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NOVEMBER 26, 2020 //     

Bridging the Geographical Gap in a Global Workforce

By Stephanie Libous

If you go to the front page of, you’ll see it says that “Allison+Partners is a global marketing and communications agency driven by a collaborative approach to innovation and creativity.” Having spent the past six and a half years of my career at A+P, I can without a doubt say that this descriptor only scratches the surface.

Nearing a decade into my career, I have had the opportunity to call both the US and the UK my home. In 2017, I moved from our New York office over to London. It didn’t take long to fully appreciate the global and collaborative nature that Allison+Partners fosters, and how important that is to being a successful organisation.

Whether you’re from New York, Phoenix, London, Singapore or Mumbai, when you step into your agency’s local office, you should immediately feel as though you are in your own office amongst colleagues you work with every day. With all of the modern technology we have at our fingertips, in theory this is an easy task. However, many of us know all too well the resistance of adopting new technology, particularly as we’re already using quite a few – how many of us can even count on one hand the number of communication platforms we’re on?

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the importance of technology and pushed us to embrace it with open arms. During this time, communication and collaboration has drastically changed, in my opinion, for the better. Below are three key elements and lessons for working globally in 2020 and beyond.

Over-communicate and actively listen

In public relations, the phrase “communication is key” is thrown around quite a bit. While this is true, how effective is it if we fail to understand the meaning behind what is actually being said? When working in global teams, you have to bridge not just the geographical divide, but the cultural divide as well.

The first step is to never assume anything. This means stepping outside of your own preconceptions and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their position. Communication is the means by which we express human behaviour. When you tune into the nuances of human behaviour and the motivators behind it, you begin to understand the purpose of that communication – both verbal and non-verbal.

Second, employ active listening skills through non-verbal behavior and reflective statements while checking for understanding throughout conversations. In-person, this would mean closing your laptop and putting your phone down. Virtually, it means closing down other apps and directing your full attention to the meeting at hand - no multitasking!

Third, be descriptive and choose the communication medium most appropriate to the person, task and need at hand. This could be in an email, a chat, phone or video call, or even a voice memo. Because we can no longer just “pop over” to someone’s desk, we need to think through the best way to communicate our needs.

The importance of cross-team collaboration

Since COVID-19 restrictions have left many of us working from home for extended periods of time, I have personally found working with cross office teams much easier. For me, it has felt like the barrier of not being together in-person is broken down and I have refined my remote working style, allowing me to better collaborate with those I’m not around every day.

A few ways to effectively achieve this include making an effort to know who is on your team, actively seeking contributions and views from each of them, and maintaining openness to their opinions and suggestions.

The majority of my teams are global, the largest spanning across nine different markets. I’ve been able to facilitate a collaborative work environment by recognising their local expertise and valuing their strategic insight. Further, I try to make myself as available as possible for one-on-one and group touch bases. This fosters a sense of strong partnership amongst the team.

Strike a balance

Organisations need help navigating this new landscape, balancing human sensitivity with an ever-changing set of guardrails. As technology is bringing us closer together, the idea of a work-life balance has stepped aside in favour of a work-life blend. However, we need to be mindful of our colleagues’ boundaries and how they have adjusted their daily routines to fit the remote working conditions we are currently in, not to mention the added stress on mental health that has come from lockdown, dealing with an ill family member or possibly being ill themselves.

Demonstrating empathy by acting in a caring and supportive manner is probably the most important takeaway here. Dr. Brené Brown explains this quite well in a short animation from The RSA, where she talks about the difference between sympathy and empathy, and argues that to be truly empathetic you have to be vulnerable by connecting with someone's pain in yourself.

Where do we go from here

The PR and marketing landscape is constantly changing, even when it’s not the middle of a pandemic. Adding the uncertainty of COVID-19, the industry shapeshifting is at an all-time high. The remote nature of working has shed light on the value of global thinking and global campaigns, relying on global teams to bring diverse experiences and local expertise.

As we head into 2021, it will be important to remember that just because we are remote, doesn’t mean we can’t still interact and learn. Make the most of knowledge sharing by continuing to utilise your content hubs with professional development lessons, podcasts, newsletters, etc; leaning on your global colleagues for different points of views and ways of working; and taking breaks to avoid burnout.

Communication and workstyles aren’t one-size-fits-all, and this is especially true when working with a global team. When organisations take the time to ensure their employees across borders are taking a collaborative approach to communication and innovation, they will ultimately have a more productive and open line of communication, leading to better overall success.


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