World Bank embraces millennial communication habits

By Jeff Tyson 11 September 2015

A laptop screen shows Tweetdeck, a social media dashboard application. The World Bank is collaborating with Microsoft to develop a new internal social platform to keep up with the evolving communication styles of its employees. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

Millennials are taking over the modern workforce, and their social media habits are coming with them.

Facebook, Twitter, Skype and other programs are essential to how this generation communicates, collaborates and shares knowledge. And workplaces, even the world’s largest multilateral donor headquartered in Washington, D.C., are seeking to adapt.

World Bank employees may soon find themselves instant messaging with one another, sharing blog posts, making work travel plans and even putting in leave requests all through a new social platform similar to Facebook.

The World Bank’s information and technology team is working with Microsoft to develop the new platform meant to transform the bank’s email culture and replace the institution’s intranet, according to Stephanie von Friedeburg, World Bank Group chief information officer and vice president for Information and Technology Solutions.

This initiative follows a global, three-year IT overhaul at the bank that included moving data to the cloud, installing faster internet connections and replacing desktop computers with laptops and mobile phones.

Forget fax machines. Email can’t even keep up with evolving communication habits.

“[Younger staff] no longer think of email as the place they want to land every morning and they don’t necessarily organize their day or their thought processes through email,” von Friedeburg told Devex.

The new social media platform that the World Bank is developing — temporarily called the Information Workspace until the bank team lands on something catchier — will be “a personalized place … where an employee would live and work,” von Friedeburg said. Employees will have their own profiles and will be able to access emails, instant messages, and World Bank related content such as blog posts or project updates geared specifically towards the interests or needs of the employee all in one place.

Education experts at the World Bank, for example, will be able to streamline their feed to stay up to date on World Bank education initiatives, while staff in West Africa will be able to streamline the content they receive, zeroing in on developments in their region — if all goes according to plan.

The World Bank’s IT team initially planned to launch the platform at the end of October, but von Friedeburg told Devex that it won’t go live until her team has ensured that there is enough on the platform to be “meaningful to staff.” She said that is still a work in progress.

Adapting to a changing workforce

The influx of millennials into the workforce in recent years has sparked a desire among CIOs and IT departments in the development community to find different ways of communicating in the office and across time zones.

“I definitely think we need to change the way that we communicate,” John Yates, CIO at Chemonics told Devex. “Millennials are much savvier than previous generations with technology, so they’re picking it up a lot more quickly. They’re a lot more demanding in terms of what they want.”

Now the technology exists to deliver those communications solutions, in part because big technology firms continue to purchase more specialized startups and integrate them into their product offerings. Partnerships between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the acquisition of smaller companies such as Skype and Yammer by the larger ones such as Microsoft are today allowing for the development of more sophisticated forms of social collaboration, von Freideburg explained.

Such acquisitions and partnerships now allow organizations like the World Bank to blend technology into cohesive and personalized platforms they can implement within their walls.

At Chemonics, Yates said his team is focused on improving their “core operational system” and on allowing staff to work more efficiently by adopting new tools such as the cloud software “Huddle” and the communication tool Skype for Business.

But he said that in concept, a social media style collaboration and communication platform for development professionals to follow different sectors, share knowledge and give opinions could be extremely valuable.

For Yates, the development workforce would work more efficiently if it can shifted from email communication to a “social networking interface” — one that alerts employees to their specific interests or needs, instead of sifting through email every morning and throughout the day.

At some point, according to von Friedeburg, email too will be a thing of the past.

From concept to practice

A new social platform for World Bank staff to engage and communicate with one another seems like a good idea to Lauren Stiller Rikleen, president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, visiting scholar at the Boston College Center for Work & Family and author of You Raised Us — Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success, and Building Strong Workplace Teams.

Rikleen pointed out that millennials tend to seek employers who adopt cutting-edge technology. But as she told Devex, the success of the new platform will depend on how it is implemented.

“It sounds terrific, but like anything that sounds terrific, the proof is in the implementation,” Rikleen said, warning that not all staff will adapt easily to new technology.

Rikleen recommended putting in place different levels of training to ensure that staffers of all ages and technology skill levels feel comfortable with the new system.

Still, if the World Bank is successful in its implementation of the platform, “it could be very helpful for others who are looking to make these kinds of changes,” Rikleen said.

Von Freideburg emphasized that if other development organizations are interested in using the technology after the platform is launched, they are welcome to. She said what her team is building with Microsoft is “nothing proprietary.”

The bank official added that while the platform’s initial purpose is for internal communication, it could morph into a sort of “interactive portal” where World Bank clients and other external stakeholders could engage and find relevant information and resources.

What do you think about the World Bank’s efforts to create a new social platform for its employees to communicate and share information? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

Jeff tyson 400x400  1
Jeff Tyson@jtyson21

Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.


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