Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hofstede Insights USA Managing Director and CEO Lisa DeWaard poses at her office on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

This story was updated to reflect that Lisa DeWaard moved to Chattanooga from Clemson, South Carolina, where she was a faculty member at Clemson University. An earlier version inaccurately reported she had moved to Chattanooga after working at Emory University in Atlanta. In addition, Hofstede Insights formed via a merger in 2017, not 2011.

Their focus on teaching international teams to navigate the barriers of geography and culture put Hofstede Insights in a good spot to help businesses adapt to the challenges of pandemic work life, says Lisa DeWaard, managing director and CEO of the company's U.S. office.

"We are specialists in global virtual management — how do you effectively manage a group of people from different countries online and get the same level of high-quality work that you could face-to-face?" she says. "We've been doing it for years, and we've been pivoting to offering more things virtually."

The companies that merged to form Hofstede Insights in 2017 had been around for nearly four decades, but the business just officially opened a U.S. headquarters in Chattanooga in January.  The coronavirus crisis meant the company had to indefinitely postpone the launch party planned for late April, when clients and colleagues from around the world, including Hofstede's Finland-based global CEO, had planned to come to the Scenic City for the event, DeWaard says.

"We're going to postpone it and do it face-to-face, though when that happens will be determined by how this pandemic plays out," she says. "There is value in having a big face-to-face event once it is appropriate."

With a network of 150 consultants in 60 countries, Hofstede Insights could have opened its U.S. headquarters in any number of cities, but Chattanooga fit the bill for a range of reasons, DeWaard says. She had been living here for the last six years, having moved here from Clemson, South Carolina, to join her husband, who has a therapy practice in town.

"We were already in Chattanooga, but Chattanooga is the perfect fit," says DeWaard, who started working with the company as an associate partner in 2017. "We decided not to move anywhere else for headquartering this company because you have the gig and all of the benefits of a large city with the close connections of a small town."

There's also a strong international business community, and a business-friendly environment, she adds.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Hofstede Insights USA Managing Director and CEO Lisa DeWaard poses at her office on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"The city is both affordable and equipped," she says. "If you've been here in the last 10 years, you just get it."

Though Hofstede Insights has been able to move business interactions online, its employees have typically hosted in-person workshops and spent a good deal of time traveling, DeWaard says.

"It changed our work pretty dramatically in a short time period," she says. "We have a lot more interest in people wanting to learn to do global work virtually, and all of us are shifting to new ways to interact with our clients online."

While they prefer to do trainings and workshops in person, the team has developed a process where they break what would have been an eight-hour, in-person workshop into shorter online meetings. No one wants to spend the entire day on Zoom, DeWaard says, and the more modular approach preserves the spirit of the workshops while giving people time to adjust to online interaction.

"Our trainings tend to be very interactive, with simulations and role plays and case study analysis and breaking out into smaller groups," she says. "We break it into segments over a few days so the scheduling is different."

The company's models for understanding the role of culture in influencing values for work teams as well consumers are based on the pioneering research of Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede. His work in the 1960s described national cultures along six dimensions, and Hofstede was known for his books "Culture's Consequences" and "Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind," co-authored with his son, Gert Jan Hofstede.

Whether a culture is more egalitarian or more hierarchical, for example, dramatically affects the ways teams interact, DeWaard says.

"This may sound like stereotyping, but it's data-driven," she says. "We acknowledge the uniqueness of the individual, but there is value in looking at the group level."

DeWaard grew up in the Midwest, in a family that moved regularly to follow her father's job with 3M. Her fascination with international culture and languages began when she took high school Spanish, and was cemented by a trip to the Soviet Union as a student ambassador when she was 16.

"I was there in July 1991, three weeks before the Soviet Union dissolved," she says. "It fascinated me and stuck with me, so I started taking Russian in college."

During college, she was an exchange student in 1994 and 1995 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and knew from that time that her future would be in language and culture.


Hofstede Insights

* History: Hofstede Insights officially formed in 2017 through the merger of a culture and consulting company and a human resources and technology feedback company. Its data-based methods are based on the work of Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, who did pioneering research into how culture influences values in the workplace.

* What they do: Hofstede Insights focuses on understanding decision-making and motivation across culturally diverse organizations and work teams, as well as among consumers.

* Where they are: The company has 150 consultants in 60 countries. Its U.S. headquarters opened in Chattanooga in January.

* About Lisa DeWaard: Managing director and CEO of Hofstede Insights USA, Lisa DeWaard has worked in cross-cultural communication as a linguist and faculty member at Clemson University. She holds master’s degrees in Spanish and Russian linguistics, and a Ph.D. in language acquisition. She speaks Russian, Italian and Spanish.

"I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D. and understand more about how people learn languages," she says. "I took six languages in college. I could not get enough of them."

DeWaard was a professor at Clemson University for seven years before moving to Chattanooga six years ago. Her husband's therapy practice was firmly rooted here, and her interest in the work of the Hofstede Insights was one she could pursue from anywhere, DeWaard says.

"I came to Hofstede as a researcher," she says. "It was like finding the tribe you didn't know you were looking for."

Hofstede's clients include large international companies, such as Microsoft, Volvo and Nike, as well as a range of smaller companies looking for guidance on navigating culture as they expand and evolve.

"We use this information to help companies make sense of when it might be culture that's getting in the way," she says.