Did you know that at a Japanese business meeting, it is important to accept a business card with both hands? Have you seen Bahnhof’s White Mountain Office which is built from a former fallout shelter and looks like the lair of a Bond villain? Around the world, different countries do business differently. They construct distinct office plans and form unique professional customs. But courtesy, innovation, and dignity are common threads that run through the corporate sectors of all of these nations. Let’s compare and contrast a few of these international experiences with our own in North America.
China and the offices of SPARK
When doing business in China, remember to bring a gift. The head of your team or organization will exchange gifts with the senior member of the company with which you are meeting. Bring something from your country. The more localized the gift, the better, even if it’s from your home town. Remember, this is not a display of wealth but a showing of good faith in the business proceedings. Your gift may be refused at first, and it is customary for them to refuse theirs as well. Don’t be disheartened as refusing once or twice out of politeness is customary.
Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are host to hundreds of coworking spaces for those foreigners visiting China on business. Even more exciting than these hip shared working environments are the offices of some of the largest companies in China. In Beijing, you will find SPARK’s innovative new headquarters. With an open office plan and exposed brick contrasting the chrome doors, fans of contemporary architecture will feel at home. Those doors add an interesting element to the space, opening wide to increase the size and capacity for collaboration, and closing to form a wall to separate quiet desk work from the meeting areas on the other side.
The United Arab Emirates and NEST
According to the UAE Embassy, you’ll need to turn your clock back a little further than usual when visiting on business – the official weekend is on Friday and Saturday. Some private business keep split shift hours, starting between nine and ten in the morning and ending as late as nine at night, with a three-hour break in between. Many businesses will have truncated hours during Ramadan.
In the UAE, business deals are built on relationships. Punctuality may be considered less important than in other countries, but if you do arrive early, be ready to indulge in the offered refreshments. Meetings can require patience. You may find getting a hard “yes” or “no” on a deal difficult, but an Arab businessperson’s word is their bond. Even a verbal agreement is worth the time and effort. If you are looking for a space to temporarliy set up shop during your business trip in the UAE, consider camping at NEST in Dubai. This co-working space offers a host of amenities such as high speed WiFi, a café and bar, lockers, printing facilities, a swimming pool, and all the amenities you need to make Dubai your headquarters away from headquarters.
Milan meets Comvert
Comvert is an Italian company that specializes in clothing for an alternative lifestyle. For their headquarters in Milan, they bought and renovated an abandoned movie theater. As it turns out, the cavernous space was more than enough to house their distribution, offices, staging, and even a brick-and-mortar storefront. In addition, and true to Comvert’s “style on the edge” attitude, they installed a small skate park in the rafters above the warehouse floor. Talk about creative use of space!
Not too dissimilar from the UAE, Italian business meetings feature much more downtime and social interaction than American business persons are used to. Business there is about building relationships and even friendships. This fosters trust and loyalty, forming long-term partnerships that can last generations. If you visit Italy, don’t be surprised if your meetings go long and often carried out over dinner. Set aside the hard-hitting pressure of American sales and exchange it for a friendly couple of hours over coffee or polenta.
Singapore and Style with Outram
One of the fastest growing economies in the world, Singapore’s rise as a tech and business supergiant has been a long time coming. Singapore has its own distinct culture, but part of it is a melting pot from nearby countries, such as China and India. Hard work and ambition are highly valued in Singapore, as is attention to detail. They prefer to follow protocol and reward merit rather than spend time forming social relationships with colleagues. Punctuality is especially highly regarded, fashion and class are key, and a more reserved tone in business dealings is preferred. The hierarchy is as much due to merit as it is to age and experience, with much respect given to elders. If you can navigate Singapore’s high class culture of dignity and polity, you will be very successful in your ventures.
Located in Outram, within the Central Area of the Central Region of Singapore, Spencer Ogden’s Singapore branch boasts a few unique features. The recruitment specialty company installed astroturf flooring similar to what you would see on some of the city-state’s many soccer fields. Like the SPARK offices, they use reclaimed wood, adding to a natural, rustic overall impression. And the 1950s diner aesthetic juxtaposed against this woodsy indoor landscape feels like something out of a dream. Add to this ping pong and foosball tables, bicycles and even rickshaws, this tribute to Singapore’s multiculturalism may be the funnest place to work we’ve seen yet!
Conservation in Madrid
The Selgas Cano Architecture office in Spain sits in a quiet wood. The design is elegant, a simple, massive tube extending into the forest, half submerged in the ground. The other half opens into a clear glass wall extending along the length of the structure. The subterranean lower half insulates against the hot Madrid climate while the large glass well lets in natural light throughout the day. The office is roomier than it looks. Employees have plenty of room to work, move, store their designs, and they can access the surrounding woodland park via wooden walkways that lead out of the structure.
Spain has developed major environmental issues in their air, water, and noise pollution, as well as corruption at high levels of government. The people work to save Spain’s environment and return its corporations and state to the culture’s core values. Compassion and patience run through Spain’s changing politics and business scene. Appointments are seen more as guidelines than strict obligations. Projects may take longer, but Spanish business persons care a great deal about appearance. An attention to detail extends from the professional wardrobe to the habit of giving gifts to clients and colleagues, and their families. When travelling to Spain, get ready to meet with a beautiful and evolving culture.
Back at the Ranch
The Google offices have been the quintessence of hip, modern business for over a decade now. From the eclectic armchair cinema to trees growing out of the very floor, a mock hot air balloon meeting space to traveling downstairs by slide. It is all very quirky and in some ways very “millennial.” There’s more to an innovative workspace than toys, and there are more fascinating offices in North America than just what Mountain View has to offer.
Davidson Design & Development’s 70k square foot headquarters in Pittsburgh is nicknamed Inventionland. Partially because it is home to the “largest invention factory in the world.” Partially because the facility looks like an amusement park. The employees are referred to as “Creationeers” and work in fully constructed pirate ships, race tracks, caves, and castles. In Toronto, Corus Quay is the headquarters of the media company Corus Entertainment. The facility features a five-story green wall, which is a bio-filter that fits in with their myriad green initiatives. Along with their massive indoor slide and extreme in-building recycling, Corus Quay gets to show off some of Canada’s top corporate innovation.
Global Steps Forward
International business has reached the far corners of the Earth. There is no reversing globalization, but we have the ability to shape its growth. By reviewing other countries’ innovative work spaces, corporate cultures, and business customs, we can come together as a community to create open channels of communication, a platform for compassion, and a safe space for everyone to exchange goods and ideas.