Working online: what are the implications for language and communication?
A shift to increased online working means you may have to work with colleagues and clients from all over the world.
When working with people from other cultures and with different English language skills, you may have to adjust your behaviours. With a little advance research and planning you can make online communication easier for everybody.
People in different countries and cultures act differently; we are different even from our close neighbours, and these differences could be incorporated into the way you work together virtually.
Here are some tips to help you make the transition from face-to-face communication to online interaction:
1. Do your research
Find out as much as you can about the culture of the other person or group of people and incorporate elements into the working practices of the group. These elements can come from:
- Your own knowledge of the different culture
- Paying attention to differences and adjusting your own behaviour
- Using your own networks to familiarise yourself more with the culture
- Setting clear strategies to ensure any misunderstandings are resolved quickly
2. Pay attention to body language
When working online, there is a limit to how much you can rely on physical gestures to convey meaning. With only the face and the voice to help you communicate online, think about:
- How you communicate without using gestures
- Turn taking versus interruption: do you wait for others to finish speaking?
- Watching others carefully during the meeting to gauge their reactions
- Manners and politeness: in an online environment, bad manners are exaggerated. Are you listening or using your phone whilst the other person speaks?
3. Be kind to yourself and others!
Do not place the same expectation on yourself, or on others, as if you were speaking in your first language. Instead, take the opportunity to develop and strengthen your vocabulary and use the knowledge you already have. Here are some tips to help you feel more confident:
- Know what you want to say in advance and practise, if possible
- Become familiar with keywords, phrases and useful vocabulary for your industry
- Use the mnemonic K.I.S.S: Keep it short and simple by using straightforward sentences and avoid making elaborate statements
4. Slow down
Speak slowly; this will give you time to think about careful pronunciation of complex words. It will also allow others to understand you more easily and consider what you are saying. ‘Faster’ is not ‘better’! If you are taking part in a group call, ask people to speak by using their name; this avoids confusion and interruption and makes an online meeting easier to follow.
5. Use English in a range of situations, not just at work
Finally, the more you use English, the better you will get. Get into the habit of reading, watching and listening English outside work, and you will feel more confident when you have to communicate with colleagues and friends from around the world.
A shift (n) to shift (v): a move towards
To adjust (v): to make changes
To incorporate (v): to include
Gesture (n): movements for communication, eg moving hands, nodding head
To turn take (v): to speak one at a time
Interruption (n): to start speaking before someone else has finished
To gauge (v): to judge, to evaluate
To exaggerate (v): to make something seem bigger or more important
Straightforward (adj): simple meaning, not a complicated meaning
(to) elaborate (v): to give more detail
Mnemonic (n): a pattern of letters to help remember something
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