Social Media Improves Collaboration Among International Assignees

By Jim Caltagirone Jun 6, 2014

Social media technologies continue to surge in popularity. Globally, more than 1.5 billion people use social networks, and approximately 80 percent of all Internet users interact with social networks regularly. Unsurprisingly, many companies now use social media tools, such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and others, to reach new and existing customers, promote new products and enhance brand awareness.

But external use of social media may be only the tip of the iceberg in the business arena. A study by McKinsey estimated that two-thirds of the value creation realized by social media tools can be achieved by improving collaboration and communication within an enterprise. That same study also estimated that—when accompanied by transformed work flows—social networking tools can raise productivity of highly skilled knowledge workers by up to 25 percent.

Fostering Collaboration

Even with its broadening acceptance, most corporations are just beginning to break the ice with internal social networking. The McKinsey study estimated that only 3 percent of companies have taken full advantage of social networking by improving collaboration within their organizations. In fact, some organizations still refuse to allow employees to connect with social networks via company-owned assets.

But as the public and employees continue to embrace social technologies, most enterprises large and small will need to begin looking for ways to leverage those technologies and weave them into organizational workflows. To that end, social media technologies could have far-reaching implications for global mobility teams, providing an effective way to create vibrant online communities that help organizations reach out to pools of current, future and past assignees.

Most companies continue to communicate with assignees through traditional channels such as e-mail and intranet sites. While assignees can find pages of information regarding policies or other program features, the ability to participate in an ongoing conversation should not be underestimated, said Vishal Agnihotri of Ernst & Young LLP. “When you participate in a conversation, or even listen in, you get a lot of context and color commentary that is otherwise missing on a specific topic.”

To that end, an active online community of current and past assignees can create a powerful forum, capable of answering and providing context for a wide range of questions from policy issues to the best international schools, or discussions on where to shop for hard-to-find items from home. This online community can offer tremendous value for mobility program managers seeking to help assignees assimilate faster. The community also can facilitate ongoing conversations that would support the delivery of key information and address concerns or questions.

Assisting Expat Communication, Assimilation

In Ernst & Young’s 2013 Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey, approximately 65 percent of respondents cited family or personal issues as reasons for failed assignments or early repatriation. Using social networks, both internally and externally, to help expat workers integrate themselves and their families faster and more effectively into their new work and living environment may go a long way to address some of those concerns and reduce the number of failed assignments.

External social networks could also help extend the reach of organizations like the International Dual Career Network, launched in 2011, to address the growing phenomenon of dual-career families and to help the trailing spouses find new employment.

Of course, organizations can’t just set up an online community and walk away. According to IBM’s Sandy Carter, a successful social business strategy must include the following action elements:

  • Encourage active participation and visible sponsorship by senior leaders.
  • Identify community managers to act as liaisons among HR, global mobility teams and users to help make sure all relevant and accurate knowledge is passed through and shared.
  • Actively monitor content to answer all questions and address all issues promptly and consistently.
  • Establish rules of engagement so employees understand the types of comments and content that are appropriate; include guidelines that govern employees’ online social behavior.
  • Clearly define rules regarding confidentiality and data privacy.

Mobility teams that take advantage of social media tools will be poised to create online communities of assignees that could be expanded to include family members. Using Twitter, Facebook and other tools to announce new developments and engage employees in online conversations can augment—but not replace—traditional channels, such as the company intranet or e-mail, and provide an effective and timely vehicle for sharing information. Moreover, by adopting social media tools to enhance awareness among these groups, mobility teams are taking critical steps forward to elevate their functions and demonstrate that they deliver value to the organization.

Jim Caltagirone is a partner at Ernst & Young, providing tax and advisory services.

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