Professional journeys are winding roads full of change. My own story isn’t much different. I recently went from a small-town newspaper publication in Mississippi that had a grand total of five employees, to an international SaaS organization with over 300 team members. Quite the change in scenery, and I experienced some whiplash as I felt like a small fish joining a big pond. I met new people and learned about other cultures. I was surrounded by novelty.
Things can seem overwhelming when joining a global team, especially in a remote setting where everyday interactions occur on a screen instead of in person. Lack of face-to-face socialization can be an inhibitor but there are ways to break through in a remote setting. There are plenty of people around the world who have found themselves at an international company that resides outside their cultural norms. It’s here that effort makes or breaks an experience. Forming meaningful relationships with these international teammates will pave your road to success. Remote or not, there are some strategies available, and that’s what this blog will explore. So, if you’re also new to the role of being a teammate in an international organization, here are some ways you can start building rapport with your new colleagues.
- Learn Your Teammates’ Culture
The idiosyncrasies between your traditions and that of your coworkers scattered around the world will most likely be significant, but our differences make us human, and these unique cultural aspects are vital in establishing a connection. Whether it be holidays, cultural traditions, or even unique phrase changes, putting in the effort to learn about and understand these differences will bridge the gap between yourself and those you work with.
Collaboration is critical when working in a team; expending energy to overcome your lack of knowledge regarding your coworkers’ preferences will minimize miscommunication.
Differences in culture can even apply to how we communicate. Tone and intent can be lost in translation, so make sure to articulate exactly what you mean and why. Invest time and energy to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you invest in those around you, that effort will often be reciprocated. In fact, a three-year international study titled “Well-Being In The Work Place” reiterated that exact fact. When teammates have positive relationships with one another, productivity increases and so does general satisfaction. So don’t hesitate, take the first step. Be proactive. When dealing with international teammates in a remote-first organization, the first step is often the hardest but most important.
- Compromise on Scheduling
Look, it’s no secret: Setting up meetings can be a painstaking task, a responsibility made even more complicated when there are significant time zone differences.
To cut down on the confusion, use your teammates’ time zone when referencing the start time of a call. I live in Texas, but my coworkers reside in New Delhi, India, so I use their time zone to make communication clearer for them. In this case, that happens to be Indian Standard Time (I.S.T.), so at any point when scheduling a call, that’s the time zone I’ll reference. Not only does this practice lessen confusion for attending coworkers, but it can also lead to similar behaviors from other individuals trying to schedule a call with you.
Another promising strategy is to find some compromise on work hours. Sleep matters for everyone, so prioritize meeting in the middle over your comfort. So be it if you wake up at 5 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. to communicate with your teammates. Reaching a mutually beneficial meeting time will not only help your teammates with communication but can also streamline processes that may have occurred at alternate times previously.
For me, that means waking up early so I can be available for my teammates on the other side of the globe. I wouldn’t feel right having my colleagues take part in calls that last until midnight in India. I do what I can to minimize that possibility. By waking up early, I can have meetings with everyone without forcing them to spend the evenings away from their family and friends. Do I sometimes struggle to get out of bed when my alarm goes off? 100%. It’s nearly impossible sometimes. Is it worth it so that my teammates can have dinner with their loved ones? Absolutely.
- Be Authentic
I was the new kid on the block with an organization way more imposing than my previous employer. I have teammates scattered around the globe, operating on varying schedules, and the majority of my colleagues come from different cultural backgrounds than I do. Creating a façade of invincibility can be tempting, but that won’t serve you well in the long term.
It sounds counterintuitive, but being open, honest, and fallible may help your professional growth and invite your teammates to do the same. If the behaviors match, coworkers become more empathetic, and empathy provides a pillar of familiarity with which you can begin cultivating meaningful relationships.
Admitting a mistake as a new team member is a daunting task. The back of your mind will house negative feelings that only percolate the longer they’re kept inside. Instead, have an honest conversation with your coworkers. Ask some questions and maybe you’ll find some clarity. This process can be applied to any educational experience, but especially so when it comes to creating connections in a remote-first organization.
The more information you share, the more authentic you are, and the easier it is to reach a higher level of understanding. Empathy enables more empathy, and being honest with your coworkers may lead to them doing the same. So don’t be scared, and speak up. What’s the worst that can happen?
For me, being truly authentic led to me asking what may have been an obvious question to my international teammates. I was editing a teammate’s article where they used the term “fresher.” I had no idea what this meant, and for some reason, the term sounded like a monster from the movie “A Quiet Place”. To make sure we weren’t referencing some horrifying creature I’d never heard of, I asked the author of the article what the term meant. Lo and behold, it literally was just a phrase applied to someone who has recently graduated college. The phrase’s meaning went from some mythical creature to a new graduate, simply because I asked the question. It’s hard being fallible, especially as a new team member, but sometimes a simple question can be the key to overcoming whatever obstacle may be in front of you.
- Enjoy the Journey with Your International Organization
Finding a place amongst your remote coworkers isn’t an impossible task. There’s no leviathan to defeat, no colossal obstacle to overcome. It boils down to a simple principle. Put in the effort, and that level of effort will likely find a coworker more than willing to match it.
This new path you’re treading provides perspective. Don’t squander that. Personal development is just as important as (if not more important than) professional development. You might spend hours learning every aspect of your new position but hesitate to put that same effort into socializing with your teammates. Why?
Being in a remote setting can throw a couple of curveballs, but if you swing enough times, eventually, you’ll hit something. This is an opportunity to leave your comfort zone behind and embrace disruption. A bit of chaos can go a long way in changing one’s perspective, so embrace all the twists and turns. You may realize those annoying curves contribute to an arc of incredible growth. That’s worth pursuing, don’t you think?