In my current role as Managing Director for an association that is running four conferences on three continents this year, I have a new appreciation for time zones and what we take for granted when planning domestic conferences. While many elements remain the same, I think one of the biggest differences in executing global events is the added complexity of the time zone differences. In an effort to avoid these challenges with my upcoming client events, I have begun working remotely in Asia for four weeks in between ITechLaw’s two conferences: the first took place January 31 – February 2 in Bangalore, India, and the second to occur March 7 – 9 in Hong Kong.
Working in Asia for these four weeks started as a fun idea – a way to escape Washington, D.C. in the winter. But the more I thought about it, the more practical and logical it became. Regardless of where in the world I was physically located, even if I stayed in Washington, D.C., I would need to work early and late hours, due to where conference volunteers, attendees, and speakers were located. In the month leading up to the India conference, I was located in Washington, D.C., and woke up to a deluge of emails and urgent matters, and was on the phone much too early each day with volunteers and speakers. I was conveniently located in the office for the MCI USA staff team, but I was struggling to keep up with the pace of what happened on the other side of the globe while I was sleeping.
Now, for the month preceding the Hong Kong conference, I will have a different experience: I will be located within one or two time zones of the event, which makes my hours convenient for volunteers and speakers on the ground, and will better facilitate conference planning and execution. It seems easier for me to call my team at an off-hour and discuss a few action items instead of coordinating the schedules of volunteers and members across time zones. Regardless of who is located where, flexibility is a key skill for global conference planning.
However, while remaining in Asia is beneficial from a content and volunteer management perspective, it’s instead more difficult in managing the team who is located on the East Coast. Now, I will be calling team members daily instead of stopping by their desks; I’ll be video-calling in for staff meetings; and I’ll be providing delayed responses to the team due the time zones. For this, clear communication, appropriate expectation setting, and trust in the people and the process are vital. Building a reliable and strong team takes time, and I am proud to say that the talents at MCI USA have the foundation, skills, and foresight to handle the challenges of a very-remotely located Managing Director. We will need to rely on each other and re-delegate duties between what needs to happen real-time with volunteers, attendees, and speakers, and what can happen during East Coast working hours.
So far, it’s working well! Working closer to our volunteers, speakers, and attendees puts me in a client-focused, responsive position. With the barrier of a time delay removed, they are more comfortable with conference planning and the progress we are all making. The team in the U.S. continues to do a tremendous job of being responsive to my requests, adjusting schedules, demonstrating flexibility to provide me the support I need to manage the multiple teams who are collaborating on the Hong Kong conference.
One of the elements I’m most excited about related to working remotely from Asia is the opportunity to experience multiple cultures in a short time period. During my time abroad, I’ll be visiting seven different countries – from which many of our delegates will be travelling to the conference in Hong Kong. Each country has very different norms and expectations, and by spending time interacting with people in their daily lives and routines, I will learn how to be more culturally sensitive, communicate more clearly, and influence more appropriately. In working through life and work in foreign countries, I’ll become a better association executive, mentor, listener, and global professional. I’ll be blogging about the experience in the coming weeks, so be sure to view the updates as they are posted!