Week two in China, and we're still getting used to the 9-to-5 grind.
Except, for us, it's 9 pm to 5 am.
The time difference between Shanghai and the rest of the world isn't news; we've been doing business in China long enough to know it takes time to get situated. But now that we're working here full-time for five weeks, we're experiencing firsthand what it takes to manage parts of our company that aren't operating on complementary timetables.
That's a polite way of saying that when the business day winds down at 6 pm in New York, we're just thinking about a 6 am breakfast in our rooms in Shanghai. When we're ready to turn in at 11 pm local time, the work day is in full swing on the East Coast of the United States. Our notions of work hours and downtime have become quite fluid; the lines between business and leisure are blurry. Call it "bleisure."
"Bleisure" makes it tempting to stay connected 24/7. If we don't stay glued to the iPad or the Blackberry or Skype, won't we miss something crucial somewhere else in the world? No one will mind if we whip out the handheld over drinks to feel better? It is OK to keep one eye on the iPhone at all times, isn't it?
Actually, it's not. We're not here to stare at screens for five weeks; we're here to learn, talk, observe, absorb, and appreciate everything that makes China so thrilling -- as a nation, as a collection of cultures, and as a market. As enabling as technology has been -- this initiative wouldn't have been practical for us without our portable wireless devices -- it's equally important to know when to turn it off. We need to carve out time to make the kinds of personal connections we came here to forge in the first place.
Convincing ourselves to do that is as profound a shift as acclimating to the nuances we're discovering in Shanghai every day. I'm calling this lesson number one of this trip: technology isn't an "either/or" game. It's an "and." As in, "I read a book AND my kindle." Or, "I travel AND I stay in touch." Or "I Skype you AND we go out to lunch." Video chatting won't replace travel any more than the telephone replaced getting a cup of coffee together. In a business culture like China, where relationships rule, it's critical to take a step back and appreciate the human side of business -- especially in the business we're in.
PS -- Am in training for a triathlon at the end of the summer and, so far, the time difference hasn't inhibited my ability to get in some exercise. I suppose having a spinning bike like the one I have at home in my hotel room doesn't hurt. I have to confess, I don't have the fancy ice bucket next to my spinning bike at home!