The Gatehouse Blog

Breaking through to off-line employees at Crossrail

The following is an extract from the Journal of Internal Communication. See if you qualify for a free industry subscription at www.internal-communication.com/joic.

Suzanne Goldberg talks about the challenge of having a disparate audience at Crossrail and the value of giving them visibility over the bigger picture.

I’m currently working as an internal communications officer for Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure project, building the new high frequency, high capacity railway for London and the South East.

Crossrail is unique from any other organisation I’ve worked at before. At any one time we have up to 11,000 people working on the project. Around 3,000 of them work for Crossrail Ltd or one of our project partners, and are on the Crossrail IT system; the other 8,000 work for contractors across 40 construction sites.

Each of these construction companies has its own communications systems; so how do we reach out to all the contractors who are digging the tunnels, building the stations, or are getting ready to lay the tracks in early autumn? We want to make sure that everyone from carpenters to crane drivers feel part of Crossrail as a whole, not just their own company or the site they’re working on.

I manage a series of channels including: the Crossrail intranet news pages, a weekly email newsletter, a senior leader blog, and Toolbox Talks – talks about health, safety, the environment and sustainability, which each site delivers every week. I also provide content for our monthly newspaper that goes out to all our construction sites.

Giving visibility of the bigger picture

I always get really excited about wanting people to see the bigger picture. Once a month I join our CEO at a breakfast meeting at one of the sites with about 15 construction workers. He likes to get a feel for what people working on the project think. He always wants to know about health and safety on site, but he also asks people, ‘what are you working on?’ People usually answer Farringdon station or Paddington station rather than Crossrail – because their focus is on the specific contract they’re working on.

It’s important to remind people what a huge project they’re contributing to, and that they’re helping to build this brand new railway that’s going to make a massive difference to London and leave a lasting legacy. We like to celebrate milestones. Tunnelling has been a major milestone in the project. At the beginning of June our final tunnel boring machine, Victoria, broke through into Farringdon station – joining up all our tunnels under central London.

This means our heavy civil engineering work is coming to an end, and a whole new team of systems and operations people are coming on board to build the trains, install the power, signalling and communications systems, and lay the track. We had 11,000 commemoration badges made and shipped to our sites to mark the end of tunnelling; every person who wants one can have one to show that they worked on this project. I wear mine with pride on my jacket lapel – which my friends think is hilarious!

We also have operational messages to share with anyone involved in the project. For example, safety is our most important value, and one of our principles is that ‘we all have the right to go home unharmed every day’. Here again, we try to make sure we reach everyone. Each site and contractor does its own local safety briefing that you have to go through before accessing the site. We’ve recently launched a new Project-wide Induction to try to make it more joined up; anyone who regularly works at any of our sites has to do this induction – no matter who they work for.

Reaching out right across London

We run big briefings at sites as well as smaller group discussions – where senior directors talk to the teams about their challenges. It’s important for directors to recognise the people, the successes and the challenges on site. And it’s also really important for anyone working on the project to see the senior leaders speaking passionately about what they believe in. People need to see the passion and enthusiasm right from the top.

Probably the most efficient channel is the smaller, face-to-face briefings teams have at the start of their shifts. They’re generally led by the contractor site managers and are operational; focused on the tasks they have to perform that day. One of our ideas is to use those briefings to communicate wider messages.

We’re about to trial a new process where we provide a nugget of news from across the project to be  included in the next day’s briefing, for example a successful handover, or a milestone reached – so people can feel the excitement when something important has happened, and know how it may impact their work.

We have a really great awards scheme, based on our five values: Safety, Collaboration, Integrity, Inspiration and Respect. Monthly values awards recognise the great work people (or teams) have done on a local level. Monthly winners are then put forward for a quarterly award, and then the quarterly winners are invited to an annual awards ceremony – where they could win an annual award. It’s not particularly fancy, but it’s a great opportunity for people to come together from right across the project – and we make sure we tell the stories using all our channels.

Top of my wish list for Crossrail, would be a news app for sitebased staff. It would mean that it also doesn’t matter what email or communications system you’re on – so long as you have a smartphone or tablet. I know Balfour Beatty have trialled it with construction workers with great results. But as a publicly funded project we need to be smart about where we invest – so there’s a bit more work to be done to see if it’s a viable opportunity.

For me, though, the best thing about working on Crossrail is knowing what a difference it will make to people’s lives. Whenever I visit our site at Farringdon it takes me about 40 minutes from our office in Canary Wharf, with at least one interchange. In three years time I’ll be able to do it door to door in less than 10 minutes. Now that’s something worth shouting about!

BIOGRAPHY – SUZANNE GOLDBERG

Suzanne worked for the BBC making children’s radio programmes until she decided to take a career break to do an MA in Acting at East 15 Acting School.

Since then she’s juggled acting on stage and screen with contracting work in some high profile organisations including the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Barnardo’s and the Metropolitan Police. She’s been at Crossrail since January 2015.