C-level briefing: Head of Communications Gareth Hopley explains how a single slice of technology can improve internal communications.
Despite a lot of rhetoric, progress towards creating a truly engaged workforce is slow for many businesses, if it is happening at all.
According to a survey by ORC International in April 2015, only 49 percent of UK employees say they feel valued at work. This is a decrease from the 56 percent reported a year before.
A similar study by Investors in People found that 26 percent of the workforce was ‘actively disengaged’.
Like many problems, technology offers a solution to some of these problems.
Gareth Hopley, Head of Communications at Pizza Hut Restaurants UK, explains that an IT update came naturally as part of a broader revamp of the brand.
Pizza Hut’s restaurant business is actually managed separately to its take-away wing, and a few years ago was running into trouble. Hopley says that the restaurant business had been "underperforming" for a few years and undertook a new programme aimed at regaining relevance.
The result was what he calls "the biggest transformation programme in the history of the brand, and certainly one of the biggest turnarounds in the history of hospitality in the UK."
The company launched a completely new menu and has refurbished around half of its stock of restaurants. However, a key goal that the company settled on was people engagement.
"One of the things that we are passionate about is the belief that you’ll never make your customers feel better than you make your own people feel," says Hopley. "If you have a really engaged workforce which feels valued that sentiment gets passed on to your customers."
The challenge that the company faced was that as a restaurant business, as in other retail environments, the face of the brand was the workers on the front line.
"The people that work in our restaurants, who serve customers on a daily basis, who make the food, are the face and the experience that you have when you come and eat with Pizza Hut."
The goal, then, was to engage the workforce with the company’s "vision, mission and goals". This meant not just improving employee satisfaction but keeping them up-to-date with vital information about the brand.
However, there was an immediate barrier to doing that, Hopley explains.
"That is not to say the people aren’t engaged, but when you have a large workforce that is fundamentally working in a restaurant, they are not sitting at a desk, they don’t have a computer, they don’t have access to all the sort of things that you and I do in a normal offifce work environment."
Early attempts to build a bespoke solution on what he calls a "dramatically small budget" met with limited success, but Hopley explains that this was an invaluable learning experience. Called Hutspace, it was a social channel available to any worker at the business.
"The interest we saw was enough for us to realise we wanted to invest further into this type of platform."
Hopley encourages other companies to experiment in the same way, but only if they have a clear goal of what they want to achieve. The app ran the risk of disengaging the workforce, as it didn’t have enough of the functionality of the well-funded Facebook and Twitter.
Having licenses with Microsoft already for its email solution and Office 365, the company settled on using the Yammer solution.
"It gave us the social platform and the social networking that we wanted to achieve, but it also gave us a business platform that we felt could integrate with our head office."
He explains that the inclusion of a mobile phone app with Yammer was crucial.
"That was absolutely paramount because while we have a wide-ranging age group, we do have a large number of 16 to 25-year-olds. 75 percent of our users access Yammer through the app anyway."
Every team member was given their own email address that they could use to access the sharepoint and the 365 landing site. The company also integrated its rota system so that people could use the same platform to find out when they were working and who with.
Above all, it provides a form of communication that goes two ways. If employees have a grievance, they can air it through Yammer and administrators can try to address it.
Likewise, if they have a suggestion for how things can be improved, employees can submit these to their managers as well.
Hopley is happy with how the programme has turned out. Over twelve months, Pizza Hut Restaurants has seen 50 percent of its workforce registering to log on and use Yammer.
"Communication and engagement with your workforce is ultimately a corner of success. It doesn’t matter if it’s a production line, a restaurant, a shop, or an office. If you want people to passionately care and work for your brand, giving them a voice and making them feel relevant is only a positive step."