ages, many different cultural norms were adopted by the Vietnamese. A notable one is the adoption of Confucianism as a social basis for society from Chinese culture hundreds of years ago. This practice permeates into the workplace culture today as well, forming many of its norms.

The practice of hierarchy — an aspect of Confucianism — is prevalent in Vietnamese culture. Its emphasis in Vietnamese society results in prominent hierarchical cultural norms such as achieving status through seniority and education. The hierarchical culture also means that there is a clear line drawn between employers and employees. For example, those down the rank and file are expected to execute action plans decided by the leaders of organizations without question.

Vietnamese employees generally will comply since they prefer a non-confrontational approach to work. This also means that they would rather handle disagreements subtly and would handle moments of tension with silence until things simmer down. Employers will need to adopt a non-direct approach when handling tough situations with Vietnamese employees. Aside from that, the Vietnamese are responsible and dependable. They are hard-working and resourceful, often sticking to a task until it’s finished. 

Vietnamese workplace culture emphasizes hierarchy, which results in a clear distinction between employers and employees and a preference for non-confrontation. However, Vietnamese employees are known for being resourceful, dependable, and hard-working. Thus, employers should be mindful of these cultural norms and employ a non-direct approach to handle difficult situations with Vietnamese employees.

You can read more about Vietnam in our hiring guide here.

Taiwan: Fierce loyalty through hard work and trust

The Taiwanese talent are known to be hard-working and fiercely loyal to the organizations they work for. On average, they work over 2,000 hours a year, almost 200 hours more than in other countries. This loyalty, however, needs to be earned by employers who have a great relationship with employees, often achieved through building rapport with each other. 

Employers can consider bonding activities such as team dinners or lunches. On special occasions such as the Lunar New Year, festive celebrations can be hosted to increase rapport throughout the whole organization between the employer and employees. A personal touch at work can go a long way in building relationships in the Taiwanese workplace.

As part of the Sinosphere, they have a lot in common with Vietnam in terms of the way they communicate. For example, instead of having direct communication regarding issues, they would rather deal with it through nuanced communication — often via indirect communication which has to be deciphered based on context. 

If a discussion gets heated, the Taiwanese will use silence and other non-verbal cues to communicate implicitly. Hence, it helps to be tactful when delivering negative information to employees or when asking them for their honest opinions.

In Taiwan, there are strong Asian values that guide its people’s actions. Traits such as patience, humility, and respect for others are highly regarded. A concept of reputation deemed as the “face”, is common in Taiwan. The Taiwanese often avoid ill-mannered and belligerent behavior because it may result in them losing “face” with their peers and their family.

For employers, building a strong rapport with Taiwanese employees is crucial to earning their loyalty, which is known to be hard-won but highly valued. Additionally, communication in the Taiwanese workplace is often implicit and nuanced, and cultural traits like respect and humility are deeply ingrained. This underscores the importance of being sensitive and thoughtful when managing remote teams in Taiwan.

You can read more about Taiwan in our hiring guide here.

Culture matters when navigating remote hiring in Southeast Asia & Taiwan

Many workplace cultural norms are similar across the countries of Greater SEA. Traits such as collectivism, indirect communication, and respecting hierarchy can be found in almost all of them. Despite the similarities, there are nuanced differences between these countries once we dive deeper into the workplace. 

While it’s critical for employers to understand intimately how each talent pool operates and foster a workplace culture strategy that can resonate with them, it’s equally important to have an overarching organizational culture in place.

“I think it’s important to have a consistent set of cultural values throughout the company, no matter which country you’re in. What you don’t want is for six different countries to have six different sets of cultural values and six different cultures. It’s important to define a common set of cultural values, break it down to exactly what we mean, codify it, and take it very seriously by systemizing it against key touch points like hiring, firing, and promoting,” elaborates Ying Cong Seah, co-founder and Head of Labs Of Glints.

 “For example at Glints, we hire based on culture fit, fire based on culture fit, and promote based on culture fit. It’s all part of our performance evaluation scores.”

Building and managing cross-border remote teams that synergize with the entire organization is not an easy task, but it is essential for any employer looking to expand their business regionally. So having multicultural teams that assimilate well with each other, while still being productive and collaborative, is paramount in building a truly effective regionally distributed team.

Uncover more local insights with our Greater Southeast Asia hiring guide

Browse the Glints Greater Southeast Asia Hiring Guide to uncover more local insights on workplace culture, salaries, employment laws and regulations.


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This article is brought to you by Glints TalentHub. Leading companies are actively building their borderless teams in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and beyond. However, the prospect of going borderless can be daunting due to complex regulations and cultural ambiguities. With Glints TalentHub, you’ll have a dedicated team of in-market legal, HR, and talent experts by your side at every step of the way.

Glints TalentHub offers an end-to-end, tech-enabled talent solution that encompasses talent acquisition, EOR, and talent development. We empower businesses to leverage the strengths of regional talent efficiently to build high-performing, cost-efficient teams.

Schedule a no-obligation consultation with our experts to receive a tailored proposal today. 

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