The UK and European division of global burger brand Five Guys had already begun implementation of a new mobile-app based company intranet when COVID-19 struck in early 2020. Luckily, the intranet - branded for staff in the company's red-and-white tile livery as the ‘Chatty Patty' - both helped connect staff then, but has proven its worth daily ever since, according to its London-based Internal Communications Manager, Bastian Bauermeister.
Founded in the US in 1986, Five Guys entered the UK fast food market via a link-up with Sir Charles Dunstone, founder of mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse. This organization, Five Guys JV (Joint Venture), directly operates 60 outlets in Continental Europe (mainly France, Germany, and Spain), and around 130 in the UK.
There are other ‘Five Guys' restaurants that are run as franchises, but this company is the entity Baumeister and the rest of his operations colleagues work for.
Only 1% of the team has a company email
As stated, the decision to get an electronic staff communications system had been taken prior to the start of the pandemic, and vendor Oak Engage had been selected. Baumeister explained that as a new company, the culture has always been "very start-up-ish", with an attitude of "come up with ideas and implement them quickly". The nature of the job and workforce also meant a less corporate approach to HR too. Baumeister said:
We have people on all sorts of different shift patterns: our stores open from 11 to 11 on average and we come in at 6 to 7 o'clock in the morning to prepare the food, because that's what the brand stands for - it's all freshly made that morning. We also clean all the equipment late at night, so a lot of the teams will finish at 2am. And 99% of our workforce don't have a computer or anything like a ‘desk'.
Whilst still small in Europe, this approach worked well, he said. But as the company grew, he started to see communications gaps in this approach, and knew that there were potential issues coming up. He added:
It was difficult for people to access information because after your general manager told you something, apart from paper on notice boards, there was no way to check that message again or have a one-pager where it was all in one place. Plus, there was no way to directly communicate with people under the general manager role; every store has a back-of-house computer, and every store has an email address, and every general manager has their email address.
A lot of the information would land on that PC or at the general manager's email address, but then it was up to them to notify his team and make sure they all get the same message that was in that email. So, there were limitations to how we communicated things to the field: we were not great at talking to everyone working the grill in Covent Garden, in essence.
The team members working that grill also tend to be a young workforce, and Baumeister noted that they tend to use their mobile phone for everything. As such, a desktop system would not work (although a Google Drive version for managers remains in place). The view from management was that an app would be familiar and require little to no training - which proved to be true, as adoption was very high after roll-out.
Reinforcing company values through tech
As a result, to make it easier to get company messages, training material, but also payslips and other important staff information out to deskless colleagues, Chatty Patty was built. Unfortunately, Five Guys was still in the middle of the testing period when the pandemic started. However, the crisis sped up implementation of a slimmed-down version that staff could easily download on their mobiles to keep them informed of all Five Guys developments during the first UK Lockdown.
This really mattered for both the team and the JV itself, Bauermeister said:
One of our values is that we're a big family, and part of being a family is reaching out to everybody. And if you can't do that it becomes quite tough to show you're there to take care of our people.
Since the situation has become more stabilized, the platform has been expanded to add more of the original spec. A key part of that functionality is a short (5 minute) monthly podcast from the Joint Venture's CEO, as well as a Monday written weekly operations update for everyone in the company: from crew members up to top management. Another feature is a bi-weekly newspaper called The Extra Scoop, which includes staff news on promotions, great achievements, new store openings and other snippets.
News is only part of what Baumeister's trying to get out with his app intranet, though:
We want to tell the griller that she's doing a great job, keep on doing what you're doing, but we also want to encourage her to access our great training materials. We have a programme called ‘the more you learn, the more you earn', and we really want people to master one station then move on to become a cashier, say, or a quality controller. So, there's a definite Five Guys' job progression you can follow, but you need access to the right tools and the training to do that. Now, ‘Chatty Patty' is the way we help you do that.
Summing up his experience, Baumeister said:
Without Chatty Patty, I don't know how we would've engaged with our people, I don't know how we would've reopened our stores and I don't know how we'd have retained all those staff members. For us, this has been a huge success in terms of engagement and communication and continues to be.