Future of Work: Managing a Multilingual Workforce

In the backdrop of a global marketplace, having a multilingual workforce is hugely beneficial for most companies: boosting innovation, increasing exposure to new opportunities, and answering to customers’ needs in languages that they understand best in, which collectively offers companies a competitive edge while contributing to a more sustainable future.

But it is not all smooth sailing from here – managing a multilingual workforce and by extension, a multicultural firm, requires a careful and strategic approach.

Making Multilingualism Seen, Not Just Heard

One of the most fundamental strategies to managing a multilingual workforce is to embrace visual multilingualism across the company. This may involve the company’s internal documents, meetings, and presentations being made readily available in the languages spoken by their staff.

Following such an approach not only promotes an inclusive environment, but it also enables bilingual and multilingual speakers to flourish. This translates to a higher operational capacity as studies show that people with a bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities.

Ensuring the accuracy of multilingual information is crucial. This involves verification processes to guarantee content is safe to publish, and in AI usage, suitable for training machine learning models. As these models rely on trusted datasets to function effectively, accurate translations using AI and/or human expertise are essential.

Celebrating Cultural Differences

Secondly, companies can enhance their multicultural workforce by celebrating diversity and creating opportunities for employees to share their languages and cultures. This can be done through organising cultural events, language exchange programmes, and raising awareness of the benefits brought by multilingualism.

This ensures that everyone feels heard and valued while raising cultural awareness, encouraging employees to be more culturally sensitive across channels of communication and relationship building, thus fostering a diverse yet conflict-free workforce.

This is crucial not only for individuals, but also for the firm’s operational output and efficiency – a McKinsey & Company study has shown a positive association between a more diverse workforce in a company and its financial performance compared to a monocultural workforce.

Breaking Down Barriers to Performance

Another key task to managing a multilingual firm is to retain efficiency through performance management. Evidence suggests that language and cultural barriers are two key factors that make the process of performance management more difficult.

This stresses the need for companies to create an objective criterion of performance: setting a fair and agreeable target for all, providing clear and specific feedback understandable by all language speakers, and most importantly, generating feedback on areas of improvement rather than siloing issues that stem from cultural differences.

  • Generally speaking, a cultural ‘flair’ must be present in managers and leaders for themselves to realise the sensitivity and nuance when measuring their employees’ performances.

Although challenges exist, the benefits of a multilingual workforce far outweigh them. By embracing a strategic approach, companies can create a truly inclusive and efficient work environment.

Wangyuan (Ruby) Qu is a Communications Executive at Evernoon. She is also a Masters student at the University of Oxford, focusing on contemporary China’s economic and technological development as well as the booming AI market.