The Gatehouse Blog

Piloting Workplace by Facebook at Compass UK&I

JOICCompass Group UK & Ireland Corporate Affairs Director Michael Kissman piloted Workplace by Facebook. He shares his lessons learnt and discusses next steps.

When I joined Compass, the first thing I did was commission a review of our internal communications. In the UK & Ireland business it was clear we had a challenge; we have 60,000 colleagues, delivering food and support services over more than 10,000 sites, from oil rigs in the North Sea to hospitals, schools and sports stadia as well as offices up and down the country. What the review showed was that, in a business where most people don’t sit at a desk and only 10% have access to a work email address, we were still relying heavily on email as a major form of communication.

I was aware that Facebook was looking for partner companies to trial Facebook at Work (later rebranded ‘Workplace’). After just a few weeks in the company, I realised that it had the potential to fix many communication challenges faced by the UK & Ireland Compass team. We took the opportunity to test it for free the first year. Two things made it relatively easy to persuade our Executive team of the advantages of the platform. First, unlike other IT solutions, its roll-out requires zero training – our employees are not tech-savvy, but anyone using Facebook in their private life is immediately familiar with Workplace. Second, now it’s launched to the market, Facebook only charges for active users – so if someone logs in but never returns, or stops using it after a few months, there’s no cost to the business. This reduces the risk of investing in the platform to a minimum.

Facebook recommends a ‘big bang approach’ which involves launching the platform to everyone at the same time and letting people use it as they deem best. However, due to the size and complexity of our business, we didn’t take that approach: instead, we decided to start with a small-scale pilot, and gradually built upon it. I believe this was the right approach for us, as it’s given my team, and a number of colleagues across the company, time to understand how it can support us as a business, and think through the details of its implementation.

We are still in the process of rolling it out to the business, with only a small proportion of employees using it so far, but we’re already seeing the benefits.

Connecting a diverse organisation

A key challenge is that Compass is an extraordinarily fragmented and diverse organisation, and Workplace has a huge potential to make people feel more connected.

“Compass is an extraordinarily fragmented and diverse organisation, and Workplace has a huge potential to make people feel more connected.”

As a food and service company, we work across a wide range of sectors, and operate under a diversity of brands (Eurest in business & industry, Chartwells in education, Medirest in healthcare, for example. A large proportion of our 60,000 UK&I employees work on client sites, where they serve food or offer facilities management services, such as cleaning or security. Many identify with our brands or our clients’ brand. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as it demonstrates commitment to the client and the client’s customers. The real problem is that they don’t realise the breadth of our offering and are sometimes unaware that other sectors and brands are all part of the same company.

Although our operational communications are working quite well, the communications around identity, change and collaboration were piecemeal. We’ve got effective mechanisms to get information on health & safety, menus, pricing and regulations to frontline colleagues. What needs to work better is the sharing of ideas and best practice across sectors.

One of the most attractive elements of Workplace is its ability to provide communications on many different levels. The platform provides an opportunity to communicate not only on a one to one level but on a one to many and many to many basis too – connecting leaders to the business and also encouraging feedback. The ability to create communities breathes life into our corporate identity, helping people to feel part of the “Compass family”. We can celebrate success and achievements in a more timely and personal way. One of the biggest advantages is around the sharing of  best practice and collaboration that Workplace is able to facilitate. On the functional side – it’s also a project management tool and a place to share factual information and updates.

“The platform provides an opportunity to communicate not only on a one to one level but on a one to many and many to many basis too.”

Workplace has the potential to connect people who’ve never, ever been connected before – both to their colleagues and the wider business. We are a ‘business of experiences’, whether it’s giving customers the best possible experience during a difficult time in hospital, at an international tennis tournament, or a premier league football match. Suddenly, we are giving our colleagues a platform to share their stories through live video and photos.

Extending the reach of communications

We are using Workplace as a complementary communication channel and although I don’t expect it to ever reach 100% adoption, it is a powerful addition to our channel mix. Having a platform that enables employees to access business information using their personal devices is extremely powerful. It’s unrealistic to think that we will ever equip each of our 60,000 employees with a work mobile, so enabling people to use their own device is quite critical to us.

We have an employee portal which provides colleagues with the tools they need to do their job and a printed and digital bi-monthly company magazine which is very well received, but only reaches a portion of our employees. There isn’t any real mechanism that flows ideas back up to support two-way communications.

“…enabling people to use their own device is quite critical to us.”

Sharing real-time, authentic updates

We’ve set up a good old corporate news feed on Workplace via a group called Compass News, which is curated by my team. Not only has it increased the reach of our announcements, but it’s also changed the style of our communications. For example, we now live stream our internal award ceremonies, simply using our iPhones. The result doesn’t have the refined feel of formally approved communications. It is less polished, but much more authentic – and people have noticed. We get immediate engagement, with people congratulating the winners.

It helps our leaders lead. As well as our thousands of client sites, we’ve got a number of central offices, which makes physical face time with our leaders virtually impossible. Workplace enables them to share real-time updates and communicate with colleagues in a much more informal way. When our Managing Director and Finance Director hosted a range of “townhalls” across our central offices this year we were able to film them and share the updates on Workplace, giving many more colleagues the opportunity to hear key business objectives and activities directly from our senior leaders. And the beauty is that they get feedback.

I believe that it is the role of the communications team to ensure that our executive team is regularly posting, and it takes planning to achieve this. My team has developed a proper content plan which identifies opportunities. For example, every Thursday one of our senior leaders posts a review of the week; if there’s an event coming up, we book some time in the relevant person’s diary to record their thoughts in a video and push it out.

Supporting collaboration

Having tested it with my team, I can see how Workplace drives much more effective collaboration. Instead of using emails, we share documents and updates in a private group. It’s also proven very effective for managing reactive media issues as they arise. I asked them to ‘like’ posts after reading them, which gave me reassurance that they were up to speed.

I believe the same can apply to our operations team and we’ve already seen our healthcare colleagues set up an innovation library specifically designed to spread best practice and innovation through ideas-sharing. There’s so much potential and it’s really exciting to watch how the business is adopting the platform and the ways in which they are already using it.

Rolling out Workplace to the frontline

Now that we’ve reached good levels of adoption with support functions and operational management, we are working with IT to open the platform to our unit manager population and beyond that to our frontline colleagues, where I think the opportunities are huge.

As many of these colleagues don’t have a work email address, we are looking into an alternative route to authenticate them. In addition, it’s important that we tread carefully. With varied ways of working and shift patterns, they may be uncomfortable using it outside of their working hours, so we need to find the right way to encourage adoption without our people feeling like we are forcing it on them. It’s hard to imagine now, but I’m sure many businesses faced similar challenges when email was first introduced as a communication tool and with all these things it’s about bringing our teams on the journey.

I believe our gradual approach will pay off. I’ve heard of too many enterprise social networks ‘looking for a purpose’ after being launched without proper planning. In my view, making sure you think of all the implications before pushing the button completely is key to success.


Biography – Michael Kissman

Michael Kissman joined Compass Group UK&I as Corporate Affairs Director two years ago. Prior to this, he held a series of senior communication roles at Boots the Chemists and Tesco PLC. His experience covers the full breadth of corporate affairs disciplines, from media relations and corporate responsibility through to government relations and internal communication