Tackling the challenges of working overseas

From The Cohort, Poynter's newsletter for women kicking ass in digital media

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Josée Rose has worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 15 years. She is currently based in London as the global digital news editor.


I was elated when I was offered the opportunity to work overseas for The Wall Street Journal in London. Despite the daunting logistics of picking up my life and moving 3,000 miles away, I was looking forward to meeting new colleagues, exploring new neighborhoods — and traveling around Europe for the price of a roundtrip flight from New York City to Miami.

While the positives outweigh the negatives, living overseas when working for a U.S.-based company comes with obstacles, especially when working for a 24/7 organization in a nonstop news cycle.

After two years as a digital news editor at WSJ in London, here are my tips for balancing time zones, advocating for yourself when you’re not in the room where it happens, and leveraging your digital savviness to communicate more effectively (no matter your location).

1. Create a sustainable work-life balance with the time-zone differences.

Most major publications have hubs in Europe and Asia — these offices take the baton from the U.S. crews. After all, news doesn’t stop when the sun goes down! Besides orchestrating coverage on breaking news situations, which I did for the shooting at Las Vegas music festival in 2017, and the Thousand Oaks, California, nightclub shooting in 2018, overseas offices also handle the website, the app, newsletters and social media accounts.

It’s important to keep in touch on strategy, news priorities and workflow. However, the time differences create a challenge: Europe and Asia are having lunch and dinner when the U.S. is starting. Picking up children, parent-teacher conferences, going to sports games, working out, having dinner with family or friends … all can get interrupted because of questions/phone calls/meetings from the U.S.

Breaking news aside, sometimes editors stateside need to be reminded of the time difference. For example, ask for your department to schedule meetings at rotating times to benefit day teams, night teams, Europe and Asia.

2. Be proactive about setting boundaries

Personally, it’s been hard to “turn off,” but it’s something I have to do for my own mental health.

I’ve enabled the Google Calendar setting that lets users set working hours and availability, which automatically prompts colleagues if they try to schedule a meeting for a time when you won’t be working. If I need to speak with editors in the states, I reach out with times I’m free to set boundaries. I’m also transparent about when I’m not free, with emails like “I can work on this project for X hours tonight” or “I’m out of pocket from X to Y” or “I’ve done this so far and I need to shut down for the night, so I will pick this up when I’m in first thing in the morning at X a.m.”

But the reality is the time difference is hard and many overseas reporters and editors work late into their night. Brittany Hite, newsroom project manager at the Los Angeles Times, who previously worked in Beijing and Hong Kong for seven years for The Wall Street Journal said, “It’s just the nature of the job and you have to sort of stay checked in at night (Asia time) to be able to get any responses from New York. Unfortunately that meant long hours.”

There are now features in Gmail and Outlook to send emails at specific times, which will ensure they arrive in a person’s inbox during their working hours, and raise the possibility they would see it and respond.

3. Grab virtual face time with senior editors

Being far from headquarters can be a challenge: The news cycle is dizzying. Newsrooms are struggling with declining ad sales and building/retaining subscribers. Editors are reshaping how they work to cater to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

So how do you get noticed for your good work and be considered for promotions when decisions are made out of a different office by people who might not know you?

Isabelle Roughol, senior editor at large at LinkedIn, who has been based in Paris, Sydney and London, recommends setting the boundaries early: Before taking the job, try to negotiate a traveling schedule and budget that allows you to visit the main office a few times during the year.

As anyone who has worked in a newsroom over the past two years knows, reorganizations, layoffs and restructurings make it difficult to stay in touch with senior people (even if you work a few desks over), especially when there’s a leadership change.

The new person/people in charge may not know who you are, know you helped break a story or wrote the push alert that garnered the most traffic. Some senior editors don’t make a lot of overseas trips so they may not meet you face-to-face. Therefore it’s incumbent on you to inform them (humbly) of how great you are! I reach out several times a month to senior editors via Slack and email and ask for a phone call when necessary.

When new leadership is named that has to do with an area I’m interested in, an area my job touches, or someone I know well, I send an email of congratulations and offer to be a sounding board as they get their feet wet. It’s important to see their style and figure out how to work with them.

“It comes down to relationships: building them and maintaining them,” Brittany advises. “You can’t be shy (after all, we are all journalists here). As a way of introduction, I often would write notes to new hires with whom I had something in common with (same university, mutual interests, common friends) or compliment reporters about stories. Also, stay in touch with colleagues who relocate back to HQ. They can be a good intro to others.”

4. Leverage the “big fish, small pond” situation

Remember that working overseas presents us with unique opportunities to make our own way — because the offices are usually smaller, we get to try things we might not get to do if we worked in the home office. Think: big fish, small pond. Look for the needs in your office and decide if you’re the person to fill them or if someone else is a better fit.

Take it from Allison Morrow, currently senior producer for Social Publishing at CNN, and former news editor at The Wall Street Journal, who worked in Hong Kong for three years. “I was hired as a news editor but I got to report and run coverage when we were short-staffed. It felt a bit like running a college newspaper, in that everyone had to learn quickly how to do just about everything.”

“I won a lot of trust and built credibility with editors back home, which came in handy when I ultimately decided to move back. Being on the front lines, so to speak, gave me an edge,” she adds.

5. Make time on your own time

Whenever I go back to the states, I try to schedule at least one overnight stop/day in the main office. I email about a month in advance a few people I’d like to meet for coffee/lunch/meetings and schedule it on their calendar. It’s a chance to “remind them who I am, what I am working on, and to plant seeds to remember me when other positions opened up and I was looking to move back,” said Brittany, who moved back to New York City from Asia in 2015.

I know this is a lot; besides thinking about the news and doing your day-to-day job, all these things add to your to-do list.

But if you want to remain on the radar and be more than a faceless name, these little things can go a long way.

 


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