Working in an international law firm has countless challenges. Sophie Judd, a UK-based Business Development Manager for Pinsent Masons’ global infrastructure sector sets out some practical tips for collaborating better with global colleagues in a professional services environment.
Understanding and being considerate of colleagues’ time is fundamental. Working in an international firm requires a good grasp of global time zones. Tools such as time zone converter timeanddate.com are frequently seen pinned to favourites bars for quick “am I calling X during their working day” calculations.
In the UK, daylight savings in March not only provide hope of travelling home in the light or prompt a nationwide dusting off of barbecues. For those working in global firms, there is an audible sigh of relief that the London to Sydney time difference is reduced from 11 hours to a more manageable nine.
It is essential to have a strong awareness of the demands on international colleagues’ time, which may look very different from the head office experience. In smaller offices elsewhere in the world, colleagues are commonly required to become masters of all trades and spinners of all plates.
Being culturally informed greatly facilitates effective working across international borders and keeping colleagues informed of national and religious holidays and celebrations is essential. Whilst those in the UK are currently giddy at the thought of this year’s record number of May bank holidays, it would be foolish to assume that all international colleagues have these marked out in their diaries. Likewise, it is rare for UK colleagues to know before they are met with an automatic out-of-office reply that today is Australia Day or King’s Day in the Netherlands.
Language, even with an official business language in place, is another key consideration for cultural awareness. Many international colleagues speak English (excellently) as a second, third or even a fourth language. Simply being mindful when using acronyms and idioms can avoid a breakdown in communication.
Getting to know international colleagues personally could not be more important to establish effective working relationships. An extra effort must be made to engage on a personal level in lieu of the naturally occurring interactions that happen when colleagues who physically work together have the same idea that it’s time to make a cup of tea.
Asking colleagues about themselves and remembering those details goes a long way to cultivating working relationships across borders. Countless studies show the benefits of in-person versus virtual meetings, and so rare opportunities to meet with international colleagues face to face should be seized with both hands.
Understanding differences is important for building strong, empathetic and sensitive relationships with international teams. However, it is even more important to remember what unites those working for the same company across international borders. Keeping shared ideas, challenges and goals front of mind is the start and end point for success.