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Summit 2020 series: fostering a connected workplace through level 4 lockdown

In the final instalment of our Summit 2020 blog series, highlighting some of the stand-out customer stories from this year’s virtual Summit, we recap a presentation from Sara Matchett – Digital Communications Advisor at Waimakariri District Council.

Like many of the other inspiring stories we heard at Summit, the council’s presentation tied into a recurring theme: innovating through a crisis. Tasked with keeping its 350 employees connected when strict lockdown measures were introduced at just 48 hours’ notice, the council’s newly launched intranet – Squiz Workplace – was suddenly put to the ultimate test.

Cassandra Theocharous

Written by

Cassandra Theocharous
Marketing Manager
8 October 2020

The benefits of an employee intranet are clear: employees that are well informed, able to find the information they need quickly and to collaborate easily with colleagues are happier, more motivated and, as a result, more productive (Gallup, 2020). But, as COVID-19 began to spread across the world earlier this year, it became clear that office-based working carried too many risks. By March 2020, an estimated 88% of organizations around the world had already either encouraged or enforced remote working (Gartner, 2020) – leading to what many have called ‘the world’s biggest remote working experiment’.

Waimakariri District Council’s story

Waimakariri District Council serves more than 60,000 citizens across the Canterbury region, just a short drive from Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island. The council employs 350 staff across five departments and 30 different teams – including libraries, green spaces and civil defence – spread across several different facilities and locations.

Keeping these staff connected and informed is crucial to the smooth running of the council’s services; but it’s aging, custom-built, SharePoint intranet was in severe need of an upgrade, with even simple needs – such as the ability to find information about colleagues or track down up-to-date documents – proving difficult. Matchett’s first task, as Digital Communications Advisor, was to implement a new intranet that could enable council teams to work and collaborate effectively – from any location.


“We surveyed our staff, to identify how they were using the intranet, spoke to other territorial authorities and suppliers to better understand our options, and brought in external consultants to investigate different solutions”, explains Matchett. “Eventually, we realized that the best option was to adopt Squiz Workplace, which would work well with all the information already stored in our existing Squiz Matrix system and provide a single source of truth”.

Workplace could also meet the council’s various other requirements, such as providing smartphone usability, personalized content and tools, home remote access and significantly improved load speeds and optimization. “Our team was already familiar with the Matrix CMS, so Workplace really offered us a turnkey solution – intuitive and user-friendly, with powerful search and analytics tools. It would provide the clean start we needed on a modern solution, but with minimal training and the ability to hit the ground running”, Matchett enthuses. It was this final point that would prove to be more vital than anyone in the council could have predicted when lockdown measures were suddenly introduced.

From launch to lockdown

The new council Workplace launched in mid-January 2020 and immediately provided staff with a one-stop-shop for council information, helping its staff to find people, news, resources and connect in online spaces. “We were confident that the modern intuitive design and the user-friendly interface would make all the difference with staff uptake, so we went with a soft rollout of the platform, supporting this with some drop-in sessions where key features in functionality were demonstrated and questions answered”, Matchett reveals.

Initial feedback from staff was hugely positive and uptake of key features, such as the organization chart and staff directory, affirmed that Workplace was already bridging knowledge gaps where the previous system had failed. “It’s become a particularly effective tool for our customer services team, who can now use fillable fields – such as responsibilities, skills and even hobbies – to quickly hone-in and find the right person to assist with a particular query”, Matchett explains.

Another immediate hit with staff was a custom-built feature called the ‘In/Outboard’; a simple yet effective reference tool listing employee movements. “At a glance, staff can see who is out of the office, where they are, what time they’re expected back and who to contact in their absence. This was one of the few features from out old platform that was highly popular with staff, so it was crucial for us to be able to replicate it – and it continues to be one of the most popular pages in Workplace”, Matchett reveals.

The moment of truth

Just a month or so later, on March 25th, the council was plunged into a level four lockdown at 48 hours’ notice, along with the rest of the country – and the new intranet was put to the ultimate test. “We all hustled pretty quickly, and after a bit of tweaking and rearranging of the home offices, we started to see a number of good things emerging from this shift in our way of working”, Matchett recalls.

Suddenly, features that had previously been useful – such as the In/Outboard – became essential, as the only way for staff to identify appropriate and available colleagues; Workplace soon became critical to the council’s smooth transition to a full-time work-from-home organization. “Right from the start, staff were able to find the right tools and resources to properly set themselves up at home and access what they needed. From finding help configuring Zoom to accessing the council network offsite, to mental health and wellness support and advice – everything was ready and in one place”.

Beating the isolation blues

At a time when employee isolation – one of the biggest barriers to a happy and productive remote working environment (Gallup, 2019) – was becoming a challenge for many organizations, the council’s community pages flourished and became a highly engaged forum for staff to connect and interact. “Each team has its own community on the platform, and they became the perfect outlet to share thoughts, fears, ideas and anecdotes. There was even a hugely popular community called ‘the self-isolation chronicles’; a daily discussion thread encouraging staff to participate in the usual morning coffee chat”, Matchett reveals. “From photos of creative office setups and pets, to Netflix suggestions and positivity tips, this community provided a much-needed source of humor and connection through what was an uncertain and challenging time for all of us”.

Proof of the system’s success was in the data – and Matchett’s team was thrilled to see engagement levels grow from strength to strength. “We saw more than 2,000 posts across 39 communities in the first six months – but even more exciting was seeing significant activity from staff who had previously admitted to rarely using our old intranet”, enthused Matchett.

Beyond COVID

At the time of Matchett’s presentation, New Zealand was operating at alert level two, meaning the majority of council staff were working as usual from the office or their normal location. But while an ‘almost business as usual’ situation has resumed, the digital communications team is still determined to maintain engagement via Workplace.

“We’re focused on keeping Workplace as optimized as possible and using it to constantly improve how our organization communicates and operates”, Matchett reveals. One of the team’s goals is to reduce reliance on ‘all staff emails’ to communicate important information; an area where the council is working closely with Squiz’s product development team to introduce custom tools and features as part of future upgrades. Matchett’s team is also taking advantage of the eased restrictions to provide training sessions which were previously impossible, to ensure content editing skills – and therefore content responsibilities – are spread across the organization.

While activity on Workplace has naturally eased off, in direct correlation with the easing of lockdown restrictions, Matchett’s encouraged by the fact that engagement is still high and has simply evolved to different focus areas. For example, the ‘self-isolation chronicles’ community has now been overtaken by new emerging communities that reflect post-lockdown life, such as a carpooling group and several new sports teams. “There is now a slightly different appetite for certain features and content as a bit more normality returns”, concludes Matchett, “but, as the battle with COVID-19 carries on, it’s a great position to be in, to know that our intranet can easily cope, should we have to return to remote working in future. Even if that never happens – and hopefully, it won’t – it’s a hugely valuable tool for keeping our people connected and up to date, regardless of where they’re working”.

That wraps up our Summit series 2020! If you missed the live Squiz Summit 2020, you can now watch all Summit sessions on-demand, at squiz.net/summit/. Alternatively, for more information about how Waimakariri District Council and Squiz are transforming the customer experience, check out our full Waimakariri Council case study or visit squiz.net/workplace.

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