How fascinating that staff members nowadays may perform their tasks just down the hallway, in a home office an hour away, across the country, or even across the ocean! Such arrangements allow companies to secure great talent without geographical barriers and create a dynamic, diverse staff that’s well equipped to tackle the global marketplace.
The scenario, however, does come with some challenges—especially when coworkers don’t reside in the same nation. Making a pointed effort to think about and address these issues can make a world (pun intended) of difference.
Try these tips for working with international colleagues:
Know the time difference.
While you’re pounding away at the keyboard at 11 a.m., your overseas co-worker may be in the midst of a good night’s sleep. Pause to think about any time differences before making a phone call or requesting a response by a certain hour. Email often works well since people on both sides can send and open it at their convenience.
Likewise, plan meetings with care so that geography doesn’t always doom certain team members to an early wake-up call. Vary start times to build goodwill. Or search for a reasonable hour for all participants using World Clock Meeting Planner or another time zone assistance tool.
Learn about the country.
Does your company maintain an office in Dubai? Get a sense of where your colleagues live. What’s going on in their region? What holidays do they celebrate? What are their customs? Start with the Internet, but don’t be afraid to ask co-workers. They’ll likely be flattered by your interest, and first-hand accounts are much more interesting and revealing.
Learn about the person.
On the flipside, instead of always thinking of Pierre as your French colleague, make a point of also realizing he’s simply a person who has a family, hobbies, and weekend plans just like you. “Make time to just talk; it doesn’t have to be always about business. Give them at least five minutes to step out of productivity and ‘work mode’ and feel the connection with you or in meetings with others,” says Daniele Filippi, customer success lead for Envato.
Check for understanding.
Managers consistently rank effective communication among the top factors for remote arrangements to succeed. When cultural and language differences come into play, double-checking that everyone’s on the same page becomes even more important. For instance, Filippi notes that people may have different ideas of what “quickly” or “priority” mean. Spelling this out sets clear expectations for everyone.
Assume best intentions.
Despite efforts, errors or misunderstandings may occur. Approach such situations with the mindset that everyone’s on the same team and nobody purposely wants to offend. Then, work together to figure out how to improve in the future.
Meet face to face.
Finally, putting images with names does wonders for relationships. Video chats enable teammates to see reactions and mannerisms as well as bond. Better yet, take advantage of any opportunity to meet. “If you get the chance, visit them in person!” Filippi urges. “Spend time together for a social coffee/dinner/drink, work with them for a day, or have them visit HQ. This is a key way to build connections with your international team members.”
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