Almost 83% of businesses rely heavily on e-mail to maintain communication with their employees on assignment, with a high proportion solely reliant on the medium, according to The Global Mobility Survey.

    The survey—commissioned by the Santa Fe Group to help employers benchmark and enhance their own employee transfer programs—has shown that e-mail is the primary method used by businesses to maintain engagement with their employees on assignment.

    International communication strategy critical to assignee engagement and retention

    With the current focus on talent retention, concerns over assignee retention, and the effectiveness of e-mail for employee engagement, the survey suggests that businesses should be looking at ways of improving their communications with employees while on assignment.

    During an overseas assignment it is easy for an employee to become disengaged from their home business. A company’s communication strategy is, therefore, critical to the success of its global mobility program in terms of maintaining the employee’s engagement and ultimately retaining talent. The survey has offered some strategies employers can use to communicate more effectively with their employees who are working abroad.

    Strategies for communicating with assignees

    The survey suggests techniques used by HR and Global Mobility departments to communicate and engage with their assignees. It reveals that programs managed from different countries and industry sectors vary considerably in terms of the level of communication and types of communication used.

    For example, programs managed from the United Kingdom performed the worst in terms of levels of communication. UK managed Global Mobility programs often “left their assignees in the cold”, with 10% of UK managed programs having no assignee communication programmer in place at all.

    Indian managed programs on the other hand indicated the highest level of communication and assignee engagement. Characteristically, they provided mobile devices to their assignees (41%) to enable them to stay in touch more easily.

    At an industry level the Utilities and Energy industries, were notably better at keeping in contact with their assignees than any of the other major industries, and 96% of these professionals said they regularly used e-mail to keep in contact with their assignees. Similarly, their figure for communication provided via the company-provided intranet was also high, at 64%.

    E-mail, local offices, and intranets

    Unsurprisingly, traditional communication strategies lead the way in employee engagement while working on assignment. E-mail topped the charts when it came to communication methods with almost all companies saying they used e-mail to communicate. This is in part due to the type of content being exchanged by the business with the assignee, and the confidential nature of the information. However, there are now better ways to share confidential information and better ways to engage employees who are away from the office.

    Almost half of companies (49.7%) said they also relied heavily on their local HR representative to fulfil the communication with their employees on assignment. This has the benefit of maintaining a level of human contact with the assignee and their family, but it cannot be relied upon solely.

    Culture can vary between offices and it is advisable that there needs to be a connection with the location to which they will eventually be returning. Simply handing over responsibility to the local office may not be the optimal solution to ensure up to date knowledge of policies, home and host career opportunities, and organizational reorganizations. However, personal communication may remain the best way of keeping in touch in places with limited technology links.

    Intranets featured in over a third of companies’ communication plans. This has the benefit of keeping them connected with the company operationally, such as access to job boards and company news. Effectiveness of this medium relates to domains and may be suitable for today’s way of working using mobile devices.

    Social media

    Social Media has become the default method for many assignees to stay in contact with their family and friends whilst on assignment, but so far this medium is slow to be adopted as part of a Global Mobility assignee communication program with only almost 5% of programs using dedicated social media groups. Perhaps companies feel it is difficult to take social media seriously in a business context, but it is hard to ignore the opportunities that social media presents.

    Unsurprisingly, the media industry leads the way in communicating with its assignees using social media, which they use 10% of the time, although this is admittedly a relatively low number. In contrast, many industries have yet to grasp it as a concept and so far have not begun to use it at all (see below).

    Once again, India’s programs outshone the rest of the world with 12% of the programs adopting dedicated social media groups to maintain assignee engagement.

    Whereas social media may not be appropriate for compliant operational transactions such as the transferring of company documents, it does provide a more personalized method of engaging with the assignee. It removes the formality that is sometimes present in communication via e-mail and intranet. It is a ready-made tool for companies to achieve a balance between the personable and the professional.

    In terms of ensuring the assignee has adapted culturally, if they are encouraged to regularly update their social media channels it can provide the company with a more rounded picture of how they are doing in all aspects of their life on assignment.

    Communication is key

    The message is simple; companies need to communicate to improve engagement with their assignees remotely. Ultimately this can be expected to improve the retention of employees on overseas assignment.

    A company’s assignee communication strategy needs to consider the various options at its disposal and select the correct mix based on who needs to be communicated with, the sensitivity of what is being communicated and select the communication channels that work best.

    It is worth noting that for assignee engagement to be effective companies need to go further than simply sending formal documentation. An effort should be made to ensure that assignees remain connected to the company’s culture, news, and what is happening in the home business.

    See for more information on this survey, click here.