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West Midlands Combined Authority see a 515% increase in intranet usage

Interview with Manjinder Kang, Senior Internal Communications Officer

In the below article, Paul Zimmerman, Invotra COO, is joined by Manjinder Kang, Senior Internal Communications Officer at West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) – a combined authority for the West Midlands metropolitan county with roughly 850 employees. 

Manjinder provides a first hand insight into how WMCA have worked to keep its employees safe, informed and connected during the COVID-19 lockdown, leading to intranet usage becoming mission critical.

"We are physically distant, but we're not socially distant - and the intranet means that we can still be socially connected. We're now in this space where the intranet has become the centre of our internal communications galaxy."
Manjinder Kang
Manjinder Kang
Senior Internal Communications Officer at West Midlands Combined Authority

Discover how Invotra can transform your intranet usage

Invotra 5.0 - Laptop and Mobile cutout (MADONNA)

In the below article, Paul Zimmerman, Invotra COO, is joined by Manjinder Kang, Senior Internal Communications Officer at West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) – a combined authority for the West Midlands metropolitan county with roughly 850 employees. 

Manjinder provides a first hand insight into how WMCA have worked to keep its employees safe, informed and connected during the COVID-19 lockdown, leading to intranet usage becoming mission critical.

"We are physically distant, but we're not socially distant - and the intranet means that we can still be socially connected. We're now in this space where the intranet has become the centre of our internal communications galaxy."
Manjinder Kang
Manjinder Kang
Senior Internal Communications Officer at West Midlands Combined Authority

Discover how Invotra can transform your intranet usage

Invotra 5.0 - Laptop and Mobile cutout (MADONNA)

Of course. So, before Coronavirus became the thing that we were all talking about, we were about seven months into our journey with the new intranet.

Engagement across West Midlands Combined Authority on the intranet was pretty low. Trying to get individuals to buy into some of the great new functionality that this intranet was providing was difficult.

The new intranet solution that we’ve got with Invotra is absolute light years ahead of what we previously had. It was like we are PlayStation 4 now, but we used to have an Atari. And, I’m not saying that Atari is bad, because obviously retro is quite cool , but from a technological basis and what we could achieve, we were limited.

Before coronavirus, on average we would have about 650 visits to the intranet per week and about 300 unique views – the organisation has about 850 employees.

We hadn’t even implemented commenting yet and there was a lot of resistance to that, some of it was amongst senior leaders as well. They weren’t very keen.

In seven months, we’d only run one intranet poll. Polls is a voting function where we can deliver questions and get quick feedback and engagement with the organisation, to find out how our people are feeling about an initiative, policy or campaign.

It was incredibly hard to sell these kinds of things to different departments. They weren’t really being brave and their ambitions weren’t there.

It’s a difficult thing to quantify, understanding the leadership mentality when you don’t actually sit quite closely into their thought processes. In my role, I get it secondhand. I’m trying to unpick this knotted ball of wool for them and make it into this nice, clean, long piece of string without any kinks.

I was trying to get senior management to understand and leverage what the intranet could now deliver for them in this space, and rapidly. Our staff went from being in a very central office to 95% of us now working remotely.

We needed to find a way to quickly communicate things in a way that was easily accessible to the vast majority of people. The intranet could do that for us. People could access it at any time and any location. We could accommodate different media and utilise a wide range of functionality.

We discovered quite quickly, especially in the first couple of weeks, that the intranet provided the solutions that leaders were saying they needed. So very, very quickly, in fact, we saw this is an opportunity for us – let’s condition the behavior to get individuals connected with the intranet and to understand that it’s their one stop shop for all the information they need.

Well, a lot of the ways we are communicating now, didn’t exist before.

We did some surveying and research when I first joined the organisation and it brought to light leadership visibility was low, as is the challenge in a lot of organisations.

Individuals want to feel connected to their leaders and we needed to break down those barriers. The situation we find ourselves in has meant that we’ve had to do that.

Through the posting of webinars, turning on commenting and utilising polls, to name a few, we’ve seen individuals soften and more of their personalities come out. The feedback we’ve got back from members of staff is that those barriers are starting to dissolve now and they’re understanding more about their leaders, which is really positive.

To have built such strong connections even though we are physically distant (I like that term more than socially distant). We are physically distant, but we’re not socially distant – and the intranet means that we can still be socially connected.

Yes, sure. So the first thing we did was create a COVID 19 tool kit on the intranet which is directly accessible on the home page. Ourselves and many of our fellow departments and Invotra customers have built great resource hubs and spaces to connect using the intranet.

We’ve heavily focused on the health and safety element – using the intranet to help people engage with the health and safety team and communicate their messages on a weekly basis.

Some of the things that we’ve focused on have been videos that help individuals to create a more comfortable space when working remotely. For example, exercises on correcting their posture or sitting more comfortably, stretches that prevent some of the strains and injuries that can be common when you sit in the same space for long periods of time.

We’ve also rolled out regular surveying and polls on the intranet so we can collect important data about individuals, for example, those who may have specific needs around accessibility or equipment. We are able to better support our people in their home environments thanks to this.

Pre COVID-19, we were working on a smarter working program. We were looking at our remote working strategy and embedding that in the organisation. This situation fast forwarded that work and the intranet has really helped support this goal in terms of communications, data collecting and connecting our people together. 

Sure, basically, it’s a very sad situation where we had to act really fast to utilise one of the functionalities of the intranet, so that we could deliver something that our people needed.

In the organisation, we had an individual who sadly passed away from the virus and we used commenting to create an online book of condolence for the individual.

We’d never done commenting before. I started stealthily introducing it on news articles, but this was the first time we actually rolled it out across the board and actually publicised that we’ll be using it in this way.

They were a very well-liked and well-known individual within the organisation, and commenting allowed people to just directly drop in their thoughts about how they were feeling or what they wanted to share with the individual’s family. There was a lovely statement from the department director where the individual worked and a lovely image montage as well.

We then copied the comments offline and published them in a card for the individual’s family and sent that on with some gifts just to show how much he was appreciated and that a lot of people were thinking about them.

ICT has rolled out a lot of the functionality to keep people connected. They’re using the intranet as a tool to support the way that individuals interact with them.

ICT are now publishing loads more guidance on the intranet. They always had aspirations where they wanted to create more self-help resources for the organisation that people could use to self serve rather than having to contact someone by picking up a phone or sending an email.

So, they have fast forwarded those aspirations quite quickly and we in internal comms have supported them with that on the intranet to make that resource widely available.

One of the things I’ve been working on quite a lot is how I’m going to realign. Currently, we have realigned the channels of internal communications to a place where I now believe that the intranet is the centre of our internal communications galaxy and our other channels kind of rotate, revolve and orbit around it.

Case in point is our newsletter. I’m trying to drive that forward so that it works in partnership with the intranet rather than against it. The same goes for our other content – hosting it on the intranet means people are driven towards it.

We also want to be driving forward comments and video sharing a lot more, continuing on with the really successful elements that we’re using at the moment. We’ve also got a couple of blogs that are running now which is pretty cool – we didn’t have anything like that before.

I also want to share a couple of the stats in terms of where the intranet is now. So, before, we had roughly 650 total visitors each week, with 300 unique visits. Now, we have roughly 600 unique visitors each week and page views are around 3500 each week. We have also delivered 5 polls in 7 weeks when we had previously only done 1 in 7 months. This is the sort of success and increase in engagement that we hope to keep up long after COVID-19.

Thank you so much Manjinder for joining us today. You recently described the current situation as “pulling off an internal communications heist”. Can you elaborate on what you mean and perhaps give us some context? How would you describe the intranet before the pandemic and the lockdown for WMCA?

Of course. So, before Coronavirus became the thing that we were all talking about, we were about seven months into our journey with the new intranet.

Engagement across West Midlands Combined Authority on the intranet was pretty low. Trying to get individuals to buy into some of the great new functionality that this intranet was providing was difficult.

The new intranet solution that we’ve got with Invotra is absolute light years ahead of what we previously had. It was like we are PlayStation 4 now, but we used to have an Atari. And, I’m not saying that Atari is bad, because obviously retro is quite cool , but from a technological basis and what we could achieve, we were limited.

Before coronavirus, on average we would have about 650 visits to the intranet per week and about 300 unique views – the organisation has about 850 employees.

We hadn’t even implemented commenting yet and there was a lot of resistance to that, some of it was amongst senior leaders as well. They weren’t very keen.

In seven months, we’d only run one intranet poll. Polls is a voting function where we can deliver questions and get quick feedback and engagement with the organisation, to find out how our people are feeling about an initiative, policy or campaign.

It was incredibly hard to sell these kinds of things to different departments. They weren’t really being brave and their ambitions weren’t there.

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Can you give us some insight into what the senior leadership team did differently and what role the intranet played in that?

It’s a difficult thing to quantify, understanding the leadership mentality when you don’t actually sit quite closely into their thought processes. In my role, I get it secondhand. I’m trying to unpick this knotted ball of wool for them and make it into this nice, clean, long piece of string without any kinks.

I was trying to get senior management to understand and leverage what the intranet could now deliver for them in this space, and rapidly. Our staff went from being in a very central office to 95% of us now working remotely.

We needed to find a way to quickly communicate things in a way that was easily accessible to the vast majority of people. The intranet could do that for us. People could access it at any time and any location. We could accommodate different media and utilise a wide range of functionality.

We discovered quite quickly, especially in the first couple of weeks, that the intranet provided the solutions that leaders were saying they needed. So very, very quickly, in fact, we saw this is an opportunity for us – let’s condition the behavior to get individuals connected with the intranet and to understand that it’s their one stop shop for all the information they need.

How do you think senior leadership handled these kinds of communications prior to the lockdown?

Well, a lot of the ways we are communicating now, didn’t exist before.

We did some surveying and research when I first joined the organisation and it brought to light leadership visibility was low, as is the challenge in a lot of organisations.

Individuals want to feel connected to their leaders and we needed to break down those barriers. The situation we find ourselves in has meant that we’ve had to do that.

Through the posting of webinars, turning on commenting and utilising polls, to name a few, we’ve seen individuals soften and more of their personalities come out. The feedback we’ve got back from members of staff is that those barriers are starting to dissolve now and they’re understanding more about their leaders, which is really positive.

To have built such strong connections even though we are physically distant (I like that term more than socially distant). We are physically distant, but we’re not socially distant – and the intranet means that we can still be socially connected.

Can you share some examples of what you have done specifically with the intranet and how those things have engaged employees at the West Midlands Combined Authority?

Yes, sure. So the first thing we did was create a COVID 19 tool kit on the intranet which is directly accessible on the home page. Ourselves and many of our fellow departments and Invotra customers have built great resource hubs and spaces to connect using the intranet.

We’ve heavily focused on the health and safety element – using the intranet to help people engage with the health and safety team and communicate their messages on a weekly basis.

Some of the things that we’ve focused on have been videos that help individuals to create a more comfortable space when working remotely. For example, exercises on correcting their posture or sitting more comfortably, stretches that prevent some of the strains and injuries that can be common when you sit in the same space for long periods of time.

We’ve also rolled out regular surveying and polls on the intranet so we can collect important data about individuals, for example, those who may have specific needs around accessibility or equipment. We are able to better support our people in their home environments thanks to this.

Pre COVID-19, we were working on a smarter working program. We were looking at our remote working strategy and embedding that in the organisation. This situation fast forwarded that work and the intranet has really helped support this goal in terms of communications, data collecting and connecting our people together. 

That’s so great to hear. When we last spoke, you mentioned a very touching story, poignant as well about the wellbeing team. Would you like to share that with us?

Sure, basically, it’s a very sad situation where we had to act really fast to utilise one of the functionalities of the intranet, so that we could deliver something that our people needed.

In the organisation, we had an individual who sadly passed away from the virus and we used commenting to create an online book of condolence for the individual.

We’d never done commenting before. I started stealthily introducing it on news articles, but this was the first time we actually rolled it out across the board and actually publicised that we’ll be using it in this way.

They were a very well-liked and well-known individual within the organisation, and commenting allowed people to just directly drop in their thoughts about how they were feeling or what they wanted to share with the individual’s family. There was a lovely statement from the department director where the individual worked and a lovely image montage as well.

We then copied the comments offline and published them in a card for the individual’s family and sent that on with some gifts just to show how much he was appreciated and that a lot of people were thinking about them.

That’s really tremendously sad and tragic for you guys and we’re really sorry for your loss. I think there is some kind of poignancy and beauty in the fact that actually the intranet can be a very human tool. Why do we as individuals  need to communicate? Why do we need to engage with one another? And I think that the book of condolences that you launched is a wonderful story about that. 

What have ICT themselves had to do differently as a result of the lockdown?

ICT has rolled out a lot of the functionality to keep people connected. They’re using the intranet as a tool to support the way that individuals interact with them.

ICT are now publishing loads more guidance on the intranet. They always had aspirations where they wanted to create more self-help resources for the organisation that people could use to self serve rather than having to contact someone by picking up a phone or sending an email.

So, they have fast forwarded those aspirations quite quickly and we in internal comms have supported them with that on the intranet to make that resource widely available.

Where do you see the West Midlands Combined Authority intranet going in the future and moving away from very specific sort of COVID 19 and lockdown related topics and coverage?

One of the things I’ve been working on quite a lot is how I’m going to realign. Currently, we have realigned the channels of internal communications to a place where I now believe that the intranet is the centre of our internal communications galaxy and our other channels kind of rotate, revolve and orbit around it.

Case in point is our newsletter. I’m trying to drive that forward so that it works in partnership with the intranet rather than against it. The same goes for our other content – hosting it on the intranet means people are driven towards it.

We also want to be driving forward comments and video sharing a lot more, continuing on with the really successful elements that we’re using at the moment. We’ve also got a couple of blogs that are running now which is pretty cool – we didn’t have anything like that before.

I also want to share a couple of the stats in terms of where the intranet is now. So, before, we had roughly 650 total visitors each week, with 300 unique visits. Now, we have roughly 600 unique visitors each week and page views are around 3500 each week. We have also delivered 5 polls in 7 weeks when we had previously only done 1 in 7 months. This is the sort of success and increase in engagement that we hope to keep up long after COVID-19.

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Find out more about how intranet usage became 'mission critical' throughout COVID-19 at WMCA

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