The remote working mindset that I learned from being in a regional team

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

It is interesting to see that “remote work” has became one of the trending word in the past two years due to the pandemic. However, if we think back, many of the productivity tools had embraced it’s “mobility” function after smartphone getting commoditized. Working on the go has been a part of our lives for a long while, hasn’t it?

In fact, when I started working in a regional team, the team structure was organized across countries and different time zones. Before the epidemic, I was already the only one sits in Singapore, and the rest of my colleagues spanned across major Asian countries. Team collaboration relies heavily on conference calls, reports and shared notes. Due to the eight-hour difference in the scope of responsibility (from New Zealand to India, and sometimes meeting with the US). It was impossible to live a 9-to-5 lifestyle, and “working from home” was already an option from the past years.

In my view, I feel the real reason why people find it difficult to work remotely is that — you can no longer easily book a plane ticket and fly to the market to build relationship face to face. When the distance between people is only through video, chats and email; building trust and tacit understanding often require more time and effort to cultivate. This type of work often requires a great deal of self-discipline, as no one is watching the progress or results, and the performance is entirely your own responsibility.

My work life had gone from 1–2 business trips a month to working from home for two years. During this period, I have changed my mentality and arranged for working from home. Maybe I can share the following ideas that I learned from the process:

(1) Low Context Communication:

When teammates are already in different places with different cultures, even if we are aware that maybe China, Japan and South Korea might have implicit cultures, we all have to learn to speak clearly, less presuppositions/assumptions, less “expecting others to understand”, and practice clarity express needs and ideas. I often encounter colleagues who write emails asking for support, but the “ask” is unclear, and it takes many further meetings to slowly decipher the real problem. Often, you may feel that it “takes longer time” to engage regional resources, however being a regional team, I can only say when the demand side can clearly explain the background and requirements, it is much easier to align the end goal together as a team, and the subsequent communication and resource arrangement could also be much easier and efficient.

(2) “Consciously” respect and giving understanding to others

Although the first point just mentioned the low context, but if we are mindful to the established culture and habits, I still think that it could be way to improve the goodwill and trust in international cooperation. For example, my manager would import the public holidays of Asian countries and the birthdays of team members into his calendar. When arranging team meetings, he can ensure that the subordinates’ holidays are not disturbed; he can also arrange celebrations in advance when encountering birthdays. With these seemingly simple actions, I have experienced more than one international conference but arranged it during the Lunar New Year holiday, or people tried to arrange a luncheon during the Islamic Ramaḍān… The more I encounter these incident, the more I want to remind myself to be more understanding and respectful for others. Other minor things like adding Khun before the name is an honorific for Thais, just like we would use — san for Japanese; — si for Koreans to honor their way of addressing people formally. In addition, there are more and more studies showing that continuous video conferences are harmful for mental health, scheduling a 3–5 minute break in the middle of the meeting agenda is actually a necessary means for physical and mental health.

(3) Set your own strategy and align with the overall goal of the team

Remote-type jobs are usually quite flexible, and most jobs also require independent work and self-responsibility for goals. For workers who expect a supervisor to lead the way, readjustment is likely to be required. I mentioned the importance of Alignment and Leverage for international teamwork in another article, because regional teams are usually responsible for strategic or experimental business, which are often not mainstream topics for local teams. But when the flexibility level is high, knowing how to keep pace with other people’s business, and being able to interact and support each team to achieve each other’s goals — in order to achieve a breadth impact — is often a very important value and the most difficult aspect as a regional team. How to find a win-win situation in order to fulfill independent goals where also supporting the team’s goals, leverage each other and moving forward often requires mutual trust to achieve.

(4) Establish a “ritual” when working from home

The fourth point is more about self-management, which I experienced especially during the epidemic. In the past, there were decent amount of blank time for me take a breath when I am travelling in the air. However, when the epidemic broke out, we have no where to go but stuck at home, and we end up working endlessly. After a long while, we really need to learn how to set boundaries. My own practice is to play light music, do a session of yoga, and make tea or coffee in the morning. And making the music as a trigger to indicate the casual and working hours. At the end of work, it is driven by the act of closing the company laptop and rewarding myself with a dinner without work.

In fact, working remotely is never easy, and the above four points are just the tip of the iceberg that can be shared. Just like the same kinds of human interaction that you can have when working together in an office, remote work is pretty much the same, and sometimes more difficult to handle. However, the world situation nowadays indeed made remote work as an option for companies to hire talent without considering locations and all the corresponding issue and tasks. I also believe that there will be more and more such job opportunities in the future.

Until then, I guess it’s more important to start transform the mindset to this new way of working — what if the team is not in the same place as you, the work does not necessarily have someone to discuss or plan face-to-face with you, and you must be accountable for the results? If this will be the future of job opportunities and the new norm, the corresponding skills will be needed for future workers — let’s get ready for the change!

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A life traveller searching for happiness and meanings.

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Ling Chang

Ling Chang

Yogini working in AI/ML, holding literature and business background, never stops searching and learning the happiness of life.

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