The Gatehouse Blog

Office 365: A case of work imitating life

When travel loyalty expert Avios implemented Office 365 four years ago, it was looking to facilitate a new way of working: one that better mirrored the way we all live our lives. More social and collaborative. Less formal. This took many out of their comfort zone. Julian Simpson, Head of Internal Communications, explains how his team helped ensure that everyone – from the CEO to the call centre – embraced the full suite of tools.

Part of the International Airlines Group (IAG), Avios Group Limited (AGL) is headquartered in the UK. It provides the expertise for airline loyalty programmes including the British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus, Air Italy and AerClub, helping their customers to earn experiences and rewards through the collection and spend of Avios, a global currency that can be used against things such as hotels, flights and car hire.

With around 500 employees, we’re fairly small in comparison to other IAG companies, but we’re also spread across a number of locations, with staff based at a number of sites in the UK, as well as the small teams working out of Madrid and New York. So, connectivity and collaboration could be a challenge.

We have an internal communication team of four: myself and an engagement lead at head office, and two colleagues working out of the contact centre, supporting the operation there.

As with all businesses – especially those spread across various sites – managers are key to effective communication, helping to reinforce messages shared across the channels and adding valuable local context. Some find owning the message easier than others and are more comfortable adding context and answering questions. This is where Office 365 has supported the business and its managers. Tools such as Teams and Yammer really help instill a sense of community and collaboration, something you just don’t get through intranet and email. Our colleagues feel more able to discuss, debate and question through these open channels.

This is where Office 365 has supported the business and its managers. Tools such as Teams and Yammer really help instill a sense of community and collaboration, something you just don’t get through intranet and email.

Supporting work-life balance

They mirror the way we live our lives, shifting us out of the office 9-5. Now, people can work much more flexibly – pick up the kids, go to an appointment, do whatever they need to do – yet still be really productive, perhaps more productive.

Office 365 tools also reflect the kind of communication channels we all use on a day-to-day basis. When was the last time you organised a night out or checked in with friends using email? You just don’t do it. You’ll message using social media, or an app on your phone. Yet businesses are still hooked on the email drug a little bit. It’s not the greatest communication tool to use: pretty much one-way, direct and formal.

Of course, tools are only as good as the content and users. If you’re not pushing out engaging content and giving people a reason to go there, they quickly die. The intranet was great, especially for companies like ours with disparate offices. We could communicate information to employees, but it was pretty one-way: static and not very engaging. The reality is, no one has the resources to use all of the intranet’s functionality. Consequently, people get bored of it because it isn’t regularly updated. Where’s the reason to go there?

Teams and Yammer, on the other hand, don’t rely on a dedicated team doing regular updates. They’re about real-time working and driven by everyone. Again, though, success relies on usage: all your people need to get on board with the idea. And therein lies the rub. It requires a big behavioural shift to move people away from email. Not to mention to encourage senior leaders to embrace a more informal, and open, way of communicating.

A contradiction in terms

It’s really interesting: we’re all comfortable using social channels in our personal lives, but there seems to be a desire to retain a corporate feel to things in the workplace.

We’re not as fazed by change at home. We’ll go out and upgrade to a new smartphone, download everything we need and be up and running in a matter of hours. In the workplace, however, people prefer stability and certainty. Ask employees to use a new app or system and this will usually have to be supported by training and a range of resources.

Our job is to get people comfortable trying new things. It’s about encouraging a change in behaviour. And one way to do this is to prove it’s a better way of working; easier and more engaging

Of course, tools are only  as good as the content and users. If you’re not pushing out engaging content and giving people a reason to go there, they quickly die.

The proof is in the pudding

When we first implemented Office 365 around four years ago, we used local champions from across the business. This involved a close collaboration with IT, especially during the migration period. The migration of data was a challenge – it was slower than we would have liked. But once that’s done and the framework is in place, it’s pretty straightforward. You don’t need to be a techie to use this stuff.

We did a lot around demonstrating how collaboration could be made simpler. At that stage, it was all about working on SharePoint documents and using Skype. Now it’s about using Teams to help cut down on the number and length of meetings. You can get all the people you need on a call quickly, get documents up, share screens, edit and make decisions in real time. What used to take perhaps two or three meetings and follow-up emails, you can now do much quicker. And you don’t even have to walk around an office to a meeting room.

Work-life balance has to be a two-way thing. Anytime, anyplace connectivity can lead to colleagues thinking they always have to respond, always be available, but it’s also important to help people retain the space where they can switch off, where they can get some head space. We’re looking at what we can do here: ideas around how to be productive and work ‘well’ with reminders around putting your device down, switching off, creating the space and time to clear your head. Just this week, we’re running sessions on resilience to ensure colleagues feel supported in adapting to a changing workplace.

What used to take perhaps two or three meetings and follow-up emails, you can now do much quicker.

A communications democracy

We also helped demonstrate how these tools can keep everyone up to speed on what’s happening across business departments. We use Yammer in the contact centre and Teams at head office. And we work with people in the business to give them the confidence to post their own short, sharp updates on what they’re working on. It gives communications more of a democratic feel, as opposed to, in the past, everything being channelled through the internal communications function.

This also helps inject more personality into the updates. It’s more friendly and collaborative to have the person’s name and face attached to an update rather than a formal email from internal communications or a message on the intranet.

This obviously helps make leaders much more visible, too. And it’s great for praise and thank yous; showing their human side. Obviously, this has to be supplemented with face-to-face communication. You can’t replicate or replace the value of face-to-face engagement with the CEO or your line manager; that’s where trust comes from. If people don’t see and believe in their leaders, then a lot of the messages that we push out are seen as internal PR, rather than authentic.

Conversely, senior leadership buy-in is afforded by the kind of insights you can get from Yammer and Teams. It’s like having a constant staff survey. Actual engagement with the tools represents an indicator of how your people are feeling.

This obviously helps make leaders much more visible, too. And it’s great for praise and thank yous; showing their human side.

We’re about to put in place Unily: a kind of umbrella that sits over 365 and all our other business tools and apps – day-to-day stuff that’s used to do things like claim expenses and raise purchase orders – to give us a one-stop shop. The beauty of products like Unily, which are off the shelf, is that once we’re trained and have the product in our hands, we’re talking weeks to get it out there, rather than years.

This will also help support our internal communications strategy, which is very simple and is all about informing, engaging and inspiring. It’s aligned with our business strategy to be a loyalty partner of choice. We want people to feel good about the company they’re working for. Whatever we do, we’re looking at how we’re making a difference to either the customer, our partners or our colleagues.

Where tech is concerned, it’s about encouraging authenticity in our everyday work. It’s about acknowledging the communications evolution – the way we consume information has changed. And, ultimately, it’s about work being reflective of life.

We want people to feel good about the company they’re working for. Whatever we do, we’re looking at how we’re making a difference to either the customer, our partners or our colleagues.

 

Biography: Julian Simpson
Julian Simpson is Head of Internal Communications at Avios. With 20 years of experience across financial services, retail, economic regeneration and travel, he has seen internal communications grow from the company news sheets through to the fully interactive, immersive world we operate in today. His areas of experience include events, colleague engagement measurement, wellbeing and corporate social responsibility.