From Facebook to TikTok: Asian Business Cultural Differences

From Facebook to TikTok: Asia-European business culture differences - Photo 1.

Size of meetings

Most meetings at ByteDance (the company that owns TikTok) are larger, typically over 50 people and have 2-3 presenters. These televised meetings fit the top-down management style of Chinese companies.

The 1:1 meetings or small group discussions that Americans enjoy really rarely happen at companies like Byte Dance. The reason is that the organizational structure here is larger and less segregated. Some groups have 50-200 members, also reporting to only 1 manager. Most employees regularly have to communicate with 20-30 colleagues across many different time zones to get work done. Therefore, along with the top-down management style, video meetings became popular.

Meetings take place in multiple time zones in many countries and cultures, so the Chinese company uses real-time video interpretation software. In addition, participating employees are not required to have video enabled during the meeting. Chinese colleagues also don’t like using real pictures for profile pictures, preferring to use cartoon images or backgrounds instead.

Level of human resource utilization

Due to lower labor costs in China, many Internet companies there rely heavily on human resources. In contrast, Western technology businesses emphasize a passive role and a data-driven approach.

For example, TikTok relies on operations teams to manually attract big influencers (KOLs) and advertising clients on the platform. The company also spends money on marketing to understand the local market, as well as hires local staff in major markets to internationalize the product.

In 2020, TikTok established a $200 million creative fund, a project that provides funding for content creators in the US to bring products to this growing platform. At the time, the fund was nothing unique, but Instagram and YouTube quickly followed suit after seeing its success.

And it is also the main reason that Chinese technology companies can move quickly and penetrate deeply into new markets, which Western colleagues can learn from.


Work-life balance is generally worse than in the US. Chinese employees often express this by the motto “996”: working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.

While teams in the US and Singapore don’t work in this 996 fashion, the reality is that employees in the US still regularly have to attend late-night meetings with colleagues in Asia.

This is unlike the traditional working model of multinational companies, where American colleagues “hand over” the rest of the work to teams in China, Eastern Europe or India at 5pm.

Efficiency and transmission

Chinese companies tend to be less focused on processes and documentation. Documents like user manuals or product reviews are often not prioritized, compared to making clear specifics such as programming, features, and product launches.

This pragmatic results-oriented approach is more effective, but the lack of documentation of knowledge will also affect the company in the long run.

Working group size

One of the things the author found shocking about working at TikTok and the organizational structure. While Western companies only recommend teams of 8-9 people, some managers in China receive direct reports from more than 200 people. Therefore, there are cases where subordinate employees do not have time to directly interact with their boss, and some people do not even know what the manager’s face looks like.

ByteDance also hides its internal rankings due to the fiercely competitive nature of talent poaching in China.

While Western technology companies want engineers or product managers to focus only on parts of the overall product, workers in Chinese companies tend to do whatever the leadership tells them to do. deliver. Therefore, no one person becomes an expert in a particular field.

Corporate culture

Multinational and multicultural companies can make some meetings awkward when people don’t know what to talk about due to lack of cultural similarities. Meanwhile, colleagues in China often use idioms to talk. Sometimes they translate sentences into English to express something, but they don’t keep the meaning.

Asian culture places great emphasis on hierarchy. The refusal to meet with superiors in China is considered more seriously than the Silicon Valley companies that the author has worked for. Not only that, but results-focused managers often fail to support their employees’ career goals.

At the end of the article, the author concludes, working at a Chinese technology company may not be for everyone, especially when the candidate has less than 5 years of experience in that field. The lack of standardized processes, advice, performance reviews, and internal documentation makes it more difficult for employees to learn and grow in the profession.

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