How to create connections in an international team

Remote work is here to stay – but it's not always easy to cultivate relationships through Zoom

How to create connections in an international team

Connecting a global team is never easy given time differences, language barriers and cultural nuances, which are almost impossible to pick up through Zoom and/or traditional phone calls. Of course, sharing a common grief being a global pandemic, helps unify everyone in a common cause to understand their wellbeing, but that is only equivalent to putting a Band Aid on a cut. It doesn’t go to the root of the cause.

There are many intricacies involved in establishing harmonious, successful and strong relationships with overseas colleagues so that workflow can be developed and business activities advanced.

“It’s easy to feel as though everyone should look at the world the same way you do and that your perspective is the ‘right’ one,” Cynthia Dearin, founder and international business strategist of Dearin and Associates, said. “But the truth is that each culture sees the world slightly differently and no-one is 100% right. As you start working with people from other countries and cultures, it’s important to acknowledge and accept that people will have different views and ways of doing things and that is okay.

“Being able to separate yourself from your own perspective and realise that it is just a perspective is the cornerstone of connecting with and understanding people from different places and cultures.”

It is very easy in an isolated work environment to make non-personal matters personal due to insecure thoughts and the inability to communicate with others in your direct sphere. This is even more prominent when dealing with overseas colleagues who you don’t even really know.

Clearing the lines of communication

Mis-communication with international contemporaries can occur even when you speak the same native language.

“If you’re working with colleagues overseas, putting yourself in their shoes builds trust, loyalty and momentum,” Dearin said. “Perhaps you have team members working alone or at home day in, day out, especially if they are freelancers or the Covid pandemic has kept them from gathering with others. Recognise how long-term solitude might affect their mindset and productivity. Find ways to engage them and to connect them with your team at company headquarters.

“Will a 9am meeting for you mean a 4am start for colleagues overseas? Take time zones into consideration when you set meetings and schedules to make sure that your international team members aren’t being subjected to inhumane hours on a regular basis. When you make the effort to stand in your international colleagues’ shoes and adjust things to benefit them, you get engaged, productive team players, rather than folks who feel isolated and demotivated.”

Meet often, not seldom

Regular meetings too will iron out any potential dis-configuration as speaking consistently with someone will enable you to understand their work patterns, priorities and issues that they are facing.

If you organise meetings infrequently, you will always be starting again, which will actually delay the process of actually addressing work topics that need to be addressed. By having regular communication you can’t cut through a lot of the formalities and get straight to the point.

“I can’t stress this enough that you should meet very regularly,” Dearin said. “It’s no good connecting with your international colleagues once a week, or once a month. Out of sight is out of mind and you’ll struggle to build camaraderie and momentum that way.

“On the other hand, there is nothing like a snappy daily meeting, with people showing up on video from all over the world to produce  momentum and a sense of purpose. The meeting doesn’t need to take long, it just needs a purpose, opportunities for people to share, and action points. We theme our daily meetings and have slots for measuring metrics, celebrating wins and thinking through challenges.”

Have the right tools in place

It is still common, as mind-boggling as it is, for people to start a new position without the right hardware and software to commence their employment. It is astounding that employers can through the process of hiring someone and that person arrives on day one with no computer, or is unable to log into the system, no email has been set up for them, or in some instances, there is actually nowhere for them to sit.

Getting the basics right on day goes a long way to making a positive impact on a new colleague and as to whether they will stay long-term or not.

“It sounds basic, but make sure that your offshore team members have everything they need to do their work, including the right tools and environment,” Dearin added.  “I know a business owner who recently realised that his virtual assistant in the Philippines had been working eight hours a day sitting on her bed in her bedroom because Covid restrictions meant she couldn't go to her office. He organised to have a desk chair sent to her house, so that she’d be able to sit comfortably while working.”

Working globally with international firms has been gaining traction for many decades and technology has made even easier to communicate, however, just make sure you have all the right protocols in place to make it successful.

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