Assignees ‘left out in cold’ by corporate email reliance

One of the largest international studies of global mobility programmes identifies email as the primary method for businesses to maintain engagement with employees on assignment.

Graph showing preferred communication methods with assignees from Global Mobility Survey
More than eight out of ten (82.7%) of the 1,269 respondents to the 2014 Global Mobility Survey identified a heavy reliance on email to maintain communication with employees on assignment, with a high proportion solely reliant on the medium.The study suggests that given the current focus on talent retention, companies could revisit their reliance on email for supporting employee engagement and internal communication. 

“Whilst on assignment overseas, it is easy for an employee to become disengaged from their home business,” explains Mike Brazier, Global Mobility Survey research editor. “A company’s communication strategy with its international assignees is therefore critical to the success of its global mobility programme, maintaining the employee’s engagement with the company and ultimately retaining talent.”Further data from the online survey portal offers more detail on the communication techniques used by HR and global mobility departments to communicate and engage with assignees. It reveals that programmes managed from different countries and industry sectors vary considerably in terms of the level of communication and methods used.Programmes managed from the UK performed the worst in terms of levels of communication, according to the survey data. One in ten UK-managed global mobility programmes “left their assignees in the cold” by having no assignee communication programme in place at all.By contrast, programmes managed from India offered the highest levels of communication and engagement with assignees. Over four in ten (41%) programmes here provide mobile devices to their assignees so they can stay in touch more easily.At an industry level, the utilities and energy sector are notably better at keeping in contact with their assignees than any of the other major industries. Here 96% of professionals from the sector report regularly email use to keep in contact with assignees. This is supported by the sector’s high overall figure for communication provided via the company-provided intranet, at 64%. Unsurprisingly, traditional communication strategies lead the way. Email tops the charts when it comes to communication methods with almost all companies using email to communicate. This is in part due to the type of content being exchanged between the business and the assignee. However, there are now better ways to share business-sensitive information and to engage.Half of companies (49.7%) also rely heavily on their local HR representative to communicate with employees on assignment. While this has the benefit of maintaining a level of human contact with the assignee and their family, it cannot be relied upon solely. Personal communication may remain the best way if your assignments are happening in places with limited technology links.“Culture can vary between offices and it is advisable that there needs to be a connection with the location to where they will be returning to eventually,” says Mike Brazier. “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 re-organisations within the business.”Intranets featured in over a third of companies’ communication plans. This has the benefit of keeping assignees connected with the company operationally, job boards and company news, and links to today’s way of working using mobile devices. 

Social Media (SoMe) has become the default method for many assignees to stay in contact with their family and friends whilst on assignment, but so far the study suggests that the medium is slow to be adopted as part of a global mobility assignee communication programme, with only 4.5 per cent of programmes using dedicated social media groups. Unsurprisingly, the media industry leads the way in communicating with its assignees using social media, using social media 10 per cent of the time. Many industries are yet to grasp it as a concept and so far have not begun to use it at all. 
Linking with the four in ten India companies that provide mobile communication devices to assignees, here again programmes managed from India outshone the rest of the world with 12 per cent of these programmes adopting dedicated social media groups to maintain assignee engagement.Although social media may not be appropriate for compliant operational transactions such as the transferring of company documents, it does provide a more personalised method of engaging with the assignee and, with encouragement and agreement, potentially a more rounded picture of how assignees are doing in all aspects of their life on assignment.The message is simple,” concludes Mike Brazier. “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.”For more findings from the survey or to take part in the 2015 study, visit the interactive website at