How to Speak the Language of a Global Workforce

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Orsi Korman, Account Director, Content, Red Havas 

One of the greatest challenges facing global communicators and content creators today is finding a common language — literally. For every communication we prepare, we have to think about not only how to stand out in the crowded content marketplace and make a meaningful connection with our audiences, but how to actually get through and be effectively understood.

These days, English is often referred to as the language of international business, spoken by more than 1.5 billion people around the globe — but only 5% of them are native speakers. Like most languages, English also has several variants depending on region, culture and ethnicity — not to mention generation — which can stump even native speakers. As a result, using English doesn’t make the challenges of global communications quite as simple as ‘one and done.’ Sometimes it will look more like ‘tweak and done,’ ‘translate and done’ or a combination of the two.

Understand your audiences

Knowing your workforce starts with understanding their needs, preferences, similarities and differences. These days, there is a growing realization that a large employee population needs to be segmented to find the right organizational personas that internal communications can effectively target. Besides demographics, such personas take into account connectivity, tools/channels usage, information needs, as well as communication and collaboration preferences.

While you may or may not have the ability to perform such a deep dive, you should have a general idea of who your different audience segments are, where they sit, how well connected they are, and how they like to receive communications. As you familiarize yourself with the characteristics and behaviors of each group, consider the things they have in common versus the things you may need to address separately, so you can communicate with employees in a way that recognizes and respects their needs and backgrounds thoughtfully. 

For example, not everyone celebrates the same holidays around the globe. So, instead of sending a generic holiday message that doesn’t name names, or a laundry list that covers all upcoming holidays, consider sending specific greetings for Ramadan, Hanukkah, Christmas or Chinese New Year — and do so for all locations, as there will always be someone in a different region celebrating a different holiday than what may be considered traditional there. Similarly, not everyone clicks on the same links, so consider offering clear, relevant and snackable content in varying formats.

Know your options

Clearly communicating with people from diverse backgrounds, located in diverse areas of the world, requires a more creative and intentional effort. Knowing that not everyone speaks English and the majority of those who do aren’t native speakers, the most obvious option — which is also the most expensive and time consuming — will always be translating your communications. (Translating important employee communications is also legally required in many countries.)

Consider using an outside translation service for a quick turnaround on written communications as well as subtitles or transcripts for on-demand content, but keep in mind that they will not be well-versed in your organization’s nuances, so it is always a good idea to have someone in house verify each translation. Alternatively, you may work with an internal network of translators from your marketing, communications or HR departments, which can be an organizational challenge but will likely result in more authentic translations.

The key is to make sure every communication is clear, relevant, consistent and targeted to your audience. Each year, as you formulate or fine-tune your communications plan and objectives, while analyzing and optimizing your messages and programs, consider the return on investment for each activity that currently is or isn’t translated, and strive to gather appropriate metrics or feedback to guide your approach going forward.

Make one language fit all

Language is ever evolving with idioms, proverbs, sport references and slang — all of which are regionally, culturally and/or generationally specific and may be interpreted in different ways by different people. The language of international business is even more complex, from the unique terminology of various functions, such as finance, IT or operations, to the special phrases, abbreviations and jargon that different teams, organizations and industries are prone to using.

If you choose to stick with English as your common language, be sure to keep it short and simple — free of idioms, proverbs, sport references and slang, while explaining the business terminology and jargon, as well as spelling out any abbreviations. While colorful phrases and witty references may make content more engaging for domestic audiences, literal language is preferred when communicating with a global workforce. Similarly, using humor — especially sarcasm — may not have the desired effect worldwide. Instead, strive to connect with your global workforce via authenticity, optimism, transparency and empathy, using inclusiveness to foster a sense of belonging, psychological safety, engagement and excitement about the future.

There is a long list of ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we view our jobs, companies and geographies, and how we operate, innovate and communicate in an increasingly connected world. As remote job opportunities grow, more and more people are participating on global teams, and more and more communicators need to find a common language to effectively connect with their dispersed audiences. When used thoughtfully, consistently and unobtrusively, English has the potential to unite employees around the planet as business continues to rapidly progress toward a more diverse and global workforce.


Orsi JormanAbout the Author: Orsi supports content creation and content strategy for high-profile corporate, consumer and cause clients of Red Havas — and she could not be happier. Her specialties include writing, editing, ghostwriting, blogging, marketing, digital/social and experiential, all in AP style.