What works in one country may not work in another, so the discussion covers local leadership, centralised content, automated messages, sharing success and collaborating properly. You may also hear about the smell of barbecued food.
Shaun: So, I’d like to talk about something today.
John: That’s why we’re here.
Shaun: That’s why we’re here.
John: Why else would we be sat a very small, hot cupboard during a heatwave?
Shaun: It is quite warm in here, but cosy, and we can’t hear the neighbours. We’ll call them neighbours. We’ve called them other things.
John: And the barbecues.
Shaun: I quite like the smell of a barbecue. I don’t know what I like. Is it the smokiness or is it the meat? Because you know I’m not a big meat eater, but I like the smell of it.
John: I think it’s the two together: it’s the meat on the barbecue. Smoky. A seared smell.
Shaun: Seared. The smell of seared meats dripping onto hot coals 🍖
John: Yeah, that’s why people love it. They don’t mind that it’s raw in the middle.
Shaun: No, definitely not. Of course, different cultures like different things. Did you like that segue way?
John: I did.
Shaun: Because what I’d like to talk about is communicating with faraway offices. So when you have your business and your headquarters in sunny Congleton for instance – just a place that came to mind – and yet you have a satellite office in Dubai (because I imagine someone in Congleton may have a satellite office in Dubai) … How do you effectively communicate with people in different time zones, different languages, different cultures, smaller teams, bigger teams? How do you do that?
John: I guess we’re all trying to work that one out. I think I’ve said it before. I’ll probably say it again. It comes down to planning, doesn’t it? Time zones are tricky things. People throughout the world are probably working very unusual hours. If your headquarters were in rural Cheshire, people around the world might be working to your time zone. But I think the big thing about it is, you still need to make it personal and you still need to make it relevant to people where they are. I think the thing we always hear is things are very centre-based. You know, it’s always coming from a perspective of the UK or from the centre of wherever that organisation is.
Shaun: You mean wherever the headquarters are.
John: Because that might not be relevant to those people. So if you’ve got someone in India or someone in China, I don’t really mind that it’s super hot weather in the UK that week or that it’s charity day or whatever it is in that country. So you need to make sure that there’s a flexibility to how you communicate with them 🧘♂️
Shaun: Do you think the people in the other faraway offices know or have an appreciation of how the business works? So say it’s a British business and there’s a certain way of being British. Now, you have a satellite office in Dubai … Do they need to understand the way it works, or can they adapt? Is that the whole idea, that they can adapt the working style of the British company to how it would most effectively work in Dubai?
John: It’s a mixture, isn’t it? Because you have your values and your vision and the way you work as that British company, but that needs to be relevant to people locally there. So I think that’s a real skill of local leadership, and people who communicate in making things relevant for the people there, but still having that feeling that you work for one organisation.
Shaun: How does a comms team best do that, do you think? Is it just frequent contact or is it something different?
John: I think it’s taking a central message and then being quite flexible with it, making sure that key things come across. And that’s the skill of the communicator, I guess: to pull together those really important parts, but then put their local slant on it: “So why is that relevant for us? This is what we do. How do we contribute to that?” So it’s not all just, “We need to make ‘X’ million this year to survive. What’s next?” Actually, what do we do to contribute to that and make it real for them?
Shaun: I think also the centralising of content is important so that the faraway offices – and I’ve simplistically said somewhere in Dubai, but you could actually also have the reverse time zone; someone in America, someone in Scotland even; you know, it’s in your time zone, but they’re far away – I think the centralisation of content is really important so that even if you’re not up at the same time, you can still get to that piece of information that you need – that image, that business logo, that memo – without having to find the person who made it.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Also, and we’ve talked about this before, but having a lot of the tools that we have available to us now means we can programme when messages go out. I don’t think it’s particularly nice for somebody to always get communications from a corporate function in the middle of the night or when they’re not working. It’s much nicer to receive that in your work day. So being able to programme in those communications and make them personal for where they’re going out, we can do that now very easily.
Shaun: See, now and again, I like to think of myself as a writer, and I wrote a blog about this very thing – collaboration – and that’s called asynchronous collaboration. It’s when you’re collaborating with someone without actually doing it there and then. And I actually believe in all of that. I believe a team can be very, very efficient wherever you are in the world. Did you know that WordPress, the CMS … their whole company’s always been distributed. They’ve never had an office. You know, I tell a lie: I think they did have an office years and years ago when they first started, but they rented it out to somebody. They all work remotely. I think it’s marvellous.
John: There’s a nice way to pass on projects throughout the day and keep things moving. So if you’ve got teams around the world, that’s a super way to make things continuously roll, but you do as much as you can, you then hand it over to the next team and they do as much as they can. You can keep projects or anything just constantly moving: a post at 9 to 5 in Europe, and then it shuts again for another 12 hours, opens up again. You could get two days’ worth of work.
Shaun: There’s a transparency about your work, then: handing it off and seeing what someone else has done. “Here’s my bit. Now I know where it goes next in the chain.” ⛓ It’s real transparency.
John: True collaboration as well. Actually working on something, not just talking with somebody.
Shaun: I also think we need to know about those people in faraway offices. And that’s such an important role for the comms team I think is, if you’ve got an intranet, if you’ve got a podcast, if you’ve got a newsletter, include those people and their successes and what they’re doing.
John: Yeah, and if you’re working in a hundred countries, and the good news stories always just come from the same places …
Shaun: The ones that aren’t shy.
John: Yeah, the gobby ones 😆 A very good northern saying: “the gobby ones.” You’ve got to search that out as well. It’s the role of a good communicator to find those stories, and make sure that they’re being acknowledged. And you know, they’re contributing as well so they feel part of that team. Otherwise, it just all sounds the same, and all comes from the same people and then others stop reading. They stop, they turn off. They delete your podcast, which people should never do.
Shaun: How dare they!
John: Never delete the podcast!