Insights September 20, 2021

Internal communications with international teams – the challenges and key considerations

By Living Word

International, multi-cultural teams in all their glory – how do you manage internal communications when your staff not only speak different languages, but were shaped by, and maybe even live and work in, different cultural contexts?

Some companies have tried the shortcut of simply having a few documents translated. Most, thankfully, know at this point that such small steps are simply not enough. From employer branding to recruitment and onboarding processes, HR policy documents and ongoing company updates, your internal communication needs to be consistent and culturally appropriate – and that takes work.

So what do you need to consider?

It may be insufficient on its own, but the translation aspect is still important, naturally. You need to break down any language barriers, which might require using both translators and interpreters. Most multinationals find that it’s worth hiring in-house translators, or local communications professionals – but we’ll get back to that.

Outsourced or not, the localisation of your internal communication needs to be exactly that: localised. In other words, you’ll need the help of qualified translators, but not just to translate your documents word for word. Some might need transcreation, and others might need a complete overhaul. Your onboarding process in the UK might seem totally inappropriate in a different cultural context, and staff of a certain religion might feel alienated by a certain type of holiday or staff party announcement. Moreover, a hugely significant event in one of the countries where you have an office could have an immense impact on your team there – and your communications team might need to respond. Whether you have staff from across the world sitting in one and the same office or spread out across a number of local branches, all these cultural nuances and implications need to be considered.

Say you’ve got offices all over the world, though. A few more issues arise. What are the implications of different time zones for certain big announcements? Does the CEO speak to the entire team all at once or go live in different time zones one at a time? If the latter, consider where you start and which teams get the big news first. It’s not unusual for newer teams in smaller offices far from the headquarters to feel left out or treated as an after-thought. Make conscious decisions to prevent this.

Now consider technology. What platforms are available in the different countries where you operate? The social media platforms certainly will vary, and so might connectivity and other infrastructure. How does this impact on your choice of intranet and the media you use for announcements and online team-building exercises?

What some big multinationals have started doing is give authority to an international communications team in each country to run things the way they see fit. Rather than report to a global Head of Internal Communications, they report to the senior management team of their respective subsidiary or branch. While there’s a risk with this approach, in losing some of the essence of the overarching corporate culture in your communications, the benefit in localisation terms might just be more significant.

Whichever way you structure your internal communication, make sure that each local team has solid IT and tech support as well as undisrupted access to any key platforms and intranets. And don’t forget – always measure your efforts! Is the experience of your organisation as an employer what you had hoped it would be? If you survey your staff and the answer is no, it’s time for an internal communication review – and perhaps to get a professional transcreation agency on board.