Web Working in a Borderless World

Last week, a client decided to give me more responsibility for his project. He told me to manage the writing tasks of the other writers on our team. Only after handling this task did I realize what it was like to work with a writer from Mexico, another from India, and another one traveling through Europe – all while reporting to the client in Kansas. Having an international team is commonplace in web work, in fact, it’s almost a given. But what effect does this borderless office have on the individual web worker and the team as a whole?

548769_dreams_in_pi__3653_1416_11One of the main things to be aware of is that working styles differ across cultures. For example, I’m so used to working with people from the UK and the U.S. that I forget that I can’t be as upfront and straightforward with some of my Filipino colleagues. For us Filipinos, the first few minutes of a business meeting or phone call is usually devoted to idle chit-chat. Also, I can’t give them negative feedback without sandwiching it between positive statements. While I love working with people from different backgrounds, this kind of variety requires some adjustments on my part. As I work with a greater variety of people, I often have to increase the adjustments I have to make.

But doing this has its benefits. When you’re used to your own working culture, you overlook its flaws and weaknesses. By working with people who have a different working style from yours, you’ll be able to see your own flaws more clearly. The first time I worked with local colleagues, it made me see a more personal side to business interaction. This was something I needed at that time, since my communications with international clients were too matter-of-fact. The personal touch I added later allowed me to differentiate myself.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that two work cultures will create conflict, or even clash. The best way to avoid this is by managing expectations from the start. Here’s what fellow WWD blogger Pamela Poole had to say about this:

“If you find yourself working with people from other cultures, my advice is to be very explicit about your expectations and make sure you know theirs from the very start of your negotiations to avoid any misunderstandings down the line.”

Another effect of web working with an international team is that geography becomes a less important factor in business. We can increasingly focus on other factors such as quality of work, experience, and cost. This shift should allow for more equal opportunities for people to compete professionally, where they aren’t judged on nationality.

Also, working with an international team requires you to consider a new factor that you probably rarely thought of before: timezones. This is usually less of a problem for one-on-one meetings, but what if you have to organize a group conference call with members in three different timezones? At least one person on the team will have to make a major schedule change just to accommodate the majority.

To prevent such group sessions from being unfair, it’s important to conduct them only when necessary. No one wants to stay up three hours later than usual just to do collaboration that can be done using a wiki. The good news is that if your team is picky when scheduling conference calls, you’re less likely to waste everybody’s time.

Working with international colleagues may be a challenge, but this has its own rewards. As technology improves and as the global community gets more comfortable to international web work, these challenges will hopefully become non-existent.

Do you work with an international team? If so, what effect does this have on your process and working style? Share your tips in the comments.

Image by Miguel Ugalde from sxc.hu