Why Taronga Zoo rolled out Workplace by Facebook

Facebook’s enterprise platform has offered a new way for Taronga Zoo to communicate across its heterogeneous workforce

A giraffe at Taronga Zoo Sydney, Australia [NSW, Opera House, CBD in background]
dvrcan / Getty Images

Taronga Zoo’s HR chief says the organisation has been using Facebook’s enterprise collaboration platform as a way of pushing out key messages to a highly heterogeneous workforce comprising both employees and a large number of volunteers.

The zoo has around thousand actual employees. They’re spread across its two sites in Sydney and Dubbo as well as working in the field — for example supporting wildlife rescue efforts in Victoria during the bushfires — and internationally.

On top of that, Taronga has about a thousand volunteers. A large number of them work in ‘guest experience’ for the zoo; typically retired they may come in once a week or once a fortnight to help out with conducting tours or giving directions to visitors. Other volunteers work in corporate functions, aid the science and research team, or work as keepers (generally while studying in a related field).

“It's very varied and mixed group,” says Bettina Sammut, Taronga Zoo's director of people, culture and learning.

“The way that I describe our workforce is it's like a mini city: I have every type of employee you could imagine, from university professors to cleaners, apprentices, tradespeople, and everything in between. It's an interesting workforce to try and get something that fits everybody.”

The zoo rolled out Workplace by Facebook in March 2018. The decision to use Workplace followed engagement surveys that indicated internal communications could be improved, which was no easy task given the varied workforce, the zoo’s 24/7 operations, and limited IT resources.

Workplace was seen as a way of pushing out key stories about the zoo’s work to front-line staff who may never directly interact with office staff because they work during the weekend or as part of the Taronga’s night-time program.

“One of our big challenges was just: How do we get our messaging out there with the workforce that we've got?” Sammut explains.

 “We've done quite a bit of work around internal comms, and we were looking at various different platforms,” she adds. “About the same time, Facebook launched Workplace and a couple of people had recommended it to us, then our new head of IT had recently joined and he was contacted by them as well.

“I had it on my agenda to go and look at it and then he said, ‘Oh, what do you think about this; this is something that could help.’ So there was that perfect storm and we started working with them. And it's been it's been really successful, to be honest.”

The rollout didn’t involve a pilot, although the launch was preceded by a period of work alongside Facebook staff, as well as research and gathering feedback from existing Workplace customers.

“We were pretty confident that it would meet our needs,” Sammut says.

She describes use of the platform as “semi-mandatory”.

“Obviously, you can't make somebody sit and read something, whether it's an email or something else, but most of our messaging goes out on there,” she explains.

“So if you want to know something — and that's good news stories as well as organisation-wide messages — then you will have to go there.”

Initial uptake was around 80 per cent. The ways in which the platform has been used have grown since then, Sammut says. Workplace is used to live-stream staff updates, and during the bushfire wildlife crisis it was used for key communications, which drove increased usage.

“I think we're lucky in that our stories are interesting,” Sammut says. “It's not just about what's going on behind the scenes; it's actually the work that we're doing that people want to know about and that they're engaged in, so that does drive them to the platform.”

The use of the platform varies between teams at the zoo. Workplace hasn’t replaced email, but some teams do use the chat function as an alternative for shorter communications.

Two benefits to the platform cited by Sammut are the ability for front-line staff to access Workplace on mobile devices, as well as the familiarity most people with the Facebook-inspired interface

“Most people have Facebook or had Facebook so we didn't have to teach them anything,” Sammut says. “That was probably the biggest advantage: We didn't have to teach them how to use it or how to load it. Obviously we needed to offer guidance about what groups there were and all that sort of stuff.”

She adds, however, that despite the near-ubiquity of Facebook some people are more familiar with others on the use of social media-style platforms and that engagement across the organisation can be mixed.

“I think that is a challenge in itself,” Sammut explains. “But I think for me, being responsible for internal comms, it's always got to be a multi-pronged approach. It doesn't replace having individual conversations with people, it doesn't replace email in this organisation, it doesn't replace having face-to-face staff updates or team meetings.

“It’s about repetition for me: If you’ve got an important message, you’re going to have to say it three or four times to capture the widest audience.”

“It’s not going to fix every communication issue but it certainly has been really useful for us,” she adds. “The year after we launched it there were increased engagement scores, increased communication scores, and increased communication scores around senior management. A lot of it I would attribute to Workplace and other associated communications strategies that we had.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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