Insurance company Ageas UK was the top performer for medium-sized businesses in SWOOP’s 2019 Benchmarking report of Workplace networks. It’s a company where leaders listen to their employees, encourage open discussion about sometimes difficult topics and customers are receiving a better service as a result of collaboration between staff and suppliers.
It was a stinking hot summer for those living in England last year. In fact, it was the hottest summer on record.
When the soaring temperatures first hit, staff at leading UK insurance company Ageas were turning up to work wearing suits and long sleeves. With no sign of the heatwave abating, Ageas’ executive team decided to relax the company dress code to make life a little more comfortable until the temperatures began to drop.
Like all company announcements at Ageas, the relaxed summer dress code was reported on the company’s Workplace network.
It was met with a flurry of debate and discussion.
“Everybody piled in and some people supported it, some people didn’t like the idea of being able to dress down as you liked,” said Ageas’ Internal Communications Manager Kirsty Walden.
“It was quite a heated and ongoing discussion. The main emotion people expressed was that they were just grateful to the company for not making them suffer when they stepped outside the air-conditioned offices. There were lots of comments about how it was great to see the executives listening, it was great for the business and company culture.”
With the dry, sweltering conditions continuing for weeks on end, Ageas employees asked on Workplace if this relaxed dress code should become a permanent thing.
“People started to say, is it not right in a modern workplace that we should choose what we think is appropriate to wear for our work day? There was lots of discussion on Workplace about what happened around that, to the point that it was then discussed by our UK executive team,” Kirsty said.
The Ageas UK executive team voted in favour of employees not having to abide by a strict dress code, with a new policy introduced called Dress for Your Day.
“It would just never have happened before Workplace, we would never have had our executive team directly taking onboard feedback, and having such a representative sample of feedback, and everybody in different functions and offices contributing to the discussion or the debate,” Kirsty said.
“This is a really good example of where Workplace has started to change our culture, without us really realising it.”
Ageas UK provides personal and small business insurance products to about five million customers within the UK. It is part of the Ageas Group, headquartered in Belgium and which operates in countries across Europe and Asia. Ageas UK has 3,500 employees, with about 3,200 interactive users on Workplace.
About two years ago, Kirsty was charged with repairing Ageas’ internal communications. The company conducted an audit, surveys, focus group interviews and so on.
“The big thing that came out of all that activity was a very clear need for some sort of social enterprise network because the need we identified was that teams and departments wanted a way of collaborating and communicating together,” Kirsty said.
“That’s what brought us to Workplace.”
Ageas’ intranet didn’t meet the evolving needs of the company as Ageas moved away from communications broadcasting towards enabling conversations. Kirsty said Workplace was attractive because of its similarities with Facebook and the fact no one needed training to use it.
A pilot was launched with 1,400 mostly customer-facing employees. The Workplace pilot met the collaboration, connection and communication needs of the company and was approved by the executive team for implementation.
Kirsty was given the green light to launch on November 2, 2017 and she did so that day. She said it was not a moment too soon.
No more all-company email
“We took the bold decision that the point of Workplace was to transform our internal comms, it wasn’t to just add a new channel,” Kirsty said.
“We weren’t just going to replicate what we did off line and pop it onto Workplace. We stopped all-employee broadcast emails, we haven’t sent one since November 2017.”
Senior leaders also stopped all-company email communication and instead posted on Workplace, ensuring employees would log on and use the network if they wanted to stay in touch.
However, Kirsty said that caused new problems, with some people not wanting to log onto Workplace every day.
The solution was to do a Friday roundup each week, with links to all the important posts on Workplace from the past week. Kirsty said SWOOP data shows a spike every Friday after she sends out the Friday roundup.
Workplace champions and identifying gaps with SWOOP
Kirsty and her team identified a network of Workplace champions. These are people who have been developed and nurtured to effectively “run” groups on Workplace. Late in 2018, these champions were brought together for a face to face workshop.
They were given access to SWOOP so they could monitor their own groups, see their most engaging posts, discover the most influential people, track campaigns, see if there are any gaps in communications and more.
“At this workshop we said; ‘This is your tool, you should use this in engaging with your own teams in the business’,” Kirsty said.
“With SWOOP you can help leaders and managers understand, to give them insights and data that they can understand and see how their part of the business is using Workplace.”
Kirsty uses SWOOP to produce monthly reports showing engagement across the enterprise using SWOOP indicators including Interactive Users, Community Health and Cross Team Collaboration.
With SWOOP, Kirsty can see if there are teams within the business who are not collaborating and present them with the data and then support them.
She used the example of one department identified by SWOOP that was underperforming but after showing them the data and coaching them on how to improve, they are now one of the top performing teams.
“I was able to use SWOOP to go those teams and say; ‘Have a look at these reports,’ and it really gave them quite a kick start,” Kirsty said.
“Now they are in our Top 10. SWOOP was very helpful with that.”
Ageas UK chief executive Andy Watson is one of the most active and visible users on Workplace. He regularly joins conversations, does live videos on Workplace and posts updates.
Kirsty said a focus this year is to encourage more spontaneity from leaders to post selfies, check-in on Workplace when they arrive at different sites or give updates on their week.
Facilitate rather than manage
Kirsty considers herself a Workplace community facilitator rather than a manager.
Her biggest tip for others running an Enterprise Social Network is to not try to run the network yourself.
“Don’t directly take on responsibility for posting or publishing,” she said.
“Stand behind people nudging them, prompting them with suggestions. That’s the temptation, for internal comms teams to think of it as a channel they manage, that’s when it doesn’t fulfil its potential.”
At Ageas, all employees are required to join six core open groups on Workplace – one for key announcements, one for Ageas media coverage, a New to Workplace group and three HR groups.
After that, Kirsty has deliberately avoided putting restrictions on the number of groups in the community. She said many departments at Ageas will have one big open group and lots of smaller, often closed, groups.
“It’s less around rules and governance and more about providing, facilitating guidance about what you might want to use this for, what you will find the most useful,” she said.
“I would rather have too many groups than not enough.”
Business value from Workplace
One of Ageas’ biggest product lines is car insurance. They have set up a multi-company group where suppliers can collaborate and communicate with Ageas staff.
“What is interesting is the suppliers have started to collaborate with each other, it’s not just us talking to them but they’re talking amongst themselves,” Kirsty said.
“This is where it goes beyond internal comms, this is where the business is really starting to use it to deliver a better service to customers.”
There is also plenty of fun on Ageas’ Workplace community. At Christmas, there was a live Secret Santa unwrapping, awards days are featured on Workplace for all to see and staff are welcome to post relevant selfies.
“The reason why we’re doing this is because communication is changing, our preferences are changing, the way we want to connect and collaborate with our friends is really revolutionising on a daily basis,” Kirsty said.
“More and more, as millennials start to form a bigger and bigger proportion of our workforce, if companies don’t evolve and develop the way they communicate and collaborate we’ll just leave that group behind.”