Peer-to-peer support is an important tool for global mobility and HR professionals managing a global workforce. How exactly do the dots connect between peer-to-peer support and global talent mobility? Theresa Häfner, Head of Business Solutions at InterNations and an expert in global talent mobility, unpacks peer-to-peer support and the sense of community it creates for expats.
Peer-to-peer, which briefly translates into interactions, exchanges, and connections with a network of other individuals, is fast becoming a commonly known concept. It is already used as a powerful means in the form of peer-learning communities and within the healthcare industry. In the latter, for example, people with a common illness or the same health conditions exchange experiences and advice, and they support one another in dealing with their circumstances. Peer-to-peer support can, therefore, be very effective in global talent mobility — if acknowledged and utilized by employers.
Peer-to-Peer Support Addresses Key Expat Challenges
Some of the main challenges that expats face when moving abroad for work — either on assignment or to start a new job — are administrative and organizational tasks, a different work environment, onboarding at work, and cultural differences. Furthermore, expats need to establish a new social network and daily routine outside of work. They basically start from scratch to build up a personal support network and find new friends. On top of that, those in relationships and with families need to ensure that their partner and kids are satisfied and happy as well.
Getting personal insights as well as tips and advice from other people in the same situation can help with most of these challenges. Concrete answers to questions about practicalities, such as what the preferred bank for expats is, can ease their transition. They can learn about business etiquette and gain intercultural awareness by talking to locals. They can also receive initial orientation with the help of other newcomers and experienced expats, as well as practice the local language. In some countries, knowing about the dos and don’ts in the country not only avoids embarrassing situations, but improves personal security.
A Localized and Personalized Peer-to-Peer Approach Ensures Expat Integration
Peer-to-peer support is, however, not only about pure information, but about getting personal feedback and having an exchange with people who are and have been in the same situation. It is a key element in getting to know new people, building real relationships, and making friends in order to feel supported and integrated abroad — beyond work.
Through a localized and personalized approach, peer-to-peer support helps expats to integrate into the local culture, have authentic experiences, and escape a potential expat bubble. Expats can experience real life abroad whether in the USA or India — without only being connected to colleagues or only focusing on their career and work. This is what allows people to grow personally and make the most of their time abroad.
After all, most aspects of life are about having a sense of community and belonging — whether it is by means of a sport group, colleagues, online chats, professional networking, or connecting with other parents. The bottom line is that expats need to rebuild their sense of community when abroad and peer-to-peer support empowers them to do so.
A Functioning Peer-to-Peer Network Needs the Right Setup and a Supportive Framework to Create a Solid Community
As Head of Community Management at InterNations, I was responsible for supporting our Ambassadors and Consuls (volunteers within our communities) and ensuring a consistent activity-level and quality worldwide. I also had to really understand the needs of our members. I have listened to many personal stories, have recruited and selected Ambassadors and Consuls based on a fitting mindset and the right motivation to take on a leading role in a specific community. A recurring factor was always that all these people I spoke to were searching for a sense of belonging and wanted to give back and help others. I think this is really one of the basic needs of every human being.
Active community management definitely plays a role in peer-to-peer support. Building a community is about relationships, as well as the right people to drive it and keep the right spirit and culture (in our case the InterNations Ambassadors and Consuls). As Community Manager, you have to find these people, support them, and keep them motivated. Key community members have to take a spirited role in order to keep the community active. There is a mix of leaders to cover different preferences, such as age, gender, and cultural background. As members have different needs, there should be a go-to-person for everybody. For example, making sure that there is somebody to welcome everybody at an event and to introduce newcomers to others so that they don’t feel lost, is part of creating a community and improving the character and quality of that community.
Effective peer-to-peer support, especially within a company context, requires this kind of strong and stable framework, clear guidelines, and the right functioning infrastructure. Only then can it ensure a high quality and the right people to connect with.
Peer-to-Peer Support is an Efficient Self-Service Solution for Employers
Peer-to-peer support through this type of community can, therefore, be considered as a self-service solution, giving global employees the choice of how and when to use it. This tool really empowers them and eases their transition into their new country. In the modern, innovative companies of our time, peer-to-peer support is a huge benefit because its open approach encourages social skills and improves efficiency.
Having said all this, why then are employers that hire internationally and send employees abroad not utilizing this means of support to a greater extent? After all, apart from the many benefits it holds for global employees, it importantly also takes the load off global mobility and HR teams. This makes it a scalable solution across industries and geographies.
Instead of asking their global mobility or HR managers for help, global employees have a means to do it themselves, and access to all the information in a specific community. Considering that many companies try to reduce workload by outsourcing, the peer-to-peer approach can be a powerful solution and replace some of the typical relocation services — at a low cost.
On the other hand, impact is guaranteed as peer-to-peer support offers a very personalized and individual solution, as opposed to a costly benefit offer that might not even be needed by the employee.
It really can be a win-win solution for both expats and employers — it’s just a matter of connecting the dots.
About the Author: Theresa Häfner is Head of Business Solutions at InterNations. She headed the launch of the Business Solutions Division in 2018. Häfner has nine years’ experience in the expat field and working with international teams. Having lived abroad for long periods of her career, she knows the challenges of relocation first-hand. She is an expert in the field of global talent mobility.