Our Top 10 Tips for Communicating Remotely

Date posted: 19 February 2016  |  Posted in: Communication, Top tips

Communicating consistently to a workforce spread across locations and countries is an increasingly common challenge for today’s businesses. And our workforces are evermore flexible in terms of being able to work from home or elsewhere. We share our top tips for communicating at a distance.

1. The role of line managers is crucial

The role of line managers in channelling communications down through an organisation is heightened when dealing with a geographically disparate workforce. It takes a skilled people manager to foster team spirit, manage performance and role model good practice from afar. Line managers need to ensure that their teams are engaging with the company mission and can connect this back to the role they perform. Importantly, line managers should also be feeding honest employee views and insights upwards to the leadership. Encourage your managers to hold regular 1-to-1 discussions with each of their team as standard.

2. Adopt regular, structured team meetings as best practice

This is a common theme of our communications reviews! Many organisations we work with may have no established approach to the frequency or format of team meetings. In our experience, this is a missed opportunity to nurture good team communication. The more disparate the workforce, the more essential regular contact becomes. We recommend agreeing with your team what would work best for them in terms of frequency and a running agenda. Use teleconferencing and videoconferencing to your advantage and where you are meeting face-to-face, alternate locations so that your employees feel equally valued. Crucially, encourage your leadership team to be visible, too.

3. Pick up the phone

In a recent focus group we conducted, employees who did not have English as a first language said verbal contact with their team was vital in terms of how they interpreted a company message. And all the employees we spoke to voiced their frustration with over-reliance on email. It’s a timely reminder of how much we rely on body language and tone of voice to interpret a piece of communication – this applies more so where there are cultural differences. So next time you’re tempted to tap out a lengthy email, pick up the phone or arrange a face-to-face chat instead.

4. Get social with your communication channels

There is an impressive array of communications channels all aimed at helping to make the world feel like a smaller place. A good social intranet platform that enables people to interact with each other – and the content – is quickly becoming the ‘norm’ for forward-thinking medium and large organisations. Yammer, Jive and Jostle are just three popular examples. And an instant messenger facility will reduce clogged inboxes for those instances where you just need a one-word answer. For more advice on social intranets, please get in touch.

5. Know your audience

The more complex and diverse your workforce becomes, the more important it is to fully understand your audience. Don’t be tempted to make assumptions – there is no quick way to ‘cheat’ this knowledge. You need to take time to research your different populations and their daily working life. Doing this exercise in practice is always insightful. You may discover your customer-facing employees only have 10 minutes per day to read email, that your German-based team struggle to access the employee intranet, or that your shift-workers have a 3am team huddle that would work brilliantly for a briefing.

And a few specific tips for international communications…

6. Plan ahead for translation

Translation may be an afterthought, particularly if your overseas workforce has a basic grounding in English. But for more complex or sensitive communications – like HR changes – it should be considered a basic courtesy. Employees are more likely to appreciate and engage with important messages written in their own language. Book translation in advance and factor the additional deadlines into your communications plans. No-one will thank you for poorly planned, rushed-through copy.

8. Respect local customs and dates

In the UK, we are increasingly adopting less formal communication practices in favour of a more relaxed style and ‘flatter’ approach. Bear in mind that many other cultures still follow a strict leadership hierarchy and specific conventions for meeting and greeting. Failing to respect local practices could appear rude or sloppy.

In a similar vein, check calendar dates in advance – and cross-reference these for all your populations. If your roadshows clash with Ramadan (an important date in the Muslim calendar), you shouldn’t be surprised by a reduced turn-out. If in doubt, seek advice from someone based locally (see tip 10).

7. Avoid in-jokes, puns and colloquialisms

Your teams in Wales and Scotland are unlikely to share your burning enthusiasm for the latest England World Cup result. And management sayings such as ‘it’s full steam ahead…’ at best just wont translate and at worst could be misinterpreted. This is worth bearing in mind particularly for conversational communications such as blogs or teleconferences. Stick to clear, straightforward language and you should be on safe ground.

9. Remember to use good visual aids

Visual aids are shown to significantly improve understanding, so don’t be tempted to skimp on good quality presentation graphics – especially when communicating to employees around the globe. But as with point 7, beware of displaying any graphics that may undermine your message – the wrong currency symbols or photos of products only available in the UK are likely to leave your audience feeling undervalued and unimpressed.

10. Use the local team to your advantage

You don’t have to do everything alone and your best chance of landing successful messages with an overseas audience is to engage the team there early on. Let’s imagine you need to deliver an important message to the workforce in South Africa. Identify an appropriate local leader willing to take ownership for the message and who will work with you to shape and deliver it.  If the situation allows, engage a more junior representative as well, who can give you an early appraisal of the communication and the likely response from employees.

Good luck and please get in touch for more expert advice!

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