Once organizations have gone beyond the basics of establishing an inclusive work culture, it’s time to focus on the communication strategy. In a global team, people speak different languages, have different cultures and life experiences, and live in different time zones. It can be tricky to navigate as HR and colleagues try to strike the right balance between being respectful and avoiding stereotyping.
10 Tips for Effective Communication in a Global Team
Ensure everyone receives company-wide communications in their preferred language
One of the strongest advantages of an international team is the language capabilities people bring. Native speakers or bilingual employees allow organizations to build the human connections Google Translate never could. They understand cultural nuances and colloquialisms and know the ins and outs of the market.
However, these benefits also come with a corresponding challenge. Effective communication isn’t possible where top-down messages are sent in one language, which global employees don’t speak. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the message can have adverse effects. While employees may be building solid relationships with external customers, they can start feeling disconnected within the company.
To build a good communication strategy for a global team, place essential messages on the company intranet, and choose a provider that supports multiple languages. Powell Intranet comes in 60 languages out of the box and provides on-the-spot content translation for users. Every employee gets the message in a language they understand.
Avoid slang and colloquialisms
Where not everyone speaks the same first language, people turn to a second language to facilitate conversations. However, things can start to get confusing if people use overly familiar terms or colloquialisms. Native speakers also tend to babble, assuming that the other person can understand. Colleagues must recognize the comprehension levels of the person they are talking to and adapt. Slowing down, avoiding slang, and simplifying terms will help the other person understand. Effective team communication in any language is achieved by being transparent and direct.
If a company-wide event is hosted in one language only, adopt a similar policy. Try to simplify speech and be more inclusive.
Be conscious of time zones in communications
If one employee is in Australia and the other in New York, time zones become barriers to communication processes, not language. The key to navigating time differences is to know where coworkers are located and respect their work hours. The corporate intranet can help by providing an easily searchable employee database that includes everyone’s office location.
Once employees know where coworkers are, they should avoid contacting others at unsociable times. Encourage employees to contact each other during overlapping hours when both are online. A top tip when using Microsoft Teams is checking a coworker’s status.
Small gestures can also go a long way, like signing off an email with ‘‘Our work hours might not be aligned, so don’t feel obligated to respond outside your normal work times’’. Sometimes when employees see an email sent late at night, panic can set in, and they feel obliged to respond. A note at the end of a mail can help ease this pressure. Employees should also be encouraged to switch off notifications after work hours to promote digital wellbeing.
Organize events that accommodate global teams
For effective business communication, messages need to be delivered to employees using different mediums. While written communications on the intranet is a good first step, virtual meetings on Teams allow people to ask deeper questions. By setting a ‘video on’ policy (where possible), Teams facilitates more verbal and non-verbal communication, including, for example body language cues.
However, organizing a meeting that everyone can attend in a global team can be difficult. Where multiple time zones are an issue, host sessions at different stages throughout the day. For example, a monthly CEO update could be given in the morning and evening to reach people across the globe.
Be more culturally aware and encourage learning
Hiring employees from different countries brings immense benefits beyond language. They bring new ways of thinking and can prevent organizations from becoming narrow-minded. However, it can be challenging for HR to navigate cultural differences.
Cross-cultural communication requires HR and employees to be mindful of customs and actions, which can come across as respectful or offensive. Something simple like a thumbs up is positive in Europe and offensive in Bangladesh. HR can avoid awkward mishaps by having open conversations with newcomers about how the company might facilitate them better.
Employees can’t be expected to know everything about colleagues, but organizations can create an internal culture where learning and sharing are encouraged. Here are some ideas of events to promote learning:
- Host an ‘international day’ on Microsoft Teams where employees or global teams present their culture, home country, or language, where they feel comfortable doing so.
- Bring in external speakers to host cross-cultural awareness sessions on Teams.
- Store helpful documents on the intranet, which employees can access anytime. Create these with employees and teams from around the world.
Avoid stereotyping employees
Don’t put people in boxes; treat people as individuals, and try to understand more about them as a person rather than a nationality. While it’s always nice to recognize employees’ cultures, ask them to explain their traditions rather than assume. There’s nothing worse than international employees having to dispel false stereotypes.
This is where having an effective workplace communication strategy can help. For example, interview newcomers and ask them to share some interesting facts about themselves. Share this across the intranet or Teams, so people can start a conversation and get to know the person.
Include all celebrations in communications
Many organizations send out messages around Christmas, which can leave people who don’t celebrate the holiday feeling left out. It’s important that when companies recognize one holiday, they do the same for others. A more inclusive option in a global team would be to send a generalized holiday message to all.
Consider how humor will be interpreted
Humor is subjective, and even if every employee was born and raised in the same city, what’s funny to one can be offensive to another. In an international team, it’s even more accurate. For example, British sarcasm can be offensive to Americans, even though they speak the same language. While, of course, not every communication has to be serious, leaders and colleagues should be aware of how humor could be misinterpreted.
Microsoft Teams allows employees to send instant messages, emojis, gifs, and stickers. These images can help display emotion from behind a screen but are usually best avoided when speaking to a large group. People of different ages, backgrounds, and languages could find the gif unfunny or offensive.
Find ways to bring people together
In a global company, teams located across the world have fewer opportunities to meet face-to-face. However, 2020 showed us that employees don’t need to be in the same office to stay connected. Collaboration tools in the digital workplace, like Microsoft Teams, facilitate virtual meetings. Bring people together for virtual coffee chats, team-building activities, and global get-togethers.
Use the digital workplace as a central hub that connects people, regardless of their location.
Keep company-wide communications relevant
Two-thirds of employees struggle to get work done because of the number of communications they receive. When people receive too many irrelevant messages, they start to ignore them. Communicating effectively ensures the right people receive the right message. If sending a company-wide message on the company intranet, ensure the intranet allows targeting by the department, like Powell Intranet.