Communication challenge of a transport company Nobina: employees from 50 countries
“Face-to-face encounters are important when language skills are lacking,” says Jenni Vuorio, HR & Communications Director.
”There are bus drivers from around 50 different countries working in Nobina. We have a minority of ethnic Finns, with up to 60% of our drivers estimated to be immigrants.
Multinationality is a richness, but it brings major challenges to communication: many people’s mother tongue is not Finnish. However, Finnish should be spoken at a sufficient level, as it is our working language. In the absence of language skills, challenges may arise, for example, in understanding work instructions.
Organising face-to-face meetings during the working day requires planning.
Written instructions should be in plain language so that the message is understood as well as possible. Drivers can also send messages and communicate with supervisors electronically, but even then, a lack of language skills can lead to misunderstandings. Therefore, the most important things are face-to-face encounters – listening and talking – and checking that the worker understands what is expected of them.
Organising face-to-face meetings during the working day requires planning, as drivers are always on the move: they arrive at the depot, sign in for their shift and leave to drive their line.
The supervisor may not see the driver all day, and the driver may not have time to read the messages during the working day – or may not fully understand their content.
We encourage supervisors to stay in the drivers’ view of the depot and go to the terminals where the drivers are moving. Some supervisors are comfortable chatting and want to meet drivers, while others prefer to stay at their computers. However, face-to-face conversations are an essential part of the driver’s job. Members of the management team are also encouraged to visit the depot and to be available to employees.
For example, praise could be given for paying special attention to passengers with reduced mobility.
In addition to language skills, cultural differences also pose challenges, as drivers from different backgrounds have different perceptions of, for example, working methods and customer service. Attitudes are also sometimes a challenge, which means there is a risk of negative communication. As the HR & Communications Director, I have tried to change the way we give feedback so that we highlight successes and tell people’s stories about how to do the job in line with our customer promise.
Group discussions allow drivers and supervisors to discuss a range of topics together, such as what good customer service is like and how to reduce road accidents. The aim would be to highlight successes alongside challenges, share good customer feedback in front of everyone. For example, praise could be given for paying special attention to passengers with reduced mobility.
In a multicultural workplace, it is particularly important that interactions are respectful of others. There is no room for hate speech and racism. We emphasise that everyone must act in a professional manner but be themselves. In fact, drivers generally get on well with us because we have had a multicultural working community for so long.
Sometimes there are also conflicts. This year, tensions have arisen between drivers of Ukrainian and Russian origin. Such situations require undestanding and tact on the part of the supervisor. Conflicts have been resolved through open discussion. Understandably, emotions have been running high.”