What do you do when you need to communicate with thousands of remote workers around the world, but 80% of them don’t have email addresses? That was the challenge facing Sharan Pasricha, founder and CEO of Ennismore; the answer was to check in with Workplace from Facebook.
Ennismore is a London-based developer of hospitality brands, whose global portfolio includes the likes of The Hoxton group of hotels and the palatial Gleneagles estate in Scotland (pictured). In common with the rest of the hospitality and travel sector, Ennismore’s business over the past year has of course been adversely impacted by the COVID crisis.
But amid the macro-difficulties, the group’s earlier shift to the Facebook platform has in fact proved a prescient move, according to Pasricha:
Certainly in the COVID environment over the last seven or eight months, where we've been disconnected from individuals physically in our offices, I feel we've had a head start, because we've been using Workplace for a few years. Everyone's used to being culturally connected to the organization through a digital tool. Workplace has really allowed us to engage with the workforce and the organization in a way that, frankly, otherwise, I physically would not be able to be. There's only so many times I can go to a physical location. There's only so many times our regional teams can travel around physical hotels. But this tool added to a smartphone allows anyone in the organization to reach out to me. It allows for multiple groups to be connected to the organization.
As noted above, the challenge that led to Workplace adoption was one of trying to communicate with a worldwide team that didn’t have access to corporate email. Pasricha says:
We don't provide them with a work email address. So what we were trying to solve was, how do I, as a CEO, connect with every individual in the organization? How do I ensure every barista in Scotland feels as connected to a bartender in LA, without [having] an email address?
Workplace from Facebook appealed due to its ability to be used as a communication tool running on mobile devices, he explains:
While they don't have an email address from us, the majority of [the workforce] have smartphones. So with an app and a chat function, they are very quickly interconnected with the organization. We've since used it as a fundamental tool to communicate through the organization, to organize ourselves within our various teams and groups within the organization.
The simple format of the app also appeals, he adds:
Given that it's a digital solution, it's been incredibly exciting to see how the teams have engaged with the tool, whether it's all hands [meetings], whether it's live chats. No longer do you need a sort of fancy set-up; all you have is your phone and you could be in a live talk to 20,000 employees at a click of a button. Having that ability to engage so quickly and so readily to the organization, for me, in the hospitality business, where you have a disparate collection of individuals massed around the world, is just completely invaluable.
That interconnectivity and employee engagement are critical for strategic growth, argues the CEO:
Some of our best ideas tend to come from the front line, from the team that's in front of our guests and customers. Previously it was quite difficult for us sitting in London or the team in New York, to really start filtering some of those ideas. Now all of a sudden, you've got a tool where when somebody has a brilliant spark or a great idea, it allows the application of that idea to really find its way through the organization and get to the relevant people. Idea-generation, creativity, innovation have really been a big catalyst for us and bringing together tools like Workplace has really allowed us to do that.
But while that’s all good and great from the CEO’s seat, there is the question of how welcoming any workforce will be to the rolling out of ‘something else to have to check’, a perfectly natural reaction, admits Pasricha. At Ennismore, adoption increased over time, he says, counselling that adoption has to start from the top and with a clear goal in mind:
I think the first thing is to ask yourself, 'What are you trying to solve?'. For us, I was trying to solve, 'How do I connect with the organization, 80% of which do not have an email address and are scattered around the world? How do I fundamentally engage with them and connect with them?'. That's the first thing. The big challenge that we were trying to overcome was being able to connect these individuals through multiple time zones on a platform, frankly, that was quite affordable to us.
Having settled on Workplace as meeting those criteria, Ennismore’s approach to adoption was simply to make it necessary for people to use it to carry out basic tasks. Pasricha explains:
You kind of forced people to log on because that's where I would host live chats; you allowed people's payslips to go in Workplace and therefore they have to connect on Workplace to access them; when they want to book holidays, you create chat bots in various spots where they have to go and book holidays. If you give people a reason for being and a real purpose to log into a communication tool, I think that's when that's when you have adoption.
But I can't stress enough, you've got to have the senior leadership team fully-engaged in the product. The thought that you can get an organization motivated to install a communication tool that is one other thing to check, is not going to happen unless you've got the senior leadership team completely behind you. In fact, I hired one individual who has to focus on delivering Workplace to the organization, driving engagement, and it's paid dividends for us.
Ennismore has in fact racked up enormous employee engagement through its approach, which may be a mixed blessing as Pasricha wryly notes:
One of the things I love about about Workplace is if your team are not engaged and you don't actively engage on the app, you find you don't pay for it, which is a really clever way to position it to clients. Unfortunately or fortunately, we have 98% engagement, so we pay our bills every month across the entire world.
With the emergence of a Vaccine Economy, the prospect of the hospitality and travel sector beginning to re-open to some degree of operational normality may be in sight. But the idea that everyone inside Ennismore will end up back in the physical workspaces they were in before the pandemic seems unlikely. But in a world of hybrid-working, the group’s Workplace investment will continue to pay off, reckons Pasricha, just as it has during the crisis:
Our A-team is our frontline team and the B-team is the support office to the frontline, which is our hotels. The hotels themselves have really managed to use the tool in a way that has surpassed my imagination. At Gleneagles, we have 1000 staff and it's a thousand acre estate. The way communication flows across that estate is just unbelievable. Sometimes it is baffling to me, the way all the various teams - whether it's the golf team, the leisure team, the shooting team - how they all kind of come together and engage. Because of the physical distances, everyone on the thousand acre estate all uses this tool, which allows them to communicate seamlessly,
The need for more effective, seamless communication between dispersed workforces will be the ‘new normal’, he predicts:
The workforce now more than ever is remote, is going to be scattered all around the world, so that connection is absolutely vital. Certainly for companies that wear culture as the heart of everything they do, that's an incredibly important aspect, certainly for us at Ennismore. All the time and investment we've made in Workplace right at the start really paid dividends because it's really allowed us to engage with the organization in ways that I otherwise would have never imagined.
For anyone in the organization to be able to send me an anonymous question, to be able to log in and talk about mental health, attend seminars, to be able to do a live chat when I'm stuck in the airport and delayed on a flight, to be able to have multiple chat functions where you can cross different geographies - all these really intricate things that sound quite basic and fundamental, but when it's engrained in how you engage and coordinate within the organization, it becomes incredibly fundamental.