Magazine article Communication World

Opening Windows to the World

Magazine article Communication World

Opening Windows to the World

Article excerpt

Information technology holds great promise - and poses many challenges - for communicators charged with broadening our organization's presence within an electronic world. As the Internet, videoconferencing and other technologies further evolve, many logistical barriers to international communication will diminish. No longer will we rely as heavily on expatriates and international travelers to manage day-to-day operations. We won't need to. In time, many of our employees will have first-hand contact with counterparts, suppliers and customers worldwide.

"Information technology allows us to ramp up the learning curve in organizations, and create common ground," says Thomas Bodenberg, assistant professor of mass communication and public relations at Boston University. "By taking advantage of diverse cultures, with their unique mores and methods, our companies also can take advantage of greater output."

However, as the walls of physical distance crumble, we must prevent new cross-cultural barriers from emerging amid the rubble. This will be no small feat. Many of our businesses are just now realizing the rewards of valuing diversity within our home bases. Experience has taught us that diversity training, improperly managed, can create more obstacles than it removes. We now better know how hard it can be to guide employees to better understand and appreciate cultural differences and their effect on work.

Culture exerts a powerful influence

Bodenberg explains that just because we put a PC on everyone's desk, we should not automatically assume we have solved the challenge of global communication. "We often impose an implicit standard that if we make technology available to you, you will use it. In reality, culture predates the technology, so changes in culture very often lag behind."

The cultural hurdle becomes more obvious when we create real-time links between employees in discrete locations around the globe.

For example, an employee who was born in India, but who lives and works in New York, may retain many of her Indian cultural values, but also will be influenced by the society of her current home. But when an employee who has lived in Russia all his life "meets" by videoconference with an employee of American birth, each may approach situations with a very different outlook.

Technology is only part of the answer

Marriott Lodging, a Washington, D.C. division of Marriott International Inc., addresses this problem by combining communication media - electronic, print, voicemail and fax broadcast. But it is electronic communication that will help the company streamline and target its messages. By next year, the company will have in place an electronic bulletin board system, Lodging Online, to increase the speed and accuracy of its communication to thousands of employees worldwide. Rather than target the new network to all employees, Marriott Lodging will focus the service's content on information for the general managers of its more than 1,000 properties. The general managers will, in turn, be responsible for tailoring the messages to the local audience.

"By communicating electronically, we expect to increase productivity and create a more informed work force," says John G. Clemons, ABC, APR, director of internal communication. "Our goal is to make all corporate decisions available to our employees within five minutes of the time they are made."

Such ambitions would not be possible in a non-digital world. An unfortunate side effect of delays in providing information is that when messages finally filter through, they usually have gathered a lot of baggage on the way through the grapevine.

As Clemons explains, "You can never eliminate the grapevine. But you can help manage it by presenting the facts long before rumours have a chance to cultivate."

Another advantage of electronic media is the capability for providing instantaneous feedback. …

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