‘Using social technologies to improve collaboration and communication… could raise the productivity of interaction workers by 20 to 25 per cent,’ according to McKinsey[1], a firm of management consultants. That is the kind of productivity leap that managers dream of.

In this article, we explore the promise of enterprise social media and look at how one particular company, Vodafone, has benefited from it.

Social networks go to work

When most people think about social media, they tend to think of popular consumer applications such as Twitter and Facebook. However, the same easy, informal communication and sharing also help at work.

White collar workers typically spend a fifth of their time ‘doing’ email. Social media lets people share more information in less time. It can also help people reach outside their own offices and departments to get the answers they need, breaking down corporate silos and resolving problems faster.

With such gains on offer, it’s no surprise that by 2016 half of large organisations will have Facebook-like social networks, according to analysts at Gartner[2].

Harpal Bhusate - Group Head of Employee Collaboration, VodafoneBreaking down silos

Vodafone began to set up social networks for its employees about 18 months ago. Improving collaboration and sharing was high on the CEO’s agenda: he wanted to break down barriers and stop people reinventing the wheel.

At that point ‘delivering the world’s best online workplace’ became Harpal Bhusate’s goal. She’s Group Head of Employee Collaboration, Vodafone and she began her global campaign by taking stock. Vodafone has more than 90,000 employees worldwide, including full time knowledge workers, contractors, retail staff, call centre operatives and everyone in-between. The teams were spread over more than 30 countries, speak dozens of languages, and embrace hundreds of cultures. The Company was spending £67m a year maintaining 400+ different applications and 120+ HR tools. The opportunity was huge but so were the challenges.

The right tools for the job

‘We all use many social tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn in our personal lives,’ says Harpal, ‘and brining a similar experience into the organisation for our professional lives is becoming more important to attract and retain future talent.’

Vodafone has been in operation for the past 25 years and for the first time every employee (no matter who they are or where they work in the globe) has one standard, modern, integrated social online workplace to connect, find, collaborate and share in a simple and seamless way.

 This has resulted in a direct impact in improving employee engagement, productivity and operational efficiencies. Vodafone selected Microsoft SharePoint 2010 to create:

  • Vodafone Hub is the company’s Intranet, at the centre of which is the home page entry point for employees to get information about the organisation and do their transaction activities (such as HR and finance systems to do their job).
  • Vodafone Circle is the company’s internal social network. It allows employees to connect with colleagues from across all Vodafone, find experts, hold discussions and wider ‘townhall’ style online events and discussions, and to join communities to share skills and collaborate
  • Vodafone Tube is an online video sharing service designed to bring sharing and learning to life. ‘It’s like a private YouTube channel for Vodafone,’ says Harpal.

The social enterprise in action

Vodafone is already reaping the rewards of its social media prowess. Engineers are recording troubleshooting videos on their phones and sharing them on Vodafone Tube rather than creating and sharing lengthy PowerPoint presentations. The company’s senior managers set a strong example, holding regular town hall sessions on Vodafone Circle where they answer employee questions in real time.

Harpal notes the changes in her own department. Instead of bringing her worldwide team together for an annual face-to-face meeting in London, this year her team used video sharing to hold a series of town hall discussions. This allowed her to broaden the audience beyond senior managers at local markets and saved £70,000 in travel costs. She says that, ‘The feedback we got was that this was the best way to hold meetings involving a variety of people from across the globe’.

The simplest stories are the best illustration of the way that social technology goes beyond traditional intranets and email. Harpal gives an example from her own experience. She was able to answer a colleague’s question about the software used in utility companies (where she had previously worked for ten years). The question and answer took minutes but saved hours of research. Without Vodafone Circle, nobody would have known that she had expertise in this field.

Tangible benefits

The benefits of improved communications and collaboration are sometimes hard to measure (however valuable) but ‘In the last ten months my little team has saved the company £2.9m and we’ve barely scratched the surface,’ says Harpal. Adopting a single standard platform and consolidating applications and providing people to ability to connect and share in a simple way will generate further savings.

How to get the most from social media

McKinsey outlines three ‘next practices’ that help companies get the most out of enterprise social media deployments:

  • Encourage interaction with supportive cultures and practices.
  • Purposeful experimentation is often more valuable than top-down, big bang roll-outs when it comes to learning what works best.
  • ‘Creating a critical mass of participation is crucial, and companies will need to nurture self-reinforcing cycles of adoption.’

Harpal’s experience at Vodafone underscores the value of critical mass and the role that visionary leadership has in creating a culture of participation. The keys to success? Make it easy for people to connect, focus on business value, articulate the benefits clearly, support change from the top and keep innovating. Her own recommendation is clear: ‘You’ve got to be global. You’ve got to be social.’

By Matthew Stibbe
On behalf of the Microsoft UK Enterprise Insights Team


[1] Capturing business value with social technologies, Jacques Bughin, Michael Chui, and James Manyika, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2012

[2] Predicts 2013: Social and Collaboration Go Deeper and Wider, Jeffrey Mann, Tom Austin, Nikos Drakos, Carol Rozwell, Andrew Walls, Gartner November 2012.