There is much debate about the future of the workplace in a ‘post-Covid-era’ – if we ever arrive there. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that remote working is possible for any business. And, given the choice, employees would prefer the flexibility that the ‘hybrid approach’ has graced their traditional working lives. Re-imagining the working day by providing increased flexibility and allowing people to work from anywhere at any time has opened the talent pool to employers. Companies now have access to people, skills and opportunities that would have previously been unable to accommodate and left untouched. But what if employers could open the floodgates of the global talent pool even further, moving beyond geographical borders and language?
Tearing Down Language Barriers
English is the unofficial language of international business. With an estimated 370 million native English speakers and 978 million who speak it as a second language, it would appear that global communication barriers are merging.
Yet no matter how well anyone speaks English as a second language, they will have experienced the feeling of disadvantage, confusion and embarrassment that can occasionally arise in a global corporation where English is the ‘language of business’.
Whether it is the extra few seconds required to find the correct adjective or an unfamiliar cultural reference, speaking English as a second language will create barriers that native English speakers never experience.
And while such moments are frustrating during run of the mill conversations with colleagues, they provide a considerable handicap during more serious conversations.
From presentations to negotiations, the non-native speaker can lose confidence at key moments when the dominant culture is English.
Companies, and people in general, maybe don’t realise the polarising impact of single language dominance.
Top native talent is widely lost not because individuals cannot do the job, but because they lack the quality of English required for internal communications – from top sales people to support technicians and developers.
Individuals across Europe cannot work for multinational firms due to the quality of their English, even if they are highly qualified.
Because, when every internal and external communication – from the job advertisements to training courses onwards – is held in English, companies are isolating their employees and their opportunities.
Many talented individuals will self-select and fail to apply. Others will not be recruited because switched on managers recognise they will struggle to realise their potential if English skills are not up to scratch.
Even those that do join the business will have to work far harder than colleagues to participate in day-to-day activities – from training courses to content creation, conference calls to corporate socialising – adding to an already slower career development.
Individuals are being set up for failure. Companies need to do better to overcome language barriers.
Technology and Tools
Technology is helping re-assert that confidence. Many companies were compelled by the pandemic to seek out new ways to improve collaboration and cooperation between distant, remote working colleagues.
As a result, an array of tools have emerged to support both written and spoken communication between individuals, with more than 20 conferencing platforms now offering such solutions.
From real-time interpretation services provided by remote interpreters to machine translation, language barriers are being demolished.
As the vast majority of meetings and events were held online in 2020, there’s also an array of conversations that have been freely recorded to help elevate the quality of machine learning and AI translation quality to new heights.
It truly is a game changer for employees, but also for businesses. The playing field for recruiting talent has been levelled, with no need for new staff to even move house, nevermind change country.
Machine translation tools have seen a big upswing in adoption, alongside solutions to support non-native language speakers in meetings.
For even greater accuracy, real-time interpretation services provided by remote language professionals have been in huge demand.
Global organisations with access to immediate translation expertise have facilitated many of the critical conversations undertaken by global leaders over the past year, including town hall councils, regional staff meetings and training days.
This real-time interpretation of the spoken language provides not only immediacy, but also an understanding of the idiosyncrasies of language use that ensure messages and information are accurately presented and understood.
Widely adopted in TV and entertainment, the use of real-time video captions is also gaining in prominence, able to support inclusivity and accessibility. Other options include working with translation agencies to convert documents and other content and adopting tools that offer built-in translation.
For emails, reports and presentations, grammar tools such as Grammarly can give confidence to individuals who are not totally proficient – or confident – in their written English.
Tools like this don’t just check grammar, but also provide suggestions of alternative words and sentence construction to ensure written content is more readable and accessible to a wider audience.
Culture and Management
In embracing a global talent pool, businesses first need to address the obstacles faced by non-native English speakers as part of their inclusion and diversity strategies.
To break down inherent language barriers, companies can embed the use of such tools within their DNA. Make them an accepted, even expected, part of day-to-day business operations.
This doesn’t mean accepting the status quo, however. For example, support employees by providing additional language training to boost their confidence when having potentially difficult conversations in their second language.
Management should lead by example. Not only should they advocate a more diverse culture and the use of translation tools, but also actively explore the cultural differences that may affect individuals’ ability to understand and collaborate.
For example, running a quick workshop that helps multi-national workforces consider the different dynamics in how people speak, react, and even understand their level of passion or drive – all of which can be influenced by culture, nationality or background.
Even smaller organisations will increasingly have a mix of nationalities. We ourselves have 170+ employees spread across 27 different countries. It is important to consider awareness and cultural nuances as part of inclusivity and diversity plans.
Expanding Talent Pool
With the right company culture and technology, a business can open the talent pool floodgates.
The only real constraint is time zone. Ensuring people are working similar hours helps with team building and collaboration, but the added flexibility in our working lives over the past year has eased these concerns.
Being able to reach out to the best individuals in the world is an incredible opportunity for any business, but it’s also gratifying for employees.
Combining an open-language culture with facilitating tools and remote working means employees can work for their dream company without having to uproot and move across the world.
If, of course, they want to relocate, they can also feel confident in their ability to succeed in a new country and company where English – or any other language – is dominant.
Now You’re Speaking My Language
We’re not quite at the level of having a Star Trek Universal Translator in our pockets just yet, but we are close.
With real-time interpretation and the ever improving quality of machine translation, combined with online grammar tools, businesses can provide non-native speaking staff with vital support.
A business that enables every single employee to speak and write in their preferred language will not only expand the global talent base, but level the playing field and give each individual the chance to shine.
Breaking down the language barrier is the future – and it is closer than you think.