Collaborating with a Global Team: Six Lessons I’ve Learned

As more businesses go global, and more people work remotely, global teamwork is crucial to achieve company goals and objectives.

I spent most of my career working with people sitting in the same room as me, but since I joined Acquia I started working with a global team of people, many of whom I had never met before. I must admit it was strange at first but it has proved to be very beneficial. I now appreciate the opportunity to work with colleagues with differing skill sets and ideas scattered on different continents.

It amazes me the amount of knowledge, great ideas, and good colleagues you gain by working together on a global scale. Nevertheless, as rewarding as it is, it can also be a challenge to stay connected through multiple timezones and past many cultural differences.

A typical day

A typical work day for me probably starts the same for me as it does for most people: with a caffeine injection strong enough to help me make it through the school run, and get me in front of my laptop.

But when I start interacting with my colleagues -- that might be different.

I am part of Acquia’s Professional Services Operations’ team and although I’m based in the UK, my role involves supporting not just EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) but also our global PS team. This means that I also get to work with other departments as well, such Sales, Legal, Finance, HR, Learning & Development, Products, something I really value as I learn more and more about Acquia.

I do like to start off the day by saying “good morning” in our team Slack channel -- as a reminder that I am here and I am not alone. But once the day gets going I could be on a call with our team in EMEA, a colleague from India, or my team in US in the afternoon -- and that’s just video calls, not to mention chats in Slack and in emails.

I admit that when was office-based I was one of those people who thought the amount of messages I received in Slack was crazy, but now I understand: when you are working remote you need to feel connected with your team.

Fortunately, there are now an abundance of tools for communication. Some of my favorite day-to-day tools include Zoom Video, Slack for instant messaging, Mavenlink for project-related communications, emails for let’s keep it on the record, and mass communications like newsletters. And let’s not forget Confluence, for knowledge-based shops. Every tool serves a purpose hence, I believe it's crucial for companies looking to have a global presence to invest in tools that can improve communication.

However, it’s much more than the tools. The effort we put in, and the way we communicate is really important too. Sometimes I’ve gotten on large group calls only to end up just listening, not sure how to assert myself - and I am sure this happens to a lot of people. I’ve learned that it is important that we put ourselves out there and make sure we are heard and also help each other communicate clearly –and succinctly. Below I have listed six personal lessons learned on how to do just that.

Lessons Learned

1. First, take time to get to know your colleagues and I do not mean their life stories, but just a little background about their personal lives and characters, as well as their professional backgrounds.

Working remotely means that you do not get to accidentally bump into someone in the kitchen, or the halls of the office, so intentionally taking time to know your team will help understand them better: what drives their decisions, working style, but also what people want to get out of their jobs?

So have a lot of empathy, get out of your comfort zone and get to know your colleagues from other regions or varied backgrounds- you never know what you can learn by just reaching out! After all we all are human beings and would appreciate some sympathy and understanding from our colleagues. Have you tried doing a quiz with facts about your team? It can be a great icebreaker.

2. Although we use video calls for a lot of meetings, the majority of time a lot of the communication exchanges happens by text, whether it's in Slack, shared documents, emails, Jira or GitHub issues, etc. Text communication tends to be the most convenient way to keep in touch with your colleagues without interrupting them. So be mindful and aware of the communications you send, the language you use, it is very easy to be misunderstood when communicating with people across different countries, languages barriers, and cultures. Responding with just a “Yes” or “No” can be easily misread with the wrong tone. Adding more context to it, or an emoji, could help ☺ (and also potentially lead to less follow-on text!)

3. When on a call, especially with a larger team, use the 2-Second Rule: get in quickly and put your questions and opinions forward.

If you’ve never heard of the 2-second rule, it is commonly used when learning to drive, as the safe distance to keep with the car in front of you.

Two seconds may not seem like a lot, but just as when you are driving, it can have a huge impact in the business world if applied correctly.

On global teams, people frequently hesitate to ask questions due to busy schedules and not enough time, but sometimes all you need is just 2 seconds. Be direct and put yourself forward. You, and your team, will benefit from your input and collaboration.

4. Show your vulnerability, no one is perfect. Sharing your weaknesses with your team increases trust and makes everyone feel empowered. That can be anything from admitting that you need help, or owning up to a mistake. This is often not easy for anyone, especially when working remote -- because your colleagues do not see you, and could take a while to notice if you are struggling with something, unless you let yourself to be seen. Most people will respect you for reaching out when there’s something you don’t know – and it’s much more efficient than struggling alone!

5. Promote great work and good news. And not just in relation to you but to your colleagues as well. Share it with team, put it out there; it helps everybody feel a part of the team, connected and appreciated. On my team, we send out a monthly newsletter promoting personal accomplishments (weddings, babies, photos of the team, etc.) and we do a monthly “all team” meeting where we recognize work achievements across the team. We call them Shout Outs!

6. Finally, communication is key to ensuring that your remote culture is successful. As with every successful recipe it is very important to have not just the right ingredients but also the right amount, a little bit more or less can ruin it. Hence it is very important that we keep our communications consistent and relevant. Regular team calls, individual meetings with your manager, newsletters, onsite team gatherings if possible… they can all contribute to successful team collaboration.

I have learned that being part of a global team, working remotely, is a skill on its own which you learn with time, driven by the need to stay connected and work together. The global map of Acquia Cloud Edge presence across 63 global data centers, above, is a good example of how spread out teams can be.

As more companies work with offsite contributors, you will find that your global collaboration skills will become more valuable. There’s no doubt about it: in order to achieve our common goals, it is now more important than ever that we all work on improving teamwork and collaboration across all continents.