New Workplace Abroad: 5 Things To Check Out And Learn

Getting used to a new work environment is always a challenge, and if it is in a foreign country as well, it’s certainly something you want to be prepared for. See our five tips on what you can easily check out before starting, so you make things easier for yourself at your new workplace abroad.
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So you moved to a new country. You did your research, had your interviews, then weighed everything there was to weigh, and finally took the leap. Now you start at your new workplace abroad, and there are so many novelties! It is exciting of course, but at the same time it can get overwhelming. Getting used to a new work environment is always a challenge, and if it is in a foreign country as well, it’s certainly something you want to be prepared for. See our 5 tips on what you can easily check out before starting, so you make things easier for yourself at your new workplace abroad.

1 – Email Signature

Sounds like a triviality, but in fact it’s a very important aspect of work communication. In addition to each company having their own communication style, each country has its unwritten rules regarding work- and business communication as well. How formal/informal should you be? How long should your average work-mail be? Should you add a personal touch to it, or rather not? Should you start directly with your needs, or is that considered impolite there? And of course, the signature. Cheers, regards, best, have a nice day, thank you, friendly greetings, and the list goes on and on… How you close your e-mail can change or set the tone of the entire email, so it is really important to know what means what at your new place. In more reserved countries it wouldn’t be advisable to end your e-mail with “kisses”, just as in other countries, where people tend to be more informal in their work environment, “regards” could feel cold and impersonal. It is all a matter of culture, but something you can easily learn to fit in at your new workplace abroad.

2 – Phone Calls

This one is a close friend of the e-mail. Different companies have different takes on work- and business-related phone calls, and it is deeply influenced by the culture of that country. There are many questions: who should call whom first, how are you supposed to start the conversation, how lengthy you can be, which topics require a phone call rather than an email or a personal meeting, how you should greet and what is appropriate to say before hanging up, etc. Even the act of choosing a phone call instead of other means of communication in itself has different meanings in different countries. Learn what it means in your target country, and what unwritten rules there are to it!

3 – Small Talk

This is one of those things that you will encounter no matter where you go. Around the world, small talk is a very important aspect of interpersonal relations, but there are no two countries with the exact same approach to it. It is deeply affected by culture, and knowing its unwritten rules becomes even more important in the work environment. There are many factors to take into consideration at your new workplace abroad: does small talk usually occur before or after the main conversation? What are the socially accepted topics? Does it get personal, or is it more general? And how long can it get without the situation becoming awkward? Is there some rule of thumb regarding who should initiate it? In some countries starting directly with the main topic can be considered rude, as in many places people will interpret it as coldness, not showing personal interest. In other places, however, if you exceed a certain limit of small talk, you can easily come off as someone with no respect for your partner’s time. You can avoid awkward situations by educating yourself on the topic and understanding the cultural norms at your new workplace abroad.

4 – Relationship Or Task?

Another really important aspect of professional life is whether people are more task- or relationship-focused. Once again something deeply rooted in a country’s culture, which shapes the everydays at your new workplace abroad. In some countries, the task comes first and is important above anything else. In these countries, all the energy and focus go to what has to be done, and people are used to doing their part of the job, leaving personal aspects aside. In other countries, however, relationships between colleagues define the general feeling of a workplace, and even the way people see their tasks. In these more relationship-focused cultures the attitude towards tasks is not so rigid, and personal events, team dynamics can often interfere. In these cultures successfully doing business considerably depends on the personal relationship between partners. Knowing which one is your target country more like will help you a lot to settle in at your new workplace abroad!

5 – Team Or Individuals?

This is somewhat related to the previous one. In countries where personal relationships are closely shaping the work-everydays, team spirit tends to be more important. Whereas in more task-focused cultures it is not unusual for people to work more individually, as personal relationships are not so important. In countries where people rather work in teams, the workplace hierarchy is usually looser. In more individualistic cultures, on the other hand, the hierarchy can be stricter. Teamwork makes the relationship between team members important, whereas individual work leaves little space – and need – to connect on a personal note. With a little research you can easily get a feeling of what is your target country more like, and get a heads-up on what the general atmosphere at your new workplace abroad might be.

Conclusion

Starting a new job in a foreign country can be an exciting but overwhelming experience. To make the transition easier, it’s important to familiarize yourself with certain aspects of the work culture. Understand the communication style and unwritten rules regarding work emails and phone calls in your new country. Recognize the importance of small talk in different cultures and learn acceptable topics, the level of personalization, and the duration of conversations to avoid awkward situations. Last but not least, understand whether your new workplace prioritizes tasks or interpersonal relationships and teamwork or individual. Recognize the impact of personal relationships on work dynamics and hierarchy, and adjust your approach accordingly. By researching and understanding these aspects of your new work environment, you can better integrate into the culture and ensure a smoother transition into your new workplace abroad.

 

Eszter Szűcs-Imre

Key Takeaways

  • Each country has its unwritten rules regarding work- and business communication.
  • Different takes on work- and business-related phone calls are deeply influenced by culture.
  • Around the world small talk is an aspect of interpersonal relations, but there are no two countries with the same approach.
  • Another important aspect of professional life is whether people are more task- or relationship-focused. 
  • In countries where personal relationships are shaping the work-everydays, team spirit tends to be more important.
  • In more task-focused cultures it is usual for people to work more individually.
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