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How VSO used technology to overcome change overload and won an award

Jacky King

Head of Learning and Development


We overcame many threats and had to be ultra-creative in maximising opportunities to maintain engagement levels... Despite all our challenges, our overall engagement score has stayed above 80%.
Jacky King

Bringing People Together:how VSO used technology to overcome change overload

Last night, at the Employee Engagement Award Winners 2015: VSO won the Non-Profit Award for their awesome work. Says Jacky King, Head of Learning and Development.

engagement award

VSO’s programmes in developing countries are built on the passionate belief that sustainable change only happens through listening to people, allowing their voice to be heard and involving them fully and continuously in the change they want to make. I believe that we should apply exactly the same principles to our own employees and volunteers. It takes a lot of time and energy to make this a reality – and that is why winning this award means so much to VSO.
Jacky King 

Here’s the story behind theirachievement, as described by Jacky

For VSO, engagement is why we exist. Our mission is to bring people together to fight poverty, so engagement means connecting colleagues globally, seeing how our individual work supports VSO’s overall mission and being motivated by our impact in developing countries.

But ‘bringing people together’ is a challenge, as we are:

  • Dispersed: across 22 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia;
  • Diverse: in our professional and cultural backgrounds and our client bases
  • Strangers: we must build strong, trusting relationships with colleagues we may never meet.

In 2013, this challenge was exacerbated by change overload:

  1. Restructuring
  2. Redundancies
  3. Office relocation
  4. Donor pressure to reduce costs and improve performance
  5. Transitioning to more complex programmes with more specific volunteer requirements
  6. The global recession made it harder to attract volunteers

Against this background, a ‘silo mentality’ developed, with teams putting pressure on each other to meet their own clients’ priorities.  All these factors threatened productive working relationships. Introducing hot-desking and home-working created a business imperative to use information and communication technology effectively to maintain engagement levels.

Vision and goals

Vision: An organisation where everyone feels connected to each other, aligned to VSO’s mission and competent to use our new technology effectively.

We decided to utilise technology to improve global collaboration and help engage our naturally ‘people-centred’ employees.

Goal Target
1. We have the necessary technology to do our jobs well
  •  Increase positive score for Engagement Survey statement: “I have the systems and information to do my job properly” from 44% (December 2012) to 55% (December 2013)
  • All UK-based employees have a laptop (for flexible working and access to colleagues globally) and new collaboration software (Lync and Chatter)
2. We use our technology innovatively
  • Three initiatives using technology to increase engagement
3. We can access/share programme information
  • Three experiments using technology to improve knowledge-sharing between UK-based teams and programme teams

Creative approach andwhat differentiates us

Our approach was “no-cost”: we used the technology VSO was already investing in to encourage groups and individuals who were operating independently to engage with each other, and to let them experiment and find solutions themselves.

Evidence of the impact of the strategy with measurable, quantifiable results, financial impact:

By September 2014 things had significantly changed at VSO’s new Kingston office:

  • Employees work flexibly from the office or home
  • They interact collaboratively virtual meetings and instant messaging
  • We’ve secured funding with our major donor through effective cross-functional efforts
  • We’re saving £400,000 a year through the office move and £4,500 per month on international phone calls

Goal:We have the necessary technology to do our jobs well


We exceeded our target for “I have the systems and information I need to do my job properly”, leaping 17% to 61%. All UK-based employees had laptops by July 2013. A survey taken 100 days after introducing flexible working indicated that 93% were satisfied with the technology needed to work remotely.

“Lync is incredible. It’s made the world of difference being able to see when people are at their desk and connecting to workshops overseas.”

“It really centres VSO on what’s important and saves money which we can spend on our programmes – who wouldn’t want that ?”

“There is a better work-life balance for employees. It’s easier to work flexible hours when dealing with colleagues in different time zones.”

Goal:We use our technology innovatively


We exceeded our target of three initiatives using technology to increase engagement. Examples:

A leadership development programme connecting our global network of 70 leaders through self-directed virtual action learning sets, remote coaching and an online forum.

“The best was that I could interact with my peers across VSO: …that reassured me that common problems are best handled through a journey of exploration of solutions.”

“Practical ideas, energy around an issue, new perspectives, feeling I’m not facing challenges alone.”

Our social media platform, ‘Chatter’, became the central point for sharing, collaborating and socialising.  Employees took the initiative to set up 49 new Chatter groups and add 9004 posts between July 2013 and August 2014.

We launched ten new online courses on our Moodle Learning Hub, including a Global induction webinar, first delivered in July 2014 for 33 joiners in 10 countries. Our bite-sized, just-in-time learning and e-moderated or blended approaches bring people together and inspire social learning.

An employee-led action group reviewed our engagement survey scores, identified those they could influence, and took actions including:

Connecting with programmes by creating a global wall map with a pin showing each volunteer’s location;

Improving networking within Kingston by creating a ‘Chatter’ group for social activities;

Building global networks by persuading colleagues to add their personal profiles on VSO’s intranet.

Goal:We can access/share programme information


We exceeded our target of three experiments using technology to improve knowledge-sharing between UK-based teams and programme teams. Examples:Our six new Thematic Expert Groups collaborate via Lync, bringing together experts from different countries to make sound decisions about programme strategy, based on a wider knowledge base than ever possible before.

“Participating in the TEG… allows me to get closer to our underlying programme theory in education and understand where VSO’s strengths lie…”

A donor manager

We introduced ‘Global Jams’: discussion forums using an online interactive whiteboard, and covering key topics relating to our programme work.

We extended a 2012 pilot into our global buddy network, linking employees in different countries through what is now a core induction process.  In a survey of 20 buddies, 94% felt it was a worthwhile way to connect with people across VSO; 82% felt more part of a joined-up global organisation and 71% felt excited to work for VSO:

“My buddy is not only my buddy but more than that. Talking to her is always giving me inspiration both in my professional and personal life.”



Everything we achieve at VSO is against the odds! We need employees to stay committed and resilient, keeping sight of our shared vision of a world without poverty.

We overcame many threats and had to be ultra-creative in maximising opportunities to maintain engagement levels. Utilising technology for this has paid off, and we will build on our successes by continuing to encourage employee-led innovations for connecting people.

Despite all our challenges, our overall engagement score has stayed above 80%.

By working more effectively as a global, joined-up, agile organisation, we can help more people climb out of poverty faster.