Global RTO trends highlight need for localized employee comms

How your team can communicate about RTO, regardless of location.

Labor Day has come and gone here in the United States, signifying the end of the summer. For many employers, it’s also the start of something else — a return of their employers to a more regular in-office work schedule. Meta signaled that they’ll begin monitoring employee attendance this week, and reports that post-Labor Day return-to-office mandates will push in-office numbers to the highest point they’ve been in years.

However, the implementation of return-to-office (RTO) policies and working-from-home (WFH) culture varied widely across the world since the pandemic began.

Recent research by experts at Stanford, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and the Ifo Institute surveyed more than 42,000 workers in 34 countries to find that the application of WFH time is primarily concentrated in the English-speaking world.

“Full-time employees worked an average of 1.4 full paid days per week from home across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US,” the report reads. “By way of comparison, WFH levels average
only 0.7 days per week in the seven Asian countries covered by the G-SWA, 0.8 in the European countries, and 0.9 for four Latin American countries and South Africa.”

Like so many things in the world of work, return-to-office guidelines and norms vary widely across cultures, geographies, and with many differing situations employees dealt with over the course of their work-from-home period, including moves, major life events, and more.  While Europe and North America tended to have more workers at home more of the time, employees in countries like Japan and South Korea often only worked from home one or two days per month. In places with higher population density like Tokyo or Seoul, workers struggled with productivity in tightly packed apartments.

If you’re tasked with communicating to a global workforce, take note— the return to the office doesn’t look the same everywhere, and there are plenty of reasons why. But those differences are a big reason to consider using some localization strategies, no matter where their employees work.

Localizing your messaging can be a bit daunting with the knowledge that work-from-home norms differ so much from place to place. Thankfully, there are solutions for decision-makers and communicators to rely on to set things straight.

Use a comms localization playbook to customize the message

 When communicating to a global audience, it’s much more likely to be effective if you’re communicating with an approach that takes culture, location, and preferred communication style into account.

Earlier this year, Bessie Kokalis Pescio, vice president of global communications at Philip Morris International (PMI), shared that taking a globally applicable message and customizing it for a local audience can help it resonate more clearly.

“It could be anything from the best way to explain global learnings to how to portray our new initiative on wellbeing and mental health,” Pescio told Ragan. “What’s the best way to make that resonate? What’s important in this country or in this geography? If you’re sitting at the head of an internal comms group, no matter what the size of your organization may be, you’ll need to increasingly rely on the influence of local experts.”

Kokalis Pescio emphasized that it’s not just what you’re sharing across your organization — it’s how you’re sharing it. This may mean considering different approaches with timing, wording, and the format of your RTO strategies depending on your knowledge of employee populations in specific regions.

Employees in some geographies may have an incredibly long commute that merits a more flexible, phased RTO approach. Others, who may live in shared spaces that prevent them from being able to carve out a productive home office space, may be more eager to return.

By looking at socioeconomic and cultural trends as they pertain to geography, you can ultimately compile a localization playbook for RTO comms — taking a globally applicable message and adapting its rollout to local preferences to ensure it reaches all internal stakeholders in an impactful way.

Communicating with consideration

In the three years and change since WFH has become more prevalent in America, countless employees who moved the center of their work lives from a desk in an office building to a desk in their home have experienced major life changes. That could be a move across the country (or globe), the birth of a child, or another big shift.

Communicators should be aware that when they’re trying to roll out a plan for a return to the office, these potential changes — and their ability to learn about them — can be impacted by cultural sensitivities, stigmas and perspectives on family life across geographies.

Similarly, communicators should be attuned to cultural differences in communication when crafting (RTO) comms. Members of some cultures, for example, won’t feel comfortable asking a question during a live meeting about return-to-office policies.

In this instance, communicators can ensure standardization across manager communications regardless of where the team is based, holding up the importance of active listening, adjusting their style to preferred methods of communication and consulting whatever localized manager resources make it into the playbook

It’ll bear watching what the rollout, communication, and reaction to potential RTO mandates end up looking like in the next few weeks and months. As more change occurs, it’s incumbent that communicators understand how to adopt their approaches with sensitivity to culture and location.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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