How BT improved internal communications with Facebook Workplace

Since deploying Facebook Workplace, the UK telecoms giant has built a culture of communication amongst staff and managers alike.

Facebook Workplace

When Helen Willetts joined BT (British Telecoms) as its head of internal communications in 2018, one of the first things she sought to change was how important news regarding the company was communicated to employees.

Previously, when the telecoms giant made an announcement or company news broke, there was always a delay before the workforce knew about it. BT officials wanted to change that and move to a colleague-focused approach, making information accessible quickly and engaging them in useful discussions.

“I started at BT in January 2018 and three months in, I presented a new strategy to the executive council. One of the things in that strategy was ... that we need a social mobile-first app,” Willetts said in an interview.

At the time, BT relied on a combination of different platforms for internal communications. Its technology team used Yammer while its consumer team worked off a homegrown social media platform, both of which were retired as the company sought to simplify its communications channels.

With the support of BT’s executives, Willetts and colleague Anna Epps, internal communications director at BT, evaluated a number of major players in the unified communications market – and settled on Facebook Workplace. (Willetts declined to name the rivals who lost out.)

“We tried some other things and we knew instantly that the similarity with Facebook, and the high percentage of our colleague base that had Facebook — that the direct replica of how you use it would be absolutely right and that Workplace was the right platform for us,” she said.

Building a culture of communication

BT officially began its rollout of Workplace in July 2019, opting to onboard one business unit at a time. The company chose to go unit by unit, Epps said, to make sure any problems could be ironed out early on and affect the smallest number of people possible.

The first group on Workplace was the technology team, so that if problems arose, the team would likely find them. It then took six months to push Facebook Workplace out to several more business units. (Differences in workplace rules and regulations that varied from country to country slowed the rollout.) So far, BT has teams in 54 countries, around 80,000 employees, successfully using Facebook Workplace.

Both women believe that their approach helped improve adoption rates. By bringing one team on board at a time, workers can see the benefits via colleagues already using the platform, Willets said. And it allows the company to explain to each specific unit why BT is retiring the channels they’ve been using.

The benefit for employees was immediately visible. Willetts noted that in the run-up to the 2019 UK election, when the Labour party announced a policy nationalising BT’s Openreach network, Workplace allowed the company to respond quickly. She said BT's CEO only had about two hours to address employees before they would see the story unfold on the 10pm news or hear about it from family and friends.

Despite her fears that the CEO would be addressing an empty forum, employees logged into Workplace by the thousands to hear what he had to say. “[Workplace is] a place that people go to because they now expect that we're going to tell them stuff first, which has been really brilliant.

“It's been transformational for us to be able to make good on our inside-out principle, because we could get to people instantly,” Willetts said. “We don't have to get a whole production company together for a video or crank it through the system to upload something.”

Fostering connections

Although BT deployed Facebook Workplace long before the global coronavirus pandemic hit this year, both Willetts and Epps agree that having the platform in place has helped employees keep in touch as they work remotely. Epps describes Workplace as an “internal social channel," saying the platform’s primary use is to foster connections throughout the company.

Recent research by Workplace indicates that since the start of the pandemic, 43% of frontline managers have missed important information from superiors due to inconsistent communication tools.

Removing the barriers to communication between staff, managers and company execs was a core aim for Willetts and Epps. Throughout the pandemic, both noticed how the platform has helped to normalise the company’s leaders and make them more accessible and authentic to members of staff.

“It squashes hierarchy,” Willetts said. “There are very few other channels, if any, where you can reply to a very senior person in the organisation or tag them to say: ‘Hey, I thought this’ or, ‘What do you think about that?’

That, she said, "is very helpful for our organisation’s culture. A lot of big, old-fashioned businesses, while they don't want to be hierarchical anymore, the channels that they run on end up making that worse, and Workplace squashes that for us."

The ability to offer instant feedback has also been beneficial. Earlier in the year, BT was in the planning stages of rewriting its purpose. Instead of setting up a survey and waiting for the results to trickle in, Willetts said BT was able to launch a poll on Workplace asking employees what they thought about the company’s current mission statement and receive instant feedback.

Workplace has also changed the way Willetts communicates with her team. If she has a thought, a question or a concern, she’ll simply record a video of herself talking about the issue and stick it in her team’s group, so everyone knows what’s going on.

“I would never have done that if Workplace wasn't there,” she said. “It would feel so egotistical for me to film a video and send it out to them on an email: ‘Here's a video of myself that I've sent you.' it would be awful. Workplace allows that, it really normalises getting in touch with people when they're feeling isolated and you don't feel like a total weirdo as a leader. There isn't another channel that does that.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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