One of the biggest benefits of remote work is the ability to hire a diverse team regardless of where they’re based. Removing the barrier of geography allows you to hire the best possible people for the job. More and more businesses are taking advantage of the flexibility of remote and distributed work to hire across borders and create an international team.
However, working across physical distance can exacerbate language barriers. Keeping the whole team on the same page when not everyone is speaking their native language is an age-old battle, and distance can make it more difficult (if you’re not prepared). However, you can take some steps to address the language barrier and keep the teamwork flowing.
1. Check Your Surroundings
The first thing to do is make sure that your workspace and tools are helping you, not hurting you. Set aside a little bit of time to check the basics and troubleshoot anything that comes up. Is your mic producing a clear sound? Is the room quiet so it can clearly pick up what you’re saying?
It’s also a good idea to check the lighting in the room to ensure that your video is clear and easy to see. If you have anything to present, make sure that you have your screen share tool set up and organized before the meeting so you can walk your team through what you’re talking about.
2. Write It Down
A conversation can be hard enough to follow in your native language—it’s easy to get caught up in one idea without realizing that the conversation has moved on without you. What’s more, a bad microphone or slow video conference can make it really difficult to make out what people are saying [though hopefully you dealt with that in the first step ☺️].
If not everyone in the meeting is a native speaker, take detailed meeting notes. You don’t necessarily need a full transcript, but it can be helpful to list out the key facts, action items, and decisions made in the meeting so your team can review them. Send out the list to everyone who attended the meeting and follow up with them in a quick break-out session if necessary.
3. Include Visuals
There’s a reason that airlines have the flight attendants do a safety demonstration on almost every flight. A strong visual can communicate an idea with incredible clarity and specificity, even if you speak a different language.
Whatever you’re trying to communicate, including visual aids can help you get your meaning across. Share your screen, present a slideshow, or even talk with your hands to show as you tell.
4. Take the Time to Clarify
As you’re working, continually provide and “seek clarification.” In other words, give your teammates the opportunity to ask questions with phrases like “Do you want me to say more?” or “I don’t mind going back!” or “What pieces am I missing?”
People can be afraid to speak up for fear of slowing down the group, so be sure to pause and give your teammates a chance to check in.
5. Know and Respect Your Teammates
Respect matters, and there are a few simple ways that you can show it. Take the time to learn about each other’s cultures and spend time with your teammates face-to-face. Send holiday messages, learn a few basic phrases from your teammates’ native languages, and be mindful of different cultural norms.
As you make adjustments to enable your culturally and geographically diverse team to work together, keep in mind why all of this is so important.
Here’s a simple question that illustrates this perfectly: where do you keep your ketchup?
Depending on where you’re from, your answer may vary—some put it in the fridge, while others keep it in the cupboard. “OK,” you might think, “what’s the big deal if my ketchup is warm or cold?” But what if you run out of ketchup and are looking for something else to use instead? You may be staring at an open fridge, but your teammate is looking in the cupboard. You have different things in front of you, so you’ll each reach for something different. In other words, you’ll naturally come up with different solutions to the same problem because of subtle cultural differences.
Therein lies the value of hiring a diverse team. People from different backgrounds are going to provide the team with many different ways of approaching and solving a problem. Your organization benefits from being able to look at a wide variety of options and select the best solution.
Overall, being able to draw on the talents of your diverse team comes down to being able to communicate and collaborate effectively. When you work side-by-side with your distributed team in Sococo, you get the presence and proximity of working in the same physical space, even if you’re continents apart. You can collaborate in real-time, get to know your teammates face-to-face, and get work done—all in the same online office. Build a free Sococo trial workplace for your distributed team here.