Everybody knows how to use Facebook. But that’s not the only reason to try out the tech giant’s tool for employee engagement, Workplace. Spoon UK caught up with Abby Guthkelch, Global Communications Solutions Lead at Workplace, to find out about ‘internal connection’, global comms trends, and how to create a powerful online community within your organisation.

Abby Guthkelch

Abby Guthkelch

We love Workplace from Facebook – some of our clients use it and we’re thinking of moving our team on to it as well. Have you seen a big increase in businesses trying it out now that so many of us are working remotely?

Workplace is designed to connect disparate or geographically separate workforces by building internal communities, creating connected businesses where people are closer – and business is better as a result. We do this by connecting everyone in an organisation, many of whom have never been connected before, and using familiar Facebook features like Live, video calling, instant messaging and groups, and specific business communication features like Knowledge Library, Mark as Important and Q&A.

Since Covid-19, it’s more important than ever for organisations to create and strengthen their internal communities.

You’ve talked about a shift from ‘internal communication’ to ‘internal connection’ in the large organisations you work with. Can you explain a bit more about this? 

Yes, absolutely. Communication doesn’t go far enough when it comes to what you need to achieve in an organisation. Connection is the glue that binds an organisation together – the closer people are, the better work becomes.

Internal communication and the art of creating two-way employee dialogue is part of the equation, absolutely. But connected companies are connected from top to bottom. Teamwork and collaboration are not just encouraged but built and designed for, and systems and tools are integrated and seamless; the business feels like a community.

These are the organisations that will be most successful. A Gallup survey found that engaged organisations – companies in which people feel connected to each other and their work – are 21% more profitable, 17% more productive and have 40% less talent turnover than competitors.

I believe that the future belongs to connected companies because they are the ones that understand where the next great competitive advantage lies – with their people.

The coronavirus crisis aside, what are the big communications trends that will have an impact in 2020 and beyond?

Giving everyone a voice is becoming more important. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, two out of every three employees feel disengaged and disconnected from their job.

There’s one place where the effects of being disconnected are felt 10 times stronger than anywhere else – the frontline of business. These are the people that will probably never see an office.

Before Covid-19, a recent study put the percentage of the global workforce who are deskless at 80%: that’s around 2.7 billion people. They are distributed, multi-generational, mobile-first, often hourly rather than salaried employees, and frequently have no corporate email or device. When we talk about bringing community to work, we have to talk about bringing community to them.

We conducted some research into frontline workers last year (‘Workplace from Facebook: Deskless not Voiceless’) and found that 53% of frontline workers feel voiceless, 86% feel disconnected from their HQ, and just 3% feel connected to C-suite leaders.

Another trend will be toward leadership visibility and accessibility. Research points to the fact that people want and expect accessible and visible leaders, and that having accessible and visible leaders is one of the ways you can keep your top talent. Your best people want to work for leaders who they recognise and respect and who communicate with them regularly and transparently.

Last year Brunswick Group conducted some research into leadership traits. They surveyed 4,000 employees from within mid-market and enterprise organisations in both the US and UK and found that after pay and benefits, leadership visibility (leaders who communicate directly and transparently and leaders you recognise and respect), were core reasons for someone staying in their job.

You can’t respect someone if you don’t trust them, and you can’t trust someone if you don’t know them or get to hear from them outside of just getting the job done.

Yet another trend relates to measurement and insight. This has long been a bone of contention in the industry, with very little consideration or time being spent on data and measurement. Employee / internal communication teams need to focus on this space and put data at the heart of their engagement and content strategies. It’s an area that at Workplace we are investing in heavily, bringing even more valuable intelligence into our platform so that organisations understand their communities better.

Finally, AI is opening up new perspectives, opportunities and doors every day. Employee and internal communication teams stand to benefit from AI innovations that will improve the way we communicate and collaborate internally, from chatbots (see an example from one of our customers) through to instant auto-captioning on videos (no need for additional transcription services) making them accessible for everyone (a feature of Workplace).

In these difficult times, internal communications professionals are uniquely positioned to add value to the organisations they work for. Do you have any advice for them? What should they be focusing on? 

There has never been a better time to work in employee and internal communications. Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer found ‘my employer / company’ topping the survey for the second year in a row as a person’s most trusted institution. In 2020, employer / company stands at 76%, 27 points above business and media.

For internal communications, this is the time to shine and come forward as ‘the’ function to lead communications strategy within the organisation – prioritise internal over external and ensure you put your people first. To do this you have to give everyone in your organisation a voice and a way to connect and work together. We need to stop ‘us and them’ cultures, where you have different workers on different platforms with access to different information.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that we are all in this together. That philosophy needs to inform the ‘new normal’.

What sort of leadership styles do you think are thriving under these circumstances – and what’s not working so well? 

This is a subject I am incredibly passionate about. It is what led me to create Facebook’s Connected Executive program – providing leadership engagement coaching to C-suite leaders and the senior comms teams who counsel them.

Today, leaders are responsible for communicating company values, building lasting culture, serving their customers, and leading from the front in difficult times – particularly now during the pandemic. People inside and outside the organisation now expect to know the person behind the job title and understand what makes them tick. People want to work in companies where leaders are connected to the people.

This also came across at the end of March in a special Covid-19 edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer. It found that company chief executives were the most trusted spokespeople to deliver credible Covid-19 updates after scientists, health officials and NGO representatives, and above leaders of countries, government officials and journalists.

Having said that, sadly, there is a disconnect between how leaders think they are showing up and how they are perceived by their people when they show up. Good leaders embrace the qualities that make us human. That’s what separates a leader from a manager – a leader can motivate and inspire a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.

Leadership qualities include:

  • Authenticity (having the courage and openness to show up as yourself)
  • Empathy (understanding that two people may see the world very differently and being open to alternative perspectives)
  • Generosity (the desire to give more than you take)
  • Humility (having pride in your work without ever being arrogant)
  • Transparency (being clear and honest in all your communications)
  • Vulnerability (the strength to show weakness and own up to, apologise for and learn from mistakes).

It all ultimately comes down to mindset and having the willingness to be seen as a person. We need to ask ourselves how we translate that within internal communities and on channels.

Do you think remote working increases or decreases organisational politics? 

It really depends on the organisation and the environment that has been created. Designing and supporting collaboration so people work together is vital, but it’s even more important to recognise that this is not a normal time. It’s vital that businesses care for employees and help with the mental health implications of prolonged periods of isolation, which can lead to increased anxiety and organisational politics.

Is there any impact on the productivity of workers?  

If teamwork and collaboration is not just encouraged but built and designed for, systems and tools are integrated and seamless, and businesses provide employees with the right guidance on how to create boundaries between work and personal life, then I do not believe that productivity is impacted by where you work.

As working from home evolves further and becomes more established, there will be no option but changes to traditional working hours and environments.

How do you think this might change the world?

It would be naive to think personal and professional life will just go back to the way it was before the pandemic. The speed at which businesses across the world were forced to pivot business models, rewrite people policies and shift or halt operations meant that gaps in policies, processes, technology and operations were exposed. Businesses need to figure out what they need to fix as well as what positive cultural shifts (like more flexible working policies, or the end of business dress codes) they want in their ‘new normal’.

Undoubtedly, business travel will be reduced, given how much business has been conducted remotely. But there will always be a place for it and the value that in-person meetings and relationship-building brings.

Want to find out more about how we can help you roll out Workplace from Facebook – or optimise how you are currently using it? Get in touch for an informal chat.  

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