How successful business communication works for international collaborations
In this blog post you learn how to establish an efficient business communication process for your international collaborations. This is crucial, if you run international projects, want to build up new partnerships with suppliers, business development companies, sales partners or simply open a new branch or subsidiary somewhere on the globe.
Understand why international business collaborations are essential for your business success. Learn what communication methods are out there and what are their pros & cons. How to decide when it is best to do face-to-face meetings and when it is more effective to do meetings online.
Further, you will see how online collaboration tools can help you save a lot of resources. Learn what tools you can use and how to set up an efficient and successful international business communications process.
What is business communication?
Business communication is concerned with sharing of information to enhance business within and outside of a company.
In various literature the term is used in the context of improving the internal communication of big enterprises. Having multiple departments sitting next to each other, where no one has a clue what the others are doing (working in silos) can easily lead to inefficiencies and should be avoided. If the departments are spread over various branches and subsidiaries avoiding these communication silos is even more challenging.
The way how individuals and teams fulfil their duties is a direct result of how well they can communicate, interact, and initiate actions to accomplish goals. When smaller companies start to collaborate internationally, they start facing the same business communication challenges, like silo formation.
Therefore, an effective and seamless way of sharing information is essential to run a successful business. This is especially crucial when it comes to communicating and information sharing between different cultures.
What is intercultural business communication?
Intercultural, or also called multicultural, business communication means the sharing of information between collaborators with different cultural backgrounds. (Source)
Suddenly additional factors like other languages and time zones as well as religious, social, ethnic, and educational influences, play an integral role when building successful partnerships.
Hence, maintaining successful international collaborations needs more knowledge, skills, and insights in different cultures.
Why intercultural business collaborations are essential for your success?
International collaborations help you to overcome limitations regarding local resources, language, and cultural barriers. Some of the key benefits working with partners are that they:
- provide access local resources
- help to create new, ideas and inspiration, trigger your creativity, and offers a fresh perspective
- often enhance soft skills
- can save you a lot of money, as many collaborative relationships involve sharing development, marketing expenses and enable access to local funding.
- help to access new markets
The key requirement to build and nurture successful international relationships in an efficient way is excellent communication, perfectly adapted to the cultural needs of your partners. So, it is crucial to find the right balance in communication methods to run your collaboration as efficient as possible.
What types of business communication methods are available?
There are basically two ways to share information with your international partners. That is either verbal or written. Both ways can be done in a synchronous or asynchronous way.
Synchronous communication requires that all parties involved are participating in a real time conversation and interact live with each other. An example: Face to face conversation, where people discussing a topic on a table or a video conference.
Asynchronous communication means that the communicating parties do not participate in a real time conversation. An example: Someone sends a piece of information like an email out to other people. They can read, listen, or watch the content whenever they are online and respond days later, or not at all.
Here a quick overview of various communication and collaboration methods:
|Verbal||Face to Face, Phone call, Phone conference, Video conference, Telepresence, Webinar, Live stream of a conference, Online whiteboard tools||Voice message – Podcast, Video message, Webinar recording, Video demo, conference recordings|
|Written||Real-time Online Chat, (chatbot tools), Document collaboration tools||Letter, Email, Instant messaging, Social Media, Website, Intranet, Rapid prototyping tools|
Some of the stated methods can be used synchronous and asynchronous as well in a written and verbal way. E.g. new online whiteboard tools offer now features that you can have a live video conference and talk while you write your virtual posts on the board. Further rapid prototyping tools are mostly asynchronous, but some tools start to offer synchronous editing modes.
So, how to decide which of the mentioned communication methods is the most appropriate and effective?
How to decide: Face-to-face vs. online communication?
In general, the acceptance of and familiarity with face-to-face communication is higher, as it is the most natural way of communicating. Human beings learn to use all senses for a complex communication from a young age. In fact, human communication is much more than the simple exchange of information. It is an interplay of information, voice, facial expression, and body language.
For international collaborations, relying solely on face-to-face communication would be too slow and too expensive. Imagine you would need to travel for every single question a partner has. Therefore, it is important to use all types of available communication methods in the most efficient way and find the balance between face to face meetings, phone calls, emails, virtual meetings, and online collaboration tools.
Sometimes it is clear to decide for a face-to-face meeting or not. Does it make sense to travel 5 hours to ask someone in person, if the colour of your newsletter headline should be blue? Obviously not! But there are many meeting purposes where that decision is not that obvious. The answer is neither yes nor no in many cases – it often depends.
Finding the perfect balance between face-to-face meetings and online communication is challenging and strongly depends on various reasons. Here is a collection of reasons that are commonly stated by meeting participants.
Face to face meetings are required, when
- the discussed topic requires a high level of trust
- body language, mood and emotions play a crucial role (e.g. retrospective, crisis/controversy resolution or employee review)
- it is expected by a culture (it shows respect and honour)
- intense interaction between participants is needed (e.g. creative, innovative, or problem-solving workshops)
- it comes to building trust and social relationships like strong teams or establishing customer relationships.
- bold decisions with high risks need to be made
- participants want to close huge deal sizes
Online communications methods, are very helpful for:
- quick and interactive communication with various team sizes (e.g. between 1 to large groups) in synchronous and asynchronous ways
- simple status updates in daily/weekly or monthly meetings (e.g. work progress, financials, etc.)
- information sharing (e.g. presentation of new ideas, products, market insights, etc.)
- work on joint projects (e.g. documents, drafts & sketches, mind maps, code, etc.)
- collaborative work on topics and projects where the outcome is:
- written content (e.g. blogs, mind maps, newsletter, meeting minutes etc.)
- visual content (e.g. animations, video, etc.)
- sketches & drawings (e.g. wireframes, CAD, etc.)
- project management (e.g. project boards, to do lists, etc.)
- software code (e.g. repository, etc.)
- educational purposes like workshops and trainings (e.g. tutorials, webinars, etc.)
- decisions with little risks
- closing small deal sizes
How online collaboration tools can save lots of resources
The modern workplace experience has rapidly evolved over the last decades. In today’s world, remote working is taking centre stage as more companies adapt do the digital age.
Online collaboration tools and techniques help managing your team and speed up working with your partners and colleagues around the world. They are mostly offered as Software as a Service (SaaS) tools, that are hosted in a cloud. The SaaS business model enables the distribution and access to professional tools at very low costs. The client does not require any hardware for hosting the software and can simply operate with an Internet connection.
SaaS tools can reduce the amount of commuting and business trips and save a lot of time and money for both employees and the company. Further you can provide global customer service, online tutorials that explain your products in various languages without the need of many international business offices. The amount or required travel can be reduced tremendously.
This enables solo entrepreneurs, start-ups, and SMEs to operate internationally due their low cost. On top of that, it contributes to a more sustainable future, as it lowers the environmental impact drastically.
What online collaboration tools should I use?
It strongly depends on your business and your meeting purpose. Here are some examples for tools that can help you collaborating with your partners.
- Online communication tools
- Asynchronous communication: Instant messaging (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Rocket Chat, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp)
Instant messaging is a modern way to replace e-mails, where communication happens in various channels & information is grouped in more relevant ways. In contrast to email communication where the information is kept decentralized in the participants mailboxes and mostly gets lost, Instant messaging services allow to communicate in a central place and the information can be found easier. They often come with advanced search systems to discover the information.
- Asynchronous communication: Instant messaging (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Rocket Chat, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp)
- Synchronous communication: Videoconferencing tools (Zoom, Webex, Hangouts, MS Teams, etc.)
Live meetings from everywhere, using your laptop or smartphone camera. Probably known to almost everyone since the COVID-19 crisis.
- Online project management tools (JIRA, Asana, Monday, Zoho, etc.)
Organize your projects online. Timelines, Project boards, documentation, etc.
- Cloud file sharing Tools (Dropbox, Onedrive, WeTransfer, etc.)Keep your documents in synch and don’t have multiple versions stored locally and everyone looks at a different version.
- Document collaboration tools (Google Docs, Office Online, Nextcloud, etc.)
Work together on documents in real time.
- Rapid prototyping tools (Balsamiq, Adobe XD, Figma)
Draft, sketch, and test new user interfaces online.
- Online whiteboard tools (Miro, Mural, Microsoft Whiteboard, etc.)
Brainstorming, creative sessions and more. Digital whiteboards help to held workshops virtually.
This list of online collaboration tools is only a very small selection. Please keep in mind there are millions of tools out there. Simply select the right combination of tools according to your requirements.
7 steps to set up a successful international business communication process
- Jointly select specific tools
Ask your partners, what tools they already use and agree on the tools that are already known. Lower learning effort will increase willingness of usage.
- Consider compliance
Make sure that your collaboration partners are allowed to install the software on their devices. Many companies do have very restrictive IT-policies and every new software needs to go through an IT check-up process. This is especially critical, when the SaaS provider does not comply with local data security and protection laws. Hence, it might be too much hassle for your partners use the suggested tools.
- Consider intercultural differences
When it comes to worldwide collaborations, it is crucial that factors like time zones, supported languages of tools and openness to new work methods are kept in mind, when thinking introducing new online collaboration tools.
- Agree on a small set of tools
How many apps and tools are installed on your devices you never use? The less software you need, the better it is. Imagine all business partners use different cloud document sharing systems and communication tools. You quickly loose the overview and end up in a mess of decentralized data chaos.
- Provide learning material or introduction sessions (make it interactive)
Ideally, everyone knows the tools you agree on in step 1. This is often not the case. Hence, you need to provide learning materials (e.g. tutorial videos) or you make an introduction session for the agreed tool kit, where you explain everything in detail and answer all the questions your partners have.
- Usage by example
If you do not use the tools, no one will. For example, you have a cloud space for your project to keep all documents in sync. But everyone is just sending documents via email attachment and stores the files locally. Then the cloud space is pointless and a waste of resources.
So, try to only use the collaboration tools you agreed on by example. Only send links, where your business partners can access the document. This helps them to get in touch with the new tool set.
- Constantly get Feedback
Try to get feedback about the pros & cons of your partners experience. This helps you to see where partners have problems and provide better learning materials. If a tool does not work at all or does not meet the expected requirement, look for an alternative.
Intercultural business collaborations are essential for your success because they help you to overcome limitations regarding local resources, language, and cultural barriers. This helps you to save time and money when entering new markets.
Beside the distinction between verbal and written the methods are split in synchronous and asynchronous communication. Either method has its pros and cons that should be considered when deciding on the one or other. Most successful communication relies in a combination of all methods.
Remember the described influences on how to decide, whether a face-to-face or and virtual meeting online is more appropriate. It strongly depends on the purpose of the meeting to be more effective.
If it is appropriate, online collaboration tools can save lots of resources. These will help you to achieve your goals at a fraction of costs. The overview of available online collaboration tools gives you a first impression of what can be done. But keep in mind there are millions of tools out there and you choose the most suitable to your use case.
Finally, the 7 steps to set up a successful international business communication process, help you to run your international activities as efficient as possible. It is important, that all stakeholders are integrated in the selection of tool set and make sure that they get all the support needed. Consider – less is more.
So, this are our tips for a successful business communication for your international collaborations. We hope you can adopt them in your business communication strategy with your international partners.
But what are your experiences with business communication so far? What are your learnings? And what collaboration tools can you recommend? Tell us in the comments.