Monochronic vs. Polychronic cultures: What are The Differences?

Monochronic vs. Polychronic cultures: What are The Differences?

Monochronic vs. Polychronic cultures: What are The Differences? 974 636 VP Legacies

At VP Legacies, we’ve tackled various aspects of employee communication from employee retention and the best communication strategies. With that being said, we believe the most efficient and effective way to communicate with an employee is through custom eLearning and micro-learning

However, before you undergo your eLearning production journey, it is important to identify what kind of “time” culture your business employs.

In business, establishing a time culture is crucial to the success of the brand or product. To establish a time culture, a business owner needs to study the cultural differences of their environment and adapt accordingly. There are two primary “time cultures” from which to choose – and they permeate corporate culture in deep and intricate ways.

In general, a typical business owner belongs to either of two time cultures: Monochronic or polychronic.


Monochronism and Polychronism: What Does It All Mean?


To understand these two different time cultures and how they contrast, consider the following example at an airport.

A traveler becomes frustrated when the customs official takes too long to stamp their passport and help them pass through the body scanner. The official moves at a slow pace because other team members keep interrupting him, and his phone keeps ringing. The traveler wants the official to finish one task – stamping his passport – before moving on to the next. Instead, the official is trying to complete multiple tasks at once.

The traveler is a classic example of a monochronic person, and the official is polychronic.

The monochronic individual believes in finishing one task at a time. In their time culture, time is a valuable commodity that shouldn’t be wasted and sticking to one task at a time ensures that it’s well-managed. The monochronic culture schedules one event at a time in an orderly fashion.

In the polychronic culture, employees can work on several tasks simultaneously. Polychronic individuals thrive on carrying out more than one task at the same time as long as they can be executed together with a natural rhythm. For example, it’s perfectly natural for the official to stamp the passport and take a phone call at the same time because these tasks require different parts of the body and different levels of concentration. 

The critical difference between the two time cultures is that monochronic cultures value schedules, while polychronic cultures value interpersonal relationships. That is why a monochronic individual will have an alarm to wake up and other gadgets to help keep time. 

A polychronic person, on the other hand, will often rely on other people as time cues.


Can You Learn A Time Culture?



It’s certainly possible to acquire a new time orientation; however, it takes time and an open mind. According to research by the Havard Business Review, between 10 to 20 percent of American managers sent by their companies to work abroad had difficulty adjusting to local cultures and norms. 

Building a business in a predominantly polychronic or monochronic country may call for a business owner to learn a new time culture. A savvy business person must acclimate to the culture in order to thrive and stay sane. Becoming familiar with the time culture will help with the following –

  • Improve workplace communication
  • Save money and time
  • Manage expectations and deadlines, and
  • Build better business relations.

It may be difficult to adapt to a new time orientation because time holds different values and meanings in each culture. In polychronic cultures, the concept of time is fluid. On the other hand, the concept of time is precise. You can run a business that uses a combination of both approaches to time when applicable, as long as you maintain an open mind and keep everyone on the same page.


The Best Time Culture?

Cultural perception of time varies all over the world. In broad strokes, the “best” time culture depends on the location of the business and that location’s overall time personality. North American and North European countries are monochronic societies where business managers typically divide work schedules into sequential chunks.

Arab, African, South American and Asian countries are typically more accepting of changes in schedules because they are polychronic cultures. However, much of East Asia is a monochronic society.



To maintain a thriving business in a monochronic time culture, the company must emphasize the following elements.


1. Punctuality



Keeping time is essential for any stakeholder in a project. Not only does the staff arrive to work on time, but they arrive promptly to meetings with clients and other employees. In monochronistic cultures, employees know their schedule ahead of time and organize their week in advance.


2. One Activity at a Time


An employee must complete a current task before moving on to the next in a monochronic time system. This holds employees accountable for their time and enables managers to see more easily if employees are completing the necessary tasks. Monochronic time also ensures that employees finish tasks with a high degree of focus and little interruption.

Monochronic business workflows typically thrive using sprint-style setups, and fragmented time-keeping techniques or platforms.


3. Business Time Management Tools


Employees in a monochronic orientation must schedule every task in a calendar or daily planner with a detailed plan and allocated time for completion. Using these tools increases focus and efficiency while minimizing time wastage in projects. Investing in time management tools like Trello, Asana, and Scoro, among others, is crucial to completing tasks on time.


4. Short Term Relationships




The company expects every relationship between employees to serve the purpose of reaching an objective that one employee cannot meet alone. People in monochronistic cultures prefer engaging in short term connections for particular transactions. These relationships are sustained within a specified time frame and end when the business goal is met.

At VP Legacies, we discourage short-term relationships even in a monochronic work environment. By building strong relationships and fostering personal connection, you can develop rapport between employees and effective collaboration when necessary so that future tasks can be executed more efficiently.

Related: How to Avoid Transactional Relationships at Work


5. Individual Accomplishment


Since managers assign particular tasks to each individual on a project, personal achievement becomes a primary goal in monochronic culture. Completing tasks within a given time frame and adhering to the culture of scheduled events indicates that an employee is performing well. Group work remains a part of every work environment, but for monochronistic companies, it’s only in the context of all individuals accomplishing specific project tasks on time.

As VP Legacies, we believe that individual accomplishment is important, but the contributions and impacts of a supporting team must also be valued and taken into account.


6. Hard Deadlines


Everyone must adhere to deadlines at all costs in a monochronic orientation. Meeting deadlines promptly shows that an employee is conscious of their clients’ time, as well as the busy lives of their fellow employees. Monochronistic culture encourages showing respect for other people’s schedules. There are more deadlines, so this method of working is primarily task oriented.



On the other hand, a company operating in a polychronic society is used to:


1. Human Interaction and Personal Connection




Human interaction and personal connection fosters a sense of belonging in the company. The employees will strive to accomplish their set tasks for the day while also allowing for interactions like borrowing office items or catching up on work or personal issues. Consistent flow of information among members of the team also means everyone knows each other’s tasks and can help where possible.

In a polychronic business culture, interaction is king.


2. Group Work


Working as a group takes the stress off individuals and makes room for multi-tasking. Polychronic organizations often employ a flat management structure, allowing (and often encouraging) workers to jump across their typical job functions and contribute to supporting their peers.


3. A Holistic Approach


The success of a project is measured holistically, rather than on a task-by-task basis. With polychronic time, everyone pulls together to accomplish the tasks of the day, so an individual who completes their part will move on to help others. While tasks might take longer to complete, the more leisurely pace also contributes to the positive mental health of employees.


4. Flexibility





Time is flexible, and work merges with personal time. An employee may be working on a task while on the phone talking to another member of the team to share information. Does that mean the quality of work is compromised with polychronic time? Not necessarily, since employees usually multi-task when performing more mundane functions. When working on multiple, more complicated projects concurrently, they can go back and review their work.


5. High context communication


Polychronic people tend to communicate crucial information with a lot of accompanying background information. There is an emphasis on the tone of voice and visible communication cues like raising of eyebrows or clicking of the tongue. High context communication believes in sharing every bit of information. In the case of training, learning happens in groups as opposed to individual training.


6. Long term relationships


Whether they are between employees or with clients, long term relationships are crucial to the success of a business in polychronic societies. These relationships develop over time to foster trust and friendship, making it easier and less stressful to strike business deals. There is no specific time frame to create a relationship, which is why this is harder to do in a time-based, monochronic environment. In polychronic cultures, a clear objective can help expedite the growth of a positive business relationship.

Related: How Micro-learning Increases Personal Connection


The Monochronic and Polychronic Conflict



As globalization increases, businesses find themselves in culturally uncharted waters when they strive to break into new markets across the world. When opening offices abroad or becoming involved with international markets, business owners must adapt to different time culture practices.

The time culture conflict arises when companies begin to tap into the local workforce abroad, where standard employee practices differ. However, it is possible to have a predominant time culture and tap into the other as needed. To make a combination of polychronic and monochronic time work, a company should focus on the following:

  • Making no assumptions about business partners and employees
  • Becoming flexible and open to the culture around
  • Tapping into the different strengths of team members
  • Communicating the exact requirements of a project and the goals, and
  • Building teams that work efficiently together.

Employees at the same company might see things differently, even if they have the same time orientation. A closed-door office might seem unfriendly and off-putting to an employee who is used to an open plan office space. With a little consideration, everyone can feel at home in the same environment.

The monochronic and polychronic conflict can be solved with an agile corporate communication strategy. Continuously evaluate how you should interact with employees and customers throughout your organization and the world. Using a corporate communication strategy you will be able to properly merge and utilize the monochronic and polychronic time cultures to connect with your people.


Consider Past Time Orientation



Many polychronic cultures have strong traditional values that dictate the way employees carry out day-to-day functions. These traditions do not adhere to time and schedules but contribute to overall corporate identity. On the other hand, the methodical ways of monochronic cultures allow for time efficiency. 

A business can thrive in either culture with the right amount of tweaking, an open mind, and a new approach to time and order. A business should consider their goals over the period of a month, several months, and a year, and adapt aspects of both monochronic and polychronic cultures where they best fit. Adapting a flexible time culture for your company that works for employees can maximize efficiency and make employees feel valued. Once you and your executives reach a decision about the best time culture and have received ample feedback, roll out internal communication that makes your time model clear. If your employees are satisfied with a robust, well-thought out time culture, they are more likely to stay at your company and communicate positive reviews externally to boost future hiring.

Now that you know about different time cultures, we invite you to start thinking about how you can harness the power of custom eLearning content to communicate with and train your teams no matter where they are in the world.

Related: 9 Reasons Why Your Employees Are Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset


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