Nazir Ul-Ghani is the Head of Workplace by Facebook for all of EMEA. We wanted to know why a man who made his career in start-ups chose to join one of the biggest companies in the world? And why he can’t wait for his son to buy him a pint.

Nazir Ul-Ghani

I worked at other businesses, but when I came here, I just couldn’t believe the level of transparency. Having a great culture is actually around people being able to be themselves. I can be myself. And I want everybody from my team to be themselves. I think that’s why I’m so happy to be working at Facebook. I can be myself  and I hope my team can, and that just helps everything. You know, It just helps. I haven’t drank the Kool Aid. I’ve not even a cup of tea yet. I just get excited.

Marc Wright

For much of your career, though, you were on the other side, building tech start-ups that grew very successfully to be bought up by the likes of Accenture and Google.

Nazir

Back in the late 1990s I was invited to join a company that wanted to build a business around SAP and PeopleSoft. They asked me ‘Can you help us build the business?’ I did and then it got sold during the dotcom days. And that gave me the entrepreneur bug. 

I then set up a business with my colleagues to implement Microsoft products. At that time, Microsoft was the new kid on the block. It was all IBM Java, and I don’t know –  it’s something about me – I like taking on the big guys.  So we built a business around that, sold it and then set up a Google business because Google wanted to be big in the Enterprise. I really believed in moving organizations onto the cloud with maps on search and apps. And then Dropbox came along and said, Hey, we want to build a successful enterprise business. I said, Okay, let’s go for that because I love to work for a great product company. 

And then I joined Facebook because I really believe that work is super important for many, many people. We spend so much of our time with our colleagues and they can become best friends. And I really believe that actually everybody should be given the opportunity to do as well as they possibly can at work. And I think building communities that work is what Workplace does offer. It’s something that I really, truly believe in.

Everybody should have the opportunity to understand what’s going on, so they can contribute because there are some great skilled people out there whom we can learn from all the time. So I have a passion for that and feel humbled to be working in Facebook now.

Marc

It’s obviously been a very interesting time in the past 12 months of the pandemic. How has it been for Workplace?

Nazir

Organizations want to build communities, especially when Covid first hit, because they want to get the information out to the front line straight away and share all the changes forced by the pandemic. We feel quite privileged, actually, to be working and helping these customers, such the North East Ambulance Service. They have only 3,000 people but they cover at least 2,100 square miles so they wanted to be able to connect all the remote workers; the ambulance workers and paramedics, and the best way they feel they could do that and also provide them with a secure space was to implement Workplace. They use Workplace for team updates, for promoting training, for connecting remote people, and sharing clinical information as well.

There’s one retail organization that works with about 38,000 people, and in the distribution centre they have 25 different languages. English is not their first language, so being able to translate by using our captions is very important to them. We can provide captions, allow them to download or run live streaming content even after the event. This is super important as we try to bridge the gap so people are able to access the information no matter where there are and no matter what the language is.

And finally, you know, we feel really passionate about the front line. It’s one of our  USPs. We want to actually connect everyone everywhere so they have access to everything they need. All right, So I think that is a big differentiation for us. I know a large part of your audience is internal communications and leaders and comms are actually the drivers for nearly all the projects that I’m talking about. Internal comms is normally our sponsor and this is a massive cultural change we are going through. so they (IC) also need the support from HR, IT and the CEO to make change happen.

Marc

There must be a lot of resistance once you get into the Microsoft stronghold. Or maybe the Google stronghold where IT says no, we don’t really want to have Facebook products in the mix. How do you manage that?

Nazir

You know, with our focus of enterprise, we’ve been very early on making sure that we can be agnostic as possible. So, 18 months ago I think we announced 50 different connections to SaaS businesses. We really play well with Microsoft and a lot of our top customers, you know, whether it’s a GSK, or even Facebook or Telefonica. The majority of them use Microsoft and we integrate with them, so we are better together.

We will always make sure we have conversations with IT. Like you said, they are part of this. And we have a track with IT so that we speak and make sure that we address any concerns they have. It’s part of the way we work with our sponsor to help us to guide us through.

Marc

We’ve seen some very interesting developments just recently. Obviously, with Microsoft Viva being launched Slack being bought by salesforce, Staffbase is merging with Bananatag. So there’s this sort of consolidation going on and you’re sitting there with very deep pockets. How do you see the market panning out going forward, particularly as we all return to work?

Nazir

I think we want to continue to focus on what we are good at. You know what we are good at actually is connecting with people who see our product. Something’s familiar, easy to use and be mobile first. And also we will continue to do that. And I think that is our our our big differentiation. Many companies are looking at employee experience and seeing how they can better than be better in that space and that that’s for them to decide. But this is this is our DNA. This is what we’re good at. And we’re going to continue to focus on that and focus in three areas that we that I just mentioned. Yeah. Okay, let’s look at the area of life because what was interesting is that live was one of those products because of the consumer side of it.

Marc

In your previous roles you come from a marketing and sales background. Tell me what you’ve learned working with Internal Communications because it’s not that well known as an industry. In the years that you’ve been here at Workplace, what have you learned about internal communications people? And what’s your advice to them in terms of developing their digital workplaces?

Nazir

A lot of internal communications people work very closely with the CEO. It’s such an important part of what they do and trying to make this cultural change. And they also work very closely with HR. I think responsibility has actually grown so much more because the amount of expectations really by the employee are much more than ever before. Some organisations were more digitally ready than others. You know we speak with some companies, especially in the retail space, where actually 70% of employees may not even have an email while there are some organisations that produce wonderful videos or do live events, so it really is different.  What I can say is that internal comms team is working more closely with HR and CEOs to drive this change because these changes can’t be delivered by them alone.

Many of them are super pleased to have a modern tool like Workplace enabling them to actually share this information. But now at least we can see what is working and what is not.  I posted something and I actually got 200 comments, or we got no comment or I’ve got these views, I’ve got these likes. There’s a follow up, so I think IC are able to see and better judge communication for their channels and for their audience. So I think it’s become a little bit more complicated for comms, but I think they’re able to do the job more effectively using these modern tools. And I think that’s why maybe, why internal coms leaders speak to us and say, actually, we want to change the way we work because we want to be able to be more faster, be more modern, and we want to be able to reach everybody.

Marc

Now in terms of working from home, we’ve heard from Twitter saying you can work from home forever; we’re never going to go back to the office. What’s the Workplace view on this? What about your own teams and staff?

Nazir

I think we are able to work remotely until July and we’re really just seeing how things move along in each country. But, you know, I am quite desperate to get back to the office and speak to my team. Uh, yes, I have the flip chart open now and again when we’re having a conversation but that doesn’t work out so well.

We do accommodate people that have to be in the office around the globe and we’ll just wait and see what our global HR teams and policy teams say, but I know there’s many people that want to come back, and I’m one of them. And there are others want to work remotely. There was a survey done by PwC which said 93% of UK CEOs now place employees at the heart of the decision making. I really hope that is the case, because I really do hope people get the opportunity to work remotely if they possibly can. And also jobs are fulfilled where, you know you don’t have to be working in a city. Uh, you don’t have to do the commute. I really hope it sort of democratizes work a bit more so it actually is based on skillset.

Marc

What does it mean to you as a leader, as a leader of teams? How have you had to change your leadership style during this past year of working remotely?

Nazir

I think we are a real close-knit team and we are very sort of collegiate in the way that we’re working in Facebook. Our cross functioning is super strong. So when we started working from home we were quite fortunate. We have got great technologies and great tools like Workplace and this helps us with that.

But early on I think I probably went a bit overboard, had probably too many sort of ‘Are you OK?’, ‘How are things going?’. But then we got into a bit of a rhythm and, you know, we all have communities. I think like everybody this is third phase lockdown, and I think everybody feels a little bit that we need to get back to work, and we can’t wait. I’ve got kids so my next deadline is eighth of March when kids go back to school.

I’m looking forward to when the pubs open. My son was 18 two weeks ago, and he’s never been able to buy me a proper drink legally. So I’m looking forward to him buying me a drink!

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THE AUTHOR

Marc Wright, simplycommunicate founder & consultant

Marc started his career in television. He wrote and produced the drama 20 Steps to Better Business for the BBC, and his passion for the way organisations work led him to run a series of agencies including Crown and MCA which was sold to WPP in 2001. He is author of the Gower Handbook of Internal Communications and is a former President of IABC EMENA. He founded simplycommunicate in 2005.