Working globally: Tips for a smooth journey

“…the world is invited to embrace the idea that innovation is essential for harnessing the economic potential of nations. Innovation, creativity and mass entrepreneurship can provide new momentum for economic growth and job creation. It can expand opportunities for everyone……” – United Nations

As April 21 is designated as World Creativity and Innovation Day it seems like a perfect time to reflect on what KimbleCo team members have learned over years of living and working globally as expats, business people, students and vacationing travelers.

I have had the absolute pleasure of living on three continents. Of course, the U.S. is my first continent and I am proud to be an American. We have our strengths and weaknesses and ups and downs, but I am trusting that the future will remain bright. 

My second continent was Asia were I was a Rotary exchange student in Bacolod City, Negros, Philippines for one year attending college. It was a fascinating place to live, especially as it was a country under martial law and the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. I learned first-hand how precious freedom is and I absolutely fell in love with the beautiful people and culture of the Philippines. And to this day I can’t go too long without having a mango, papaya or pineapple!

Lastly, I had a 2-year expat assignment in London while working for Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions which served as home base while I ran a global account across 33 countries (Europe, Asia, South America, North America and Middle East). It was a wonderful experience for my husband and I and we wrote a series of blog posts describing our time there. We lived in the village of Cobham in lush, green Surrey, 17 miles from central London with a backyard gate that provided what we describe as entrance into “Narnia”—the miles of countryside pathways that connect the towns and villages of Surrey (and in fact, England) with plenty of walkers, dogs and horseback riders.

And before she joined the KimbleCo team, Ericka Miller and I worked together twice before; at Opus, based here in the Twin Cities and at Johnson Controls. So, Ericka had the opportunity to visit us in London and we have individual and shared experiences working globally.

6 tips for working globally

There can be many challenges when working across the globe—language barriers, time zone differences, currency types and differences in working hours or holidays—but it’s worth it to expand horizons and collaborate with different people around the world.

If you find yourself moving into a global business atmosphere, here are some tips my team and I have learned along the way.

1.     Research the culture and try new things

Take time to understand and learn about the culture in which you will be doing business. What values are important to them? What customs are in place? What are their expected work hours and ways of doing business? Be willing to try new things such as customary clothing or new foods.

2.     Dabble in the language

While it may be hard to pick up the language in full everywhere you go, we also can’t expect everyone to know English. Study a few words of importance in the language and be patient (with yourself and with others) as you navigate through communicating in another country. Listening is key; seek to understand.

3.     Know your conversions

This extends past currency. While you will want to brief yourself on current conversions, you’ll also want to be aware of measurements, time zone differences, etc.

4.     Understand political infrastructure and business norms

Come into the country with the knowledge of who their leaders are, how their government runs and what they expect in business. If your company offers a service to learn about the country to which you’ll be traveling before you go, take advantage of it. Be ready and learn before you go.

5.     Dress (and communicate) appropriately

Understand the appropriate dress for business and leisure situations. Learn the appropriate way to address people; a firm handshake? A bow? A nod? Keep in mind that humor can be taken differently across countries. There may also be topics to stay away from depending on where you are traveling. Keeping tabs on current events in the area will help expand your knowledge in this. Know that your way is not the only way. Compromising can be key when abroad.

6.     Research the geography

Have an understanding of the geography related to the cities you’ll be traveling to—everything from when to arrive, how to get there and how much time it will take. This can vary greatly depending on traffic, modes of transportation and times of day.

The bottom line is to recognize and respect other cultures and norms, and to value the different perspectives from around the world. Take the time to build trusted relationships. The relationships we built have enriched our lives. We so value that we can count people all over the world as our friends and colleagues. It is so great that technology means we can remain connected and continue our friendships and business connections.

We have many fun stories of course. I remember when, in a business meeting in Germany, my client said to me, “You know there is the other side of the metal.” I absorbed this a minute and then realized it was a translation of the American “flip side of the coin!”

If you have an opportunity to work globally, enjoy the adventure! Immerse yourself! Embrace the diversity. Be open to the people, food, landscapes, history, architecture, customs, language, values and beliefs of others!

And yes, when you’re abroad remember to call soccer “football”! When in Rome……