After over 10 years in the software startup scene and a great start at UJET in its San Francisco headquarters for a year and a half, I had the opportunity to move to Europe.
Now after being in Munich for almost two years, I’ve had time to reflect on the benefits, drawbacks, and lessons learned about working remotely while living abroad. While I could go on and on about personal growth, many of the same lessons and insights I’ve gained personally have also benefited me professionally.
A Growing Experience
When you have someone living abroad, you gain a new perspective which helps globalize the product, the service, and the user experience. There are other ways to gain this knowledge and perspective, but nothing promotes it more than an internal advocate with ground-level experience (and the ability to widely share it).
It reveals a new angle and expands the collective knowledge of the industry beyond country borders. This new angle is also becoming increasingly important with the recent rapid shift to teams working remotely.
1. Learning and Sharing Market Information
One major way to gain this perspective is by sharing experiences and networking with peers in your new location. It provides actionable insights about how people do business there and how a company needs to adapt to new markets. You could get yourself a desk at a coworking space to accelerate this or learn while pitching your product to find these important insights.
Coworking spaces are helpful because you’re around people, but for those that aren’t able to meet in person, using local LinkedIn groups is also an opportunity. If the coworking space is closed, trying to set up online networking sessions can help you keep contact with others.
2. Remote Work Management
To navigate remotely working, I’ve developed a few tactics to help project manage my day. My favorites are setting up a distinct working space for structure, using my calendar to schedule blocks of time dedicated to project work, and utilizing a collaboration tool like Slack.
Using a Bullet Journal has also really helped me plan my days, both personally and professionally, but you might want to go digital if that’s your thing – whatever works.
UJET has been a Slack-heavy company from the start and understands that work is better with fewer emails. Our South Korea office uses Slack to communicate with the UJETers all over the world, just like I do from Europe.
3. Recognition and Visibility
That being said, if you are strategic and thoughtful about it, I strongly encourage maintaining a weekly update email. The email should share your wins, keep accountability for finishing projects on time, and inform cross-functional teams of work on shared objectives.
Start it on Monday and add as the week goes on. Then pick the right recipients – include too many and some ignore it but include enough so that your inability to attend meetings doesn’t block cross-functional communication.
Keep it to the point. I’m a big fan of structured, bulleted lists with links to deep dives if needed, and visuals whenever possible.
4. Collaboration with Teammates
When you’re the only one in your time zone, your calendar looks delightfully empty. But sometimes you wish it had meetings, project calls, and collaboration time with your team throughout your workday.
Depending on the time zone, meetings and calls may be scheduled very early or late relative to your local time. The benefit of this is being more prepared than you ever imagined for your scheduled calls.
Take your time to think through, prepare, and make the most out of your limited meetings. The most productive meetings require preparation – they have an outline in the calendar invite, web page references already loaded and ready to view in a browser window, and have answers to predicted questions or objections.
It’s even more complicated if you are managing a team, rolling out new tools, or creating new processes while working remotely. Hands-on or real-time management isn’t an option when you can’t be online when others are working. This is why having a champion back where most of your team members are be really beneficial. They can be an advocate for new processes or tools while you aren’t around.
5. Project Management
A time difference also means you have to be more driven to keep up on projects, especially when working on a rapidly evolving and growing platform. Slack, Google Sheets, and Confluence are my best friends these days.
This isn’t only because it’s hard to make new friends in a new country either. These tools don’t sleep, like my colleagues do, and allow seamless collaboration around the clock so others can pick up where I left off. I take my meeting-less hours to deep dive into the product, read technical documents, and focus on uninterrupted project work.
6. Work-Life Balance
Lastly, it’s important to set boundaries. Many friends and mentors stressed this as I reached out before moving and they were right. Set your work hour expectations early and often. Remind team members when you are back at HQ, and use tools like Google Calendar’s working hours feature.
If you are on Slack or another chat tool, set yourself to away and disable notifications at a set time. If you have a local holiday, take a minute to tell the team what it’s about or how people celebrate it.
There will also be occasions when you need to be flexible though. When there’s a large group trying to meet or a mandatory meeting necessary to move a project forward, take that 8 PM or 10 PM call. But please, don’t let yourself get sucked into someone else’s time zone, you have your own.
Working abroad for a fast-paced software company isn’t for everyone – in fact, it’s much harder than working next to my teammates every day. But the work I accomplish continues to help improve the product, company, and myself.