Increasingly, the world is more and more connected and this offers real opportunities to collaborate across borders in our work. Young Australians are jumping at the chance to do just that.
As discussed in FYA’s New Work Order report, a survey of more than 200,000 individuals worldwide found that nearly 2 in 3 respondents are already working overseas or willing to move to a different country for work. Young Australians themselves are regularly travelling abroad for work.
FYA’s report, the New Basics, also reveals that demand from employers for bilingual skills has increased by 181% in jobs advertised over the last 3 years.
So what skills can help someone trying to stand out in an international crowd?
We asked three young people who have worked internationally (both physically and virtually) about their experience:
Jaime Berrill worked in media in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“I found the working culture to be more relaxed and less focused on KPIs. At the same time, there was a very clear hierarchy of seniority based on work roles and age.”
“My colleagues tended to favour working with people they knew well or had an existing relationship with. They gave priority to maintaining close relationships, whereas I was often more focused on just getting things done. It’s important to recognise your working style doesn’t always translate perfectly overseas and to have patience and empathy when considering others’ approach” Jaime says.
Jaime was exposed to different ways of working which he wasn’t necessarily prepared for.
“I wish I’d had a better understanding of how different the working culture would be to Australia’s. That was a big learning curve.”
“I also found that working at an Indonesian workplace was also the best way to improve my Indonesian language skills. It was much more effective than classroom learning” Jaime explains.
Gaya Byrne worked as a communications and strategy consultant across a range of industries physically and virtually with colleagues in Singapore, China, Indonesia, France, and the US.
“In my current office, I work with people from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, and of course Australia. In overseas roles I’ve worked with dozens of different cultures including: Singapore, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, British, French, American, Swiss and so many more” Gaya explains.
This meant working across different cultures and different work ethics.
“In most Asian cultures, there is a strong focus on hierarchy, meaning decision-making power resides with only a small number of people. This can be a little frustrating if you’re used to things moving quickly and having responsibility for decisions.” She says.
“Doing a bit of research to understand the general working culture in a country before heading there is extremely helpful. In the States [sic] for instance, people communicate in an incredibly direct way and expect immediate responses or decisions – not so easy if you’re coming from a culture that tends to value a more consultative approach.”
There were skills Gaya needed to successfully work abroad.
“Clear communication and language basics are critical. Email communication is of course very helpful if you’re working with virtual teams and where there is a language barrier, using email allows someone else the time to process your request, unlike phone or face-to-face communication.”
And there were certain things she wished she had known before working overseas.
“A better understanding of the basic cultural drivers that affect the way people operate in a workplace is also important to do before heading into an international collaboration experience.”
Katherine Sylwester worked as a business consultant in the construction and building industries both physically and remotely from the US, Australia and Southeast Asia.
“I worked with a lot of Australians mostly, however I did have a partnership with a woman from Nairobi, Kenya which required daily Skype calls and online collaboration” Katherine says.
“Communication is the most important part of managing international projects. Providing detailed instruction lists, and checking for understanding help save time and energy. Always encourage questions and be accessible to answer questions – the time difference means that you might work strange hours.”
Working in virtual teams also requires diverse language skills.
“Even though I have not collaborated on any projects in China, I have been seeing that Mandarin is becoming more and more important. I’ve been to China several times in the past few months, and I think that China is investing a lot of time and energy in business and will become a world leader in sustainability and development” Katherine explains.
“English is very important, but I think that Mandarin will soon be mandatory in international business.”
For more information about the skills we’ll require to succeed in a globalised workforce see here.