How Australia’s largest tertiary educator keeps connected

TAFE NSW is Australia’s largest tertiary education organisation, with more than 500,000 students, 20,000 staff and more than 130 campuses spread across the state of New South Wales. Despite the huge size of the institution, managing director Jon Black has direct access to all staff through Workplace by Facebook. TAFE NSW relies on SWOOP to pinpoint the “black holes of communication” and see exactly where help is needed.

The man responsible for running Australia’s largest tertiary education organisation is regarded as a bit of a rock star by his 20,000 or so staff.

TAFE NSW managing director Jon Black is busy building relationships with his frontline staff, whether they’re in the northern New South Wales beach town of Ballina, at the gateway to the Snowy Mountains in Cooma, or in the outback mining town of Broken Hill.

Staff respond in their thousands to Black’s interactions, asking questions, giving answers, sharing ideas and innovating together.

Black uses Facebook’s enterprise social network Workplace to engage with the thousands of teachers, administrators and workers scattered across NSW at TAFE’s (Technical And Further Education) vocational education campuses.

TAFE NSW Managing Director Jon Black

He often uses live video streaming, the same tool used by Facebook Live, which allows staff to ask questions online and Black can provide a live answer. It’s a direct connection between the classroom and the managing director.

“Our managing director, when he does something, is guaranteed 100 per cent of the time, he’ll get engagement on Workplace,” said Brendon Walker, TAFE NSW’s manager for Workplace by Facebook.

“There’s absolutely nothing that our managing director does that people just don’t care about.”

Analytics supplied by SWOOP show Black takes less than an hour to respond to 25 per cent of posts made to him on Workplace and within 24 hours he has personally responded to almost 40 per cent.

Back when TAFE NSW relied on emails to broadcast news, Black was aware he may receive little to no response.

Now, he has thousands of people engaged.

It was almost two years ago when the NSW government announced reforms to streamline TAFE NSW from 10 institutes into a single provider, with more than 500,000 students, about 20,000 staff and more than 130 campuses spread across the state.

In July 2016, Walker began a Workplace trial at TAFE NSW with about 100 people. Within months, it organically grew to 3,000.

TAFE NSW officially launched Workplace as its main collaboration platform and communication network in February 2017.

Now 65 per cent of TAFE NSW staff use Workplace to connect and communicate.

Walker says the familiarity of Workplace, which looks and operates the same as Facebook, was a big attraction for staff; “they already knew how to use it”, along with the fact it could be easily accessed on mobile phones, which was a huge appeal for teachers who are face to face with students in classrooms, often away from computers and colleagues.

“Workplace allows yourself to get connected,” Walker said.

He used an example whereby a teacher in Grafton, a regional town in north eastern NSW, needed help with learning software Moodle.

Going through the traditional channels for IT support, the teacher could expect an answer within a few days after logging a request for help. But the answer was needed now, so she reached out on Workplace.

Within minutes, she was connected to someone in West Wollongong, south of Sydney, who solved the issue.

“By reaching out and tapping into the community, rather than going through this whole labyrinth of support, the problem was fixed in five minutes,” Walker said.

An alternative to email was another issue which needed resolving. TAFE staff have access to only 2GB of storage before their email is full, and most hot desk because they work in classrooms, so saving emails to a machine isn’t an option. Hence, emails need to be purged to keep mail boxes from crashing.

With Workplace, endless threads of emails are a thing of the past but, more importantly, information is available for everyone to access. No one misses out because someone forgot to CC them on an email.

Even better, the information remains on Workplace and can be easily searched. Knowledge is not lost when emails are deleted.

For personal messages, the Work Chat function eliminated emails chains.

Walkers says he reduced his email intake by 93 per cent using Workplace.

“It took all of the needless stuff away from email… so the emails I was getting that I needed to focus on, I could,” he said.

While TAFE NSW’s Workplace network is now a place of communication and collaboration, it wasn’t always that way.

Walker speaks of his frustration at not being able to access analytics to see why some aspects of the network were failing to connect and his boss, Black, was asking; ‘What content is working? Is there good engagement?’

Then Walker learned about SWOOP Analytics, a tool that shows exactly who is connecting with whom, shows every employee’s online behaviours, identifies influencers, assesses the levels of engagement between executives and frontline staff and tells which departments are collaborating.

“Within about five seconds we found our black spots, we found our black holes of communication,” Walker said.

“This is months of analysis delivered in seconds.

“Straight away we could see why Workplace wasn’t working particularly well.

“Our executive leadership team were using it well. But at that next level, most of our mid senior level management were observing, they weren’t participating.”

To ensure every individual can understand their own collaborative behaviour, SWOOP has identified five personas that characterise interaction behaviours on ESNs, a tool Walker says was game changing.

  • Engagers – Engagers are the engine room for collaboration networks. They connect and sustain relationships. The higher the number of engagers in your organisation the better.
  • Catalysts – Catalysts energise the network by attracting responses. They seed lots of conversations that lead to a lot of replies and likes.
  • Responders – Responders prefer to react to conversation rather than initiating them. They will often reply or ‘like’.
  • Broadcaster – The ‘Broadcaster’ persona is self evident, as someone who sends messages but does not engage much with the groups and communities.
  • Observer – The ‘Observer’ is someone who consumes some of the content from the system but as they do not actively participate in the interactions they are unlikely to be creating organisational value.

As a SWOOP Admin, Walker can pull up persona lists within the network. When he found most senior managers were observers, he finally had the answer to address the problem.

“We need (our senior managers) to drive those conversations to make it happen so that teams will feel inspired by that and come and use it,” Walker said.

Armed with evidence, Walker’s internal communications team was able to approach specific managers and guide them on how to better use Workplace.

“If I hadn’t used SWOOP, I think it would have taken me about three months of constant data crunching and number crunching to analyse everybody’s activity, and some of it I wouldn’t be able to see because it was in closed groups or secret groups,” Walker said.

“This platform has added so much meaningful information to our strategy moving forward with internal communications and collaboration in Workplace.

“As a company, it’s just made us do things better because we’ve got the information to drive this.”

Walker said live video streaming was always at the top of TAFE NSW’s most engaging posts list. He said staff were drawn to the unstructured, informal, authentic nature of live streaming and it was much more successful and appealing than video conferencing because there were no interruptions.

TAFE NSW’s indigenous team had scheduled a video conference for a “yarn up”, a get together to have a chat, when the video conferencing equipment failed. Walker immediately suggested going live on Workplace.

It was a hit.

More than 70 sites joined the “meeting” from across the state while thousands more watched it at a time that suited them.

“So many of our aboriginal staff are grateful because they were busy at the time and they could catch up later on,” Walker said.

“Live video works amazingly well. People love it when Jon goes live on a video and they can just engage with him, ask questions.

“Everyone feels equal, connected, engaged because it’s authentic.”

Walker describes Workplace as a tool of unity. With thousands of experts in their field teaching just about every subject imaginable, TAFE NSW just needed a network to connect the minds.

“This tool, Workplace as a communication tool, has unified people across NSW,” he said.

“Personally, for me, I’ve got really strong working relationships with people who are 500 or 600 hundred kilometres away that ordinarily I never would have met.

“But because of the social nature of enterprise social networks, it’s allowed me to build relationships with colleagues across the state and it’s allowed me to tap, and other people to tap, into expertise across the state.”