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Distant co-workers: Making "other side of the globe" feel like "in the next room"

distant coworkers

I’m a huge fan of face-to-face interaction with my colleagues. In fact, you can often find me wandering around, popping into a colleague’s office looking for help with a work-related item or maybe just seeing what’s up for lunch. I find these daily exchanges to be crucial for common understanding, teamwork and, most of all, efficiency. So, what happens when you’re limited with your opportunities to speak in-person to a team member? Will a project take longer to complete? Will someone be left on their own to figure it out?

I personally had these concerns a year ago when it became my responsibility to work closely with a client’s Latin American coordinator, located in Mexico. The thought of collaborating, tackling tasks, and setting goals with someone more than 100 feet away was a little frightening for me. But, with a year of check-in calls and virtual meetings under my belt, I think I’ve almost got it down. Of course there are always new challenges that arise and with that more to learn. But until then, I’ve learned to live by the following rules in order to ensure success when working with someone in another region of the world.

Schedule weekly check-ins
With distance as a factor that naturally limits a great deal of communication, I’ve found that it is essential to always be on the same page. Even if there is no new business to discuss, it’s always a good idea to just check-in. I also recommend that the agenda for these meetings follow a similar pattern. First, check on the status of any existing projects. Next, allow some time to ask/answer questions. Lastly, connect on any new business and tasks that need to be completed. Following this agenda will establish clear expectations.

Keep consistency but allow some flexibility
There are so many differences to consider in schedules, particularly when you’re working with someone from a different region of the world. Time zones, holidays, cultural traditions, and much more can affect one’s availability. Be mindful of this and accept that at times it’s best to reschedule.

Get feedback from one another
Whether you’re a pro at managing relationships outside of the office or it’s something entirely new to you, receiving feedback from your coworker is incredibly important. Just as you notice different work styles with the colleagues around you, the same can be said for someone you work with remotely. It’s important to learn if that person responds well to certain expectations. Do they appreciate more guidance or less? Are there certain projects that they prefer to work on over the phone or will email suffice? These types of considerations vary from person to person and it’s crucial to understand these preferences in order to accomplish the maximum amount of production.

Encourage collaboration with others in the office
It’s easy to feel isolated when you work remotely and I’m guessing it’s quite common to feel disconnected with a handful of employees in the office. Feeling welcome and comfortable with a team of colleagues is incredibly important to someone’s success. In my situation, I work very closely with the Latin American coordinator, whereas many of my colleagues are not expected to. I’ve found that connecting them on various projects creates a sense of teamwork that would otherwise be difficult to feel when you’re 2,000 miles away.

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Holding a meeting overseas? Be flexible.


I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world because of my profession of putting together special events and various types of meetings for international associations. I’ve met so many people, experienced different cultures and seen marvelous landscapes. I’ve also met hard-working convention services staff, tour operators and logistics experts — all with the focused desire of helping a meeting planner’s event to be successful. I’ve learned a few things along the way. I learned that trivial things like paper, holidays and break time mattered.  No, it’s not written in any meeting planning books or convention services manual. Here are a few I’ve learned from experience.

If you prepared hand-outs of a presentation and need extra copies, know that the 8.5” x 11” letter-sized paper we’re so used to is not universal. It is rare in some parts of Europe and the Middle East. They use A4 paper. So, be OK with having different sized hand-outs. Better yet, bring enough copies or print onsite.

Especially in the Middle East, some countries have generous vacation leaves and holidays to as much as 60 days a year. If you send a question to your local contact, don’t be surprised that it doesn’t’ get answered for some weeks. Allow plenty of time in your timeline, clarify and communicate expectations ahead of time.

They say that U.S. workers log in the most work hours among other industrialized countries. We eat our lunch at our desks and seldom take breaks. Early on, when I set up vendor meetings abroad, I packed them by the minute in the hope I could get work done quicker and return home sooner. I learned that I need to be culturally sensitive and avoid scheduling too fast of a lunch meeting or too early of an afternoon meeting. I’ve discovered that taking it easy is one way to encourage vendors to work hard on your behalf.

The key is being flexible and adaptable. When faced by a disruption in schedule or process, relax and smile. As Julius Caesar said, “experience is the teacher of all things.”

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When in-person meetings aren't an option: Three tips for smooth communication with international volunteers and vendors

Having executed several international meetings for various association clients in the past ten years, I have learned that clear communication is key to getting a project moving along smoothly.

I would be lucky to meet the board of directors, executive committee members or vendors in person twice a year. Once is more realistic. So, what to do when you rely so much in communicating via email or a phone conference to an audience with varying cultures, time zones and language? Here are a few tips.

Know your audience. When setting up a conference call, specify the time zones of your meeting participants. So, 8 a.m. CST is 9 a.m. EST, 2 p.m. GMT, 3 p.m. CET and so on. This helps your meeting participants respond quickly to your invitation or poll without having to convert the time themselves. If you are polling participants through Doodle, know that Doodle automatically sets the correct time-zone for each participant. Your time options will display according to where they are located (per their IP address or Doodle account setting). When participants open the Doodle request, they’ll see a time-zone drop menu above the poll. They can change their time zone here if it is incorrect. Advise your participants to check this before replying.

Clarify. There are various nuances in culture and local slang. Take time when reading email or listening on a call to fully understand what has just been said. If you are not sure what your volunteer or vendor is telling you, try rephrasing it and ask if you understood it correctly.

Keep it simple. When sending email communications, use simple, straight-forward language. Avoid long sentences. Avoid slang or idiomatic expressions. It’s not a “cool” idea but a good one.

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Working across cultures takes a little homework, a willingness to learn


Working in today’s world means frequent interactions with different cultures and adapting to new business practices. Just because our reality is evolving to be much more flexible with these nuances does not mean they deserve any less thought, respect or effort in their understanding. When it comes to working with a global team, here are some points to take into account to achieve success:

Do your research. Doing a little homework about the new languages, cultures and traditions of those you will be working with is invaluable. You’ll be surprised at how unique business practices can be. For instance, in Japan, the business card exchange has a great amount of presentation and symbolic gesture. In France, you exchange a prescribed amount of “bisous,” or cheek kisses, depending on the type of relationship. And in India, business meetings begin with small talk that often takes over and in the end no work is actually accomplished.

Don’t be afraid to put down the books and articles. Learning these basics will help you ease into working internationally and, with practice, you will become more comfortable. What you don’t want is to put yourself in a position where you are labeling a culture with stereotypes and expecting these behaviors with each interaction. In reality, you will find other cultures often recognize that not everyone understands or follows their traditions and they will do their best to make you feel comfortable. If you ask, they might even teach you some things you couldn’t have learned in your research.

Willingness to learn. Talk to your new colleagues and leaders and find out what makes their culture important to them. Ask about how they feel, act, think, vacation, work, to expand your own horizons and build these relationships. If you are not willing to learn what makes different cultures different, you will quickly come off as disinterested. What a shame to miss such an opportunity! Disclaimer: Always be respectful and be careful of pressing too hard if it is clear the person is uncomfortable sharing.

Role of technology. It can be a challenge to plan conference calls and secure a time that works across six-plus time zones, not to mention trying to coordinate travel for in-person meetings where you find yourself dealing with currency conversions, customs and visas. With varied physical locations, it’s tricky to reach someone on the other side of the world when it’s 2 a.m. for them and you need to know right then who the special guests are that they’re inviting.

With a little patience and planning, these hurdles can be overcome. Many tools are available, like the World Clock Meeting Planner at that assists in planning meetings in different time zones. You can even customize the locations you’re working with and save your own “Personal World Clock.”

Communication is key. Good communication and people skills are keys to any relationship. When you are working across cultures, this is ever more important. Just because you underlined, bolded, and italicized your request in an email doesn’t mean the message that it’s urgently important reached the recipient. What it comes down to is treating each person as we want to be treated. That Golden Rule we learned in grade school holds true even in today’s ever-changing world.

In the end, we live and work in a world that is becoming increasingly more connected. While we may not be able to control what brings us together, we can certainly make the most out of meeting new friends and colleagues from around the world. It just takes a little extra effort to recognize that we are as much alike as we are different and that we all have much to bring to the table.

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Interviews and earthquakes: AMPED takes flight for global mission

ISA Mexico med rez

“Going global” has become quite the popular phrase and it’s a trend that cannot be ignored. With increasing resources to expand an organization’s reach to countries around the world, globalization is inevitable to stay relevant. But going global is about more than serving members from other countries and hosting international meetings. In order to truly identify as a global organization, you need to tailor your operations to a specific region. What exactly does this mean? It means that in order to really understand the members in a region, you need to fully comprehend the characteristics that define that particular region. Such characteristics include culture, language, law, technology and economics. Without a thorough understanding of these, it would be nearly impossible to serve members in a way that is truly beneficial to them.

As the global coordinator for one of AMPED’s international clients, I can certainly appreciate the various characteristics that define different regions around the world and make them distinctive; however, I’m not qualified to know each and every unique characteristic. What our client, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), needed in the Latin American region was someone who spoke the language and could provide the expertise that AMPED was not capable of providing as a company based in the United States. With that goal in mind, AMPED President and Owner Lynda Patterson and I were off to Mexico to find our first regional coordinator in Latin America.

At first, traveling to Mexico City to conduct job interviews for what would be a part-time contractor may have seemed excessive. With the invention of Skype, why were we going to such lengths? Actually, we did hold Skype interviews initially; however, after one failed attempt to hire outside of the States based on a Skype meeting, we knew interviewing candidates in person was the right way to go. Not only did the in-person interviews prove our initial impressions wrong (the individuals we liked on Skype were not nearly as impressive in person, and vice versa), we also had the opportunity to see the candidates interact firsthand at an industry expo show held in Mexico City during our stay.

It was at the expo that I was reminded how important it was to be on location in Mexico. It was so exciting to see the responses by attendees and other exhibitors when they were told CSIA was opening an office in Mexico City. This was an important step toward becoming a global organization – to be genuinely perceived as a part of that country/nation/region.

It also gave prospective members confidence in our client’s organization. In fact, our time spent at the show concluded with some encouraging words by a prospective member and fellow exhibitor who said, “It’s unfortunate in Mexico that there are so many brilliant engineers who don’t have the resources they need to run a successful business.” With CSIA’s presence and dedication to providing custom-tailored benefits and resources in the region, these promising companies can take the next step toward improving themselves and increasing their success.

I suppose there could have been easier ways to accomplish this first step toward “going global,” but at AMPED we are committed to going the extra mile (literally) to assure quality and confidence in our team – even if it means traveling across borders or surviving earthquakes. (Yes, you read that right – there was an earthquake when we were there!) The success of this trip definitely gives CSIA encouragement and builds excitement to keep moving forward to become a global force worldwide.

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