How I Telecommute with China without Going Insane

I’ve been working with GoEast remotely for about 2 years now. It’s not easy. There’s a 12 hour time difference, a huge language difference, and a work culture difference that you need to overcome to fit in and be productive. If you just started telecommuting with China it can be overwhelming and frustrating at times. 

Be calm, fellow noob! I’ve been through it. Here are some of my experiences telecommuting and dealing with the little quirks that comes with it.

Isolation

I literally could not be further away from China. I have a 11 to 12 hour time difference (thanks, daylight savings time) with China. This means that most of the time that I’m working, the team in GoEast is sleeping and dreaming of Shao Long Bao. The hours of 6am to 9am and 6pm to 9pm are the best times to communicate with the team and usually those times are a flurry of activity on WeChat, Slack, and email.  However the times in between are pretty quiet.

It could be pretty isolating.

I’ve been doing it for a while though, so I’ve dealt with it in a few ways. First off, I make sure I communicate as much as I can with the team when I can. Communication is key in any team, but it’s doubly important when there’s so much distance between team members. The internet is my friend. Not because he provides me with infinite ways to waste time but because he helps me connect with my actual friends on the other side of the planet.

Second, I take breaks. I could easily sit down and work the entire day away and wonder where the time and people went. I’ve learned that taking a 5-10 minute break every hour or two really helps you feel connected by giving you time to talk to do something other than work. Call your family. Go for a walk. You know…be a real person.

Work Culture

Chinese people work…a lot. It seems like they’re a fountain of energy when it comes to work and it could be hard to keep up if you’re a maple-candy ass like myself. That being said it took me a long while to realize that working in China isn’t all that different from working in any other country.

Matching hours with your co-workers might seem like a no-brainer but it could take a toll eventually, if that’s not your work style. If you focus on providing a ton of value for your hours worked you’ll do just fine and I think most Chinese people appreciate efficiency just as much as every other老外 (Lǎowài).

The other noticeable difference in work culture in China is how Chinese people will provide feedback. I think this is changing pretty quickly but the phenomenon of Chinese indirectness is pretty widely known. When getting feedback about something from a Chinese person expect them to appear pleased. However, don’t expect them to be happy with your work even if they appear pleased. In this case Chinese culture is a lot subtler than western culture and you need to look for little clues to suss out exactly what they mean. What kind of clues? To be honest they could be very different from person to person. Just be on watch!

Language

Learn Chinese. Just do it. I’m being quite hypocritical when I say this since my Chinese is still pretty terrible, but I recognize how much better my work life would be if I just took the time to learn, and immerse myself in the language properly.

Plenty of people will tell you that it’s not necessary to learn Chinese in certain Chinese workplaces. That being said, your life will become much easier and more productive if you do. WeChat conversations become more productive. People are much looser in meetings. You simply end up integrating into the team better. There’s simply no reason not to make an effort to learn. It’s a grindingly difficult language to learn but with the right teachers (*ahem*) you can speed up the learning curve quite a bit.


Mohit is GoEast's CTO. He's currently learning about Chinese, Chinese culture, and Chinese business. He one day hopes to be a Chinese man.