As a frequent international traveler you have to learn to adapt to working across hemispheres. It’s not as easy as you may think in all cases. To some, it sounds glamorous and exciting – working with people who have fabulous accents and visiting exotic places around the globe. But to the experienced, they understand it’s far from glamorous jet-set lifestyle you see portrayed on TV or in the movies.
If only I had a dollar for every time someone compared my job to George Clooney’s character in “Up In The Air” (and yes, I love the movie) or for every time someone said “Oh, I wish I had your job so I could travel like you do.” If I had a dollar, or even a Baht (about 33 cents to the dollar), for every time I’ve heard those things I’d be retired and blogging full time 🙂 !
Yes, I do get to work with people who have very cool accents – in fact, sometimes I even need a translator. Imagine a typical two-hour conference call with a translator – that call typically lasts about 3 1/2 to 4 hours due to translation back and forth. I was in one meeting recently where things were being translated into 2 and occasionally 3 languages. Colleagues often ask what the most challenging part of that is – you might be surprised when you hear my answer – it’s remembering what you had said before the translation started! Sometimes you can spend an hour talking about something only to discover that the person/people you’re speaking to had no idea what you were talking about – but they kept shaking their heads like they did, to be polite. True story: after talking about an API for around 30 minutes to an hour the translator finally stopped me and said, “What does nail polish have to do with software?” They thought I had said “OPI” one of the most well known nail polish brands throughout the world. The translator let me go on for more than 30++ minutes assuming I was talking about nail polish while I discussing software.
The other challenges that you inevitably face are jet-lag sleep issues, and just getting used to a weird schedule. Everyone wants to know how I deal with jet-lag. There’s a very simple answer for that – I don’t. I took the advice of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton one time when she said, “I just nap when I can and sleep when I get tired.” I tried every remedy under the sun, every suggestion I got and after talking with tons of flight attendants and other very frequent international travelers, I just gave up and gave in! Now I actually function quite well – in my own way.
Sleep issues – well, that’s a whole other story. When I’m not on the road, my typical day looks like this: work with my European counterparts and US colleagues from 9:30 – 1:30. Take a break from 1:30 – 5:00 (which is when I do chores and blogging). Then I work from 5:00 – 7:00, take a dinner break and work from somewhere between 8 – 10 or 9-11 (depending on what time of year it is – some of my customers are in counties that don’t change their clocks at all or at the same time we do in the US.)
In the beginning it used to be very, very hard for me to turn on the TV at 1:30 or go to the mall in the middle of the work day. It took a lot of getting used to and a very supportive CFO and CEO who reinforced the idea that we are global and work when we need to work. This type of schedule can lead to sleep issues. During weeks when I have a lot of calls w/Asia and Australia I might not hang up the phone until mid-night my time. It’s impossible for me to just hang up the phone and plop into bed and fall asleep. So I might be up until 2am sometimes. This is another reason why I don’t really get worked up about jet-lag, being up at odd hours is sort of normal for me anyway.
So when people ask me for my advice about working globally or how to deal with jet-lag my answer is this – do what works for you! It’s the only way to make work.