When you head to the office each day with 60,000 other people from every country in the world, you work differently. Whether you're talking on the phone to your boss in Brentford, UK, your colleague in Cologne, DE, or your best friend in Franklin, MA, you can reach across the divide and make a connection.
Get To Know Them
First, when you're working remotely, get to know them as a person. Start every conversation with a question about their life, family, or hobbies. Recognize that the person behind the voice or chat box is a person, too, and that they want to make a connection.
Schedule 15-30 minute no-business calls, especially when you join a team. Discuss who they are, what they like to do, what their favorite movies are, whatever interests them. It shows that you respect them as a person and care about them beyond what you need them to do that minute that day.
Respect Their Time
When you know you need to meet with someone, double check their location and time zone. Yes, we all "work hard," but no one wants a 5 PM or 7:30 AM meeting. Make every effort to respect their time and schedule something that works for both of you. If there's no way to do that, agree to trade off whom will be inconvenienced. If you're the one always waking up at 5 AM to get on a call with people from the other side of the globe, it gets tiring and you get resentful. If you're not sure, use this meeting planner.
The second part of this? Respecting cultural holidays and inquiring about them. If they have a day off, understand why. In this information age, there's no excuse for not googling Guy Fawkes Day or Holi.
Connect Through Current Events
In that same vein, know what's going on in the world. Whether you bring it up to your colleagues or not, understanding the political, economic, and social climate of their country of origin makes for a more well-rounded understanding of who they are (and makes you less of an "Ugly American.")
The best way to connect with someone that's a "safe" topic for work? Sports. The most popular sport in the world is actually soccer, so whether or not you're a fan, ask your colleagues about what sport they love and what they're watching. Whether that's inquiring after Olympic bids or cricket championships, make a connection over something more than what's at the top of the news. Bonus: you'll break your American media bias.
Harness Stylistic and Cultural Differences
Working globally draws attention to something you already know: people work and thrive in different environments than you might. Understanding basic cultural differences (NOT stereotypes) allows you to harness these preferences and work more efficiently. Cultural intelligence tools can help identify where your values stand against someone else's.
For example, a cultural difference that often gets Americans in trouble is our focus on equality. In many Asian countries, hierarchy is more important than the idea. Unless a boss (again, in many cases, a man) is speaking, people won't listen. On the flip side, if you are the boss, this same emphasis favors indirect forms of communication so that you might not know it's really a problem until it's too late. If you know this ahead of time, you can better create frameworks to address it.
The key thing to remember: it's all relative, and it may be completely different from how you think or act. But the more we open ourselves up to curiosity about diverse and global perspectives, the better work gets done.