Insights from our team: Effective cross-border collaboration in the age of remote work

By Bianka Patsalos-Fox

More than two and a half years on from the onset of the pandemic, it’s clear that some of the changes that revolutionized the remote workplace are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Companies that are looking to recruit top talent are trying to get on board with these new expectations — and to learn how to work effectively within these new norms. For most, gone are the days of jumping on a long-haul flight monthly or even weekly to meet with teammates or clients across the world; as one study finds, corporate travel remains below 50 percent of pre-pandemic spend. Today, with just a click of a button, we can quickly connect with colleagues in any time zone.

Certainly, tech-enabled remote collaboration has brought with it some benefits — productivity perhaps chief among them — but it has presented a unique set of challenges as well, especially when there are great distances involved. How does one, for instance, forge strong ties with a new joiner whom they’ve never met in-person, and likely won’t anytime soon? Or make sure that with the flexibility that comes with remote work, the feeling of community isn’t completely lost? How can we ensure that we’re respecting international colleagues’ time off the clock, even as remote work blurs the boundaries between work life and personal life for all?  

At Copperfield, we’ve been working through some of these questions — and more! — as we serve clients and work with colleagues and partners on four different continents. Read on for a few pieces of advice we’ve sourced from our international colleagues on working effectively with teams overseas.

  1. Introduce yourself and share: Whenever starting a new role remotely or virtually meeting new international colleagues, it is important to intentionally set time and space to connect. Schedule a Zoom chat to get to know your new teammates and find out what motivates them. When working with individuals from different cultures or countries, finding common ground is key — whether in terms of motivation for achieving impact or on a more personal level, such as in shared interests.  
  1. Familiarize yourself with the regional business lexicon and vocabulary: No, we absolutely do not mean putting on a fake accent! Do some research and listen for new words your colleagues might be using. Be mindful of using too many colloquialisms, as these can be difficult for others to understand and introduce into their own vocabulary. Something as simple as saying “thank you” in another language can go a long way.
  1. Observe and acknowledge cultural customs: Different cultures integrate their own customs into the workplace in various ways. For example, on the African continent where I live, greetings are important rituals that are observed both inside and outside of the workplace. In parts of East Africa, it is important to ask questions about how the individual and their family are doing before turning to the business matters at hand. Observe your peers and adjust your behaviors accordingly to ensure that you are being respectful.  
  1. Vary your communication platform and style: There are numerous ways in which we communicate with each other. We can exchange messages via messaging platforms such as Slack or Teams, we can send emails, or set up time for scheduled calls. Different people have varied styles and strategies when it comes to communication. It is important to take advantage of the full range of platforms you have at your disposal to communicate and think about the style of the recipient. Do they usually reach out on Slack or request a call? Do they send short or detailed emails? Think about your colleagues’ behavior and their preferred     communication style and try to find some alignment to help avoid misinterpretations.
  1. Be mindful of when you communicate: Effectively navigating working across time zones is an inescapable hurdle for international teams. It is important to set and maintain boundaries for yourself and your team when working across time zones. Be specific about when deliverables are due or when meetings are occurring. For example, indicate something is due at 9:00 am EST not just 9:00 am on “Monday morning”. Recognize your teammates’ designated work hours and avoid booking commitments outside of those times. Lastly, make use of “schedule send” on email, and silence those pesky notifications outside of designated working hours.

This may be the first global pandemic that we have experienced in our collective lifetime, but it will not be the last time we face a major disruption in the way we work. As we continue to work in an ever-changing environment, it is critical that we continue to evolve as employees and employers alike.