Standardization—of processes, company culture, design, and service—is always a priority when a company goes multinational. But there are also professional and personal benefits that come with celebrating differences and learning from other cultures when we travel for work.
With dozens of new buildings opening around the world each month, WeWork employees have a unique opportunity to travel to new cities and learn from their colleagues. This summer, more than 400 WeWork employees participated in an exchange program in which they were able to travel to any WeWork location and work with the local team for the week. The goal was to give employees an opportunity to meet new community team colleagues, exchange knowledge, share WeWork’s unique culture, and experience a new country.
We asked three members of WeWork’s community team to share their biggest takeaways from the exchange, as well as tips for how anyone about to embark on international business travel.
1. Connect with the team beforehand
Getting in touch with the local team before you arrive can elevate your experience from good to great, according to Rounak Jain, a community lead in Gurugram, India, who traveled to WeWork Neue Schönhauserstraße 3-5 in Berlin. “The local team gave me advice on what to do in Berlin, got me up to date on things going on in their building, and set up a welcome breakfast for the day that I arrived,” Jain says.
Shim also reached out to her adopted team before arriving in Seoul, asking the community director to recommend a building for her to work out of during her stay. She also started following all of the team members on social media. “It helped break the ice and made us more comfortable with each other,” she says. “By the time I got there, they were inviting me out to meals and showing me around. There was a sense of family.”
2. Come with your ‘secret sauce’
Guests should never show up empty-handed. It’s a common courtesy your parents may have taught you as a kid, but the same principle can be applied when visiting international offices. “Figure out your ‘secret sauce’—what you can share with the team,” says Jasmin Shim, a community lead at WeWork Scotia Plaza in Toronto. Before she left for South Korea to work out of WeWork Euljiro, she thought about what makes Toronto unique so that she could share that with her host team. As a small market, Toronto’s community team is close-knit. “We all hang out together, we share our best practices, and celebrate our wins together,” says Shim. In Seoul, she showed that team how to foster those relationships in their region through supportive and frequent communication.
3. Live like a local
During the week of his visit, Jain soaked up the local culture in Berlin. “After work, I would meet with friends and meet with other community team members,” he says. “I tasted the local cuisine and was able to see what it was like to be a local.” Additionally, he was able to fly to Berlin two days early and stay for the weekend on the tail end, allowing him to fit in a lot of sightseeing.
4. Find ways around the language barrier
Chloe Brown, a community manager at WeWork Williams Square in Irving, Texas, teaches yoga on the side, so on her last day in Tokyo, she taught a yoga class to the members of WeWork Hibiya Park Front. She even learned how to say inhale (suikomu) and exhale (hakidasu) in Japanese. “Yoga is growing in popularity in Japan,” she says, and while the language barrier kept her from communicating regularly with the local members, she was able to relate to them through universal movement.
5. Bring knowledge back with you
“When you work at the same place every day, it’s easy to get used to a pattern of thinking,” says Jain. “It’s good to change your perspective and look at problems or solutions in a different way.” In his home office, his team offered plastic-wrapped candies, but he noticed that to decrease their environmental footprint, the Berlin team broke up chocolate bars and put them in a jar to offer to their members. So Jain brought that tradition back to India with him. Although these were small changes, “they let our members know that we care,” Jain says.
Brown was impressed by the profound respect for the space in the Tokyo buildings.” The space is beautiful built and impeccably kept,” she says.
6. Remember what unites you
While there was a lot to learn from the local teams and the cultural differences, each member who went on an exchange also noticed parallels throughout the communities that reminded them that company culture is something they all shared. The building tours, for example, were almost exactly the same despite the different cultures. “It was really cool to see the universality of the company,” Shim says. “We use different languages, but we have the same values and goals.”
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