Heathrow takes a FRESH approach to employee engagement

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HUB+ screen
HUB+ screen

Neil Barnett is Senior Digital Communications Manager at Heathrow Airport, a place he describes as ‘a mini city’ of 76,000 people working for some 400 different companies, including 6500 of their directly-employed staff.  Many of these staff work far from any desktop PCs, working shifts in security and elsewhere.  For the past year, Neil and his team have been creating a virtual organisation, pulling together every aspect of an employee’s experience to create a digital workplace that is designed to fit seamlessly around staff, around the way they work and around the tasks and activities that are most important to them. 

Replacing the airport’s home grown 1980s intranets (in fact, Neil bans the word intranet from internal communication!) is the focus of their digital workplace. The new platform is based on the Fresh technology from Content and Code who have great insight into what works online.

Don’t just give them fancy tech

“Don’t think for one moment that digital transformation is easy “said Neil. “It isn’t. There is lots to think about and it involves everyone in the organisation.”

Neil Barnett, Senior Digital Communications Manager, Heathrow
Neil Barnett, Senior Digital Communications Manager, Heathrow

84% of attempts at digital transformation fail and the #1 reason is employee resistance. “You can’t just toss some technology over the fence and hope people will pick it up and love it.” Neil continued. “It isn’t really about the technology at all: it’s all about people and behaviour and finding the sweet spot between People, Process and Technology in order to drive desired change. It’s about getting the employee experience right, bringing the organisation closer together and building engagement. My advice to anyone starting their digital transformation would be to commit 50% of the budget to the business engagement activities – that’s the secret to success; not the technology you choose.”


Employee intelligence

One of the hardest parts of the process is defining the needs to determine the right solution. “We conducted all sorts of research to understand our colleagues. Much of this was done face to face in workshops and focus groups to find out what the pain points were, how people used various devices, and how this varied across the organisation. From all the data we created six personas – Heathrow Express, Airside operations, Baggage, Security, Administration, Engineering – which informed the design and helped drive the technology selection ensuring that our new digital workplace seamlessly fits around staff, around the way they work and around the tasks and activities most important to them.

Heathrow personas
Heathrow personas

“That’s why we went for a responsive design – the experience is very fluid – even on a mobile phone it’s as good as a desktop PC.  The experience is purposefully configured and linked into our brand, to help engage staff and build our values from the inside out.”

Why O365?

With Microsoft already a main supplier, and the need to fully integrate all the existing core business tools, the cloud- based solution was the obvious choice to connect frontline and remote staff across an agile workforce. “Once each employee has a corporate digital identity you can start to get stuff done. Everywhere at Heathrow is now Wi-Fi enabled so people don’t need to burn their own data, the single standard platform, which we have called Hub+, is available to all employees so across the entire organisation every employee has the same experience. Hub+ has all the ‘boring but important’ stuff we used to have on intranets, plus dynamic two-way communications and all the amazing productivity tools in the O365 suite. It’s a fully collaborative platform making use of the power of Microsoft Teams and Yammer. It’s awesome. It’s fantastic!”

Good old-fashioned comms support the launch

With a huge amount of technical integration work going on behind the scenes, what the business actually saw was a solid engagement and business change programme in action. Neil continues; “Firstly we made sure that our C-suite colleagues in HR and IT were fully on board. We established a steering group of 15 and a larger group of 130 early enthusiasts as digital mentors to help drive interest. Along with 45 content authors and the IC team of around 15 people, we made sure they were appropriately upskilled in using the various tools.

Heathrow Airport

“In terms of campaign assets, we produced all sorts of things from posters and card drops to animations and video. And importantly we spent a lot of time in face to face briefings bringing it to life all across the organisation. We have found the ‘Pinch Effect’ works well: get your top people on board, communicating and collaborating on these platforms, and get the front line doing the same you gently squeeze the middle. We have had great success in terms of adoption by building excitement and engagement around digital events. Fresh has built a great product for sure, one that is truly useful and bespoke. But it is IC’s deep understanding of our audience that is key to engagement and key for technology decisions.”

What does success look like?

Of course, BYOD is a voluntary approach but a year on, there has been a 60% uptake in the operational workforce so clearly the focus of significant time and resources on the business engagement piece has paid off.

Neil and his team have successfully implemented tools and technologies that are accessible, intuitive and enjoyable to use, supporting their employees in doing their jobs more effectively and efficiently anytime and any place, from any device.

As an employee engagement platform built on SharePoint and integrated with O365 its success has been recognised in winning the Workplace Transformation of the Year Project at the UK IT Industry Awards, back in December.