On some workdays my conversations travel the globe, as I communicate with Europeans in the early morning and contacts in Asia and Australia in the late afternoon. And many of my projects involve converting the British English learned by many subject experts in technology companies into the American English required by corporate communication standards. (Or vice versa, if localizing content to reach non-U.S. audiences.)
Although there are many cultural and style issues that can come into play when working with colleagues internationally, sometimes you just need to know a specific answer about word meaning and usage, or even the current time in a certain part of the world.
Here are the tools that I find useful.
1. Microsoft Word spell check.
A simple (if not always complete) way to check whether a word is spelled correctly in American or British English is to use the "set language" tool in Microsoft Word, then run spell check with the appropriate dictionary. When you become familiar with some of the basic differences (e.g., center vs. centre), you can easily search and replace the terms most commonly used in your documents.
2. Web sites for understanding differences in American and British English
Wikipedia presents extensive information, but keep in mind that Wikipedia entries are not reviewed or verified by any knowledgeable editor, so some information may not be accurate and you will want to confirm details with a native speaker. (Perhaps you have some wisdom to contribute to this page!)
English2American. An ongoing and highly entertaining commentary/dictionary on British slang. This site may not be the most authoritative source (and some content is a bit risque for the office), but it will likely help you understand idiom that is otherwise completely baffling.
3. Time Zone Converter.
Many countries adopt some form of daylight savings or summer time, but on different dates. This can make it hard to remember exactly what time it is in another part of the world, even if you have an idea of the time zone differences. This easy time zone conversion tool calculates the time in any global city compared to your current location.
Do you have other techniques or tools for working effectively with colleagues who are in another country? Share your tips by commenting on this post.