Working virtually

By Jon Dyson on March 24th, 2015

How can I improve the way I communicate with my international colleagues? A question many of our participants and clients ask us. In our latest blog, Jackie Black and Jon Dyson answer questions about their jointly authored book, Working Virtually, part of the International Management English series published jointly by York Associates and Delta Publishing.

Why did you decide to write a book about virtual communication?

Every week we talk to people who work and communicate virtually and who are under considerable pressure to improve their effectiveness in this context. They not only need help with their language but also need help in managing their virtual working. This means learning strategies for communicating more effectively with colleagues who they rarely see. We have done quite a lot of work on this with different clients over the last few years and think that it is a fascinating area of communication, so we thought it would be exciting to try to put our experience on paper.

Who is the book aimed at?

It is suitable both for people who are already working virtually, and for people who are likely to be doing so in the near future. We believe it will find a large audience, as the number of people using this form of communication is increasing: virtual communication is becoming the norm for globalised business operations.

What makes it different?

There are quite a few books on the market to help with certain kinds of virtual working, such as conference calling and email writing, but nothing which deals with all the different communication contexts as well as dealing with the interpersonal and intercultural skills we need to do the job well. Many of the case studies are based on real situations which clients have told us about, so we hope that these will both strike a chord with students and appeal to teachers.

How did you approach the subject?

With caution! Despite having a large amount of potential material, the challenging task is to select the best material. What is notable is that we – the authors together with the publisher, the editor, our mentor and colleagues – mostly live in different places around the UK, so the project itself has been almost entirely a virtual one, so that all involved have been able to practise their skills in the whole range of communication channels we mention in the book!

What experience do you have of training people who work virtually?

We recently ran a course for delivering virtual presentations which was requested by the team leader of a multinational company whose project teams no longer deliver presentations face-to-face due to the global nature of their communication. We also regularly set up conference calls using a wide range of scenarios to help our clients practise and improve their skills as facilitators and participants in virtual meetings. We are able to give feedback not only on language use but also, and more importantly, on their ability to manage the virtual environment so that successful outcomes are achieved.

What are the main challenges for non-native speakers of English working virtually?

The main challenge is working in a language which is not your own. Virtual communication is also different from face-to-face communication because the context reduces the opportunities we have to communicate non-verbally. So, the non-native speaker of English needs to be aware not only of his or her language use, but also of how they can use that language to manage the communication process.

Why are native speakers an important issue?

Native speakers tend to spend less time thinking about the language and communication needs of the non-native speakers with whom they are working. Consequently, instead of helping the communication to run smoothly, they can have a negative impact, for instance by using over-complex language and culturally specific idioms, or simply by speaking very fast and unclearly.

How do advances in technology have an impact on working virtually?

As new hardware makes previous models obsolete, and new approaches to software use begin to dominate, technological aids to virtual communication should enhance virtual communication. However, these changes bring new terminology and require effective training. We think that this is the most immediate challenge facing organisations which work virtually.

How do people from different parts of the world react to working virtually?

In general, we have found that most people who work for global companies are quite happy to work virtually. They see it as a time-saving and efficient way of working. The only drawback is the variety of different accents they have to get used to when participating in conference calls.

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