How Microsoft uses social media to improve employee collaboration

It’s sometimes difficult for employees to communicate in a large company. But Microsoft Canada thinks it has found a solution using enterprise social media.

“Ultimately, the goal is to improve communication and collaboration between employees and, therefore, improve the overall employee engagement and productivity within a company,” says Brian Morgan, the company’s senior HR manager.

The company uses Yammer, a private and secure social network launched in 2008 and then acquired by Microsoft four years later.

The product doesn’t replace other communication strategies but complements the ones Microsoft is already using, such as emails, town halls and the company intranet.

Social networking tools are good for productivity, too. They help reduce the overall clutter of emails back and forth. And documents can be shared more broadly in a secure manner if you need to restrict access.

A 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report predicts that by “fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20% to 25%.”

Share and Collaborate


Percentage of information workers (employees who use a computer, tablet or smartphone for work for more than an hour a day) in North America and Europe who work remotely

Source: Forrester Research

Microsoft has set up a community within Yammer where its Canadian managers can get peer support. “While we may not be able to have the same direct touch point with all of the managers we have here in Canada, with the small number of HR resources that we’ve had, what we’ve found is that [managers] are now becoming a support for themselves,” says Morgan.

The company gives its employees a lot of flexibility in the way they work, and many work from home. Using a social network has improved their collaboration and ability to connect with others, he adds.

The McKinsey study backs that up. Interaction workers (those who interact with other people often, such as managers and salespeople) spend about 28% of the workweek managing email and nearly 20% looking for internal information or co-workers who can help with certain tasks.

“But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35%, the time employees spend searching for company information,” the report states.

Communication and collaboration will become even more important as more employees work remotely. A 2013 Forrester Research report says “the anytime, anywhere work trend is just getting started.”

Open Dialogue

Microsoft used to hold all-employee meetings where executives gave traditional PowerPoint presentations. Now, members of the leadership team sign into the social network. Employees who aren’t able to attend in person have an opportunity to ask questions and get responses in real time.

Having an open forum means the company has to be prepared to tackle tough topics. For example, says Morgan, questions were posted on the social network on how the company was changing compensation for a specific group of employees.

“What it allowed us to do is to pull this group of employees together to provide them with some more education on what we knew at the time and to alleviate concerns they had,” Morgan explains.


Canadians will use social media networks at least once a month by the end of 2015. That includes 18.5 million who will use Facebook and 6.8 million who will use Twitter.

Source: eMarketer

New employees get a chance to develop their own network even before their first day of work. On top of receiving introductory emails, “they’re invited to join a private Yammer group that’s externally facing that allows them to be interacting before they even walk through the door,” he says.

The new hires are connected with others starting with the company who will also be part of the orientation program. They also have the opportunity to ask questions that come up when any new employee starts, such as how to get access to online pay stubs or order business cards.

“They can be on the site before they even set foot in the actual building to work,” Morgan explains. “They’re connected with Microsoft, and we start engaging them in our company culture before they actually start working for us.”


Last year, Microsoft Canada wanted to prove its employees could work from anywhere. The company encouraged its staff not to come into the office one day and asked employees to use Yammer to show where they were working. “There were 250 fewer employees in an office location than the previous week—upwards of 50% in some locations,” says Bruce Morgan, the company’s senior HR manager. Over the course of the day, employees were sharing the random places they were working, adds Morgan, posting pictures from coffee shops, skating rinks, planes, trains and even aquariums.

Craig Sebastiano is associate editor of

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