- Wise Words -
The "United Nations" of
by gabriel medeiros
"Moving in the direction of fear" is a quote that has stuck with me. I am attracted by new challenges, especially those that make my heart race, my hands sweat and my voice crackle. Last year, I leapt into the complete unknown and experienced a lot of heart racing and voice crackling!
I landed a job at a truly global ad tech company with Headquarters in Paris and offices throughout the world. I was hired through Video Conference ("VC") by French, American and Brit interviewers who needed a Designer based in their Sao Paulo, Brazil office. The company wanted to establish a brand new Design Center and I was their first hire! This meant that I partnered with an American manager based in New York and our mission was to meet Latin Americas' needs. Not just Brazil's, all of LatAm.
This would be a challenge to anyone, but as an Early Stage Professional with 1.5 years of professional work experience it was a huge learning experience and a great opportunity for career growth. It also met my personal goal of moving out of my hometown of Rio de Janeiro—a great city, but in my mind ideal only if you are fond of tiny bikinis and tanning.
My company feels like the "United Nations of Online Advertising": we are so international and I must partner with teams across many countries (almost too many to count) and three continents. With that came the biggest challenge; communicating through Email and Video Conference.
Here are a few of the things I've learned in my last 12 months.
Losing the "Mood Thermometer"
When you work in the same office you all experience the same weather, hear the latest news (good or bad), understand the latest political drama (generally bad right now!). You broadly have the same mood and share common ground: the same city, the same dreadful traffic jam or even tedious drizzle (yes it can rain in sunny Brazil!).
Those conditions will not be the same to the team on the other side of the equator. When Brazil is entering the happy days of summer my colleagues in New York are entering winter. It is almost like we have the exact opposite mood thermometer!
How I deal with this is by sharing what I can of the local atmosphere and then asking my colleagues in New York, Boston, Miami or Paris what is going on for them. This benefits the team's connection and allows us to feel at ease. We start to understand everyone's mood thermometer. Outside of formal meetings I like to dedicate time to catch up with my teammates. I use Instant Message or even a quick VC to keep the communication open and relationships strong.
Right now I’m working on a project with a colleague in NYC to build intimacy among the designers who live around the world. We call it the "Creative Espresso Hang" and every 3 weeks, we have meetings dedicated building relationships. We all jump on a Video Conference and exchange local happenings and get to know each other. We are trying to create the "casual" exchanges that you get over a cup of coffee, or to use an American expression "by the water cooler".
What is clear to me might be confusing to someone else
I have always seen myself as a clear communicator. I think my ideas are well structured and that I can get my message across. The last sentence makes sense, right? Well not every audience "hears" what I am trying to say all the time!
When you work with people from different countries you are challenged with different languages, but unlike the United Nations there are no interpreters translating everything! We have solved the problem by having a common language: English. However, each individual has his own level of English and many in Brazil, while being good at English, do not speak it every day. As well as this I have had to work with a variety of accents (American, English, French, Brazilian and many more), intonations and communication styles that are all mixed up in the "pot" of a big conference room. Add all this into occasional bad quality connections and boom it is more likely you miss out on what someone is saying!
What I do is put in extra effort to sound as clear as I can and try not to feel embarrassed by asking people to repeat what they have said. I also give them the context "Hey the Internet is really weak today so you fade in and out" is usually enough of an explanation.
Being ahead or behind time is relative.
How pleasant is eating that favorite lunch before continuing your mid-afternoon tasks? For some it is an essential time to get that extra energy to finish wrapping up the day.
Different cultures have different eating habits. In Paris, for example, they usually have their lunches out with colleagues and take the time to finish their meal over a cup of espresso. In other countries this is not the norm. The Americans are famous for grabbing a bite over their desks. We live in a world enriched by a diverse set of traits and should be able to allow for cultural differences as well as managing across different time zones. Scheduling meetings requires us to take these disparities in consideration and find the most convenient time for everyone. Squeezing a meeting at an inopportune time for one location could impact productivity.
There are exceptions. Mostly if it’s due to a significant meeting or a “must attend” training. In such occasions, it’s obviously worth making a compromise and I adapt my schedule to accommodate important meetings. Changing the natural rotation of the earth is beyond my capability so I focus on being flexible!
My International "Journey"
For me it is a truly meaningful career journey that demands a high level of trust and patience. Also I am always working to understand it more and improve. Because of the constant challenge and the international experience I love my job at the "United Nations of Online Adverting" and love the people I work with. I am sure one day I will even love Video Conference!
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