International Business Development teams have mastered collaborating virtually, long before the great work from home shift. When U.S.-based teams felt bumps as they adjusted to permanent work from home arrangements in 2020, global team operations were seemingly business as usual. These geographically disparate teams had a leg-up in the transition to exclusive video meetings, blurred Zoom backgrounds, and coffee shop chatter. International BD capture and proposal team members, while often based in the same time zone, have to work with subject matter experts or partner organizations that are locally based, often multiple time zones away. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a key client, releases solicitations with due dates that are local to the Mission, so an East-coast BD team may be working towards deadlines that fall in the middle of the night, or can expect an RFP amendment released at 9 PM on a Friday.
Heeding advice from International BD team members, these tools and perspectives have enabled successful virtual collaboration in an increasing work-from-laptop world:
Focus on outputs versus being online.
The expectation that your icon will always show as green during 9-5 is a stale management expectation, and one that has not been relevant to international BD teams. Be transparent about the hours in which you will be accessible through chat/email and for meetings. Overall, this depends on your company policies, but if you have to step away during normal working hours, throw a temporary out of office notice up so team members know that you haven’t taken off for the day, and won’t spiral trying to find a work around for urgent matters. Global teams have managed to navigate complex proposals while sometimes working with a 12 hour time difference, recognizing that the work being accomplished is more important than maintaining a presence for 8 hours straight.
Let tech do the calculation for you.
The ability to work-from-laptop has enabled otherwise US teams to now travel freely, while still working (hello #vanlife). Manually calculating time differences burdens administrative tasks like scheduling meetings. World Time Buddy (https://www.worldtimebuddy.com/) allows you to enter your own date and timezone and your counterparts’ so you don’t have to manually navigate tricky time changes.
Be flexible and give your team members grace
This lines up with point number one about embracing flexibility in schedules. International teams are used to joining a call where an attendee may be based in a bustling internet shop in Vietnam, or with camera-off because it is very early in the morning for them. Offices look different these days and our workspaces now blend with where we live, eat, and spend our free time. Embrace the idea that we now get to learn a little bit more about each other’s lives, and alternatively, respect that a clean desk may not be accessible to everyone.
Use reaction GIFs to stay connected
Take advantage of informal communication channels that allow for chat functionality to stay connected with team members. Email encourages formal conversations while chat allows for dynamic, collaborative conversations even if they aren’t in real time. This helps teamworking bonds, morale, and mimics water cooler conversations that happen in a brick and mortar office. Reaction GIFs and emojis are a great way to learn more about your team members’ sense of humor. Humor can vary based on culture, which also means we will learn a little bit more about our team members.
Colby Hanjan is an APMP certified proposal management professional with seven years of experience supporting public sector proposals in the federal, state & local, and international markets. She currently supports Bixal Solutions Inc. as a proposal manager for international development proposals that provide global solutions to promote social good. She lives in New England with her husband, and two sons (one is furry and aptly named Monster).