The UK housing association has united a diverse workforce through social tools on its intranet ‘The Orb’, driving greater employee engagement and improving communication across the organization.
We wanted the Orb to be a colleague platform – somewhere for everyone to contribute content and therefore take ownership and feel part of our community. We didn’t want our intranet to be just a business tool where we were doing all the talking. – Becky Davies, Communications Officer, Curo
Connecting a dispersed and remote workforce
Based in Bath, Curo is a housing association and house-builder committed to providing great homes alongside high quality care and support services across the West of England. With more than 25,000 customers, the organization manages over 13,000 homes and builds hundreds of new homes every year.
“We have a hugely diverse workforce, made up of over 550 colleagues. Our main office is based in Bath, housing around 300 staff; but we also have 10 mini offices dispersed throughout the region and one hundred and forty-three remote workers with no dedicated office space.” explains Communications Officer, Becky Davies.
“Roles range from office-based support services, who are regularly on a computer, to Support Workers who rarely visit an office and have limited access to a computer. As a result, we had a lot of lone workers who often felt quite ‘cut off’ from the main part of the business and can become quite isolated.”
The Association needed to find a solution that would connect its dispersed staff, satisfy a broad range of access requirements and provide colleagues with the information they needed quickly and easily. A mobile version for those who could only use their cellphones would be crucial; given the volume of communication in the business, it would also need to push the most relevant information to staff who had limited time to review content.
In 2013, Curo partnered Interact to deliver an intranet solution that would meet the organization’s needs.
A platform for employees
“We wanted the Orb to be a colleague platform – somewhere for everyone to contribute content and therefore take ownership and feel part of our community.”
Before partnering with Interact, Curo had a pre-existing platform built and managed internally on Umbraco software. It presented the organization with a number of challenges.
“Basically, it was just somewhere to put lots of information; it wasn’t really maintained or managed. It was a difficult site to use; people couldn’t find what they wanted, it didn’t have a particularly great search function and was seen as more of a one-way communication tool,” explains Becky.
“It was mainly used for the business to put messages up: there was no way for staff to interact with it.”
When initiating the new intranet project, therefore, two-way communication and engagement ranked top of the list of priorities. When undergoing a refresh of the platform in 2017, the Curo Team highlighted this with an updated set of objectives:
- Improve colleague engagement
- Widely communicate key business news across all teams
- Reduce email traffic
- Improve cross-team communication
- Make the Orb a one-stop-shop for all essential day-to-day documents
“The original aim written down for the intranet was to ‘deliver an organizational working and information sharing solution to support delivery of the organizational priorities’,” says Becky.
“It was more a case of making sure we included ALL our colleagues around the business when getting messages out, as well as them being able to share information with us as well.”
When considering those features that would be most important to Curo, the team looked to social tools including the blogs and rewards which would empower staff. The ease of use and look of Interact also matched the organization’s requirements for an employee-focused approach to design.
Building the Orb
Curo’s employee-first ethos translated into the development of the intranet project, with Strategy support provided by the Interact team.
“We had colleagues across the business involved in creating the structure of the site and the content on there as well. Interact did sessions during which groups of colleagues looked at the existing content and determined what was constantly needed. That feedback was then used to help come up with the top structure on which to base our intranet,” says Becky.
An intranet team was assembled, with representatives from six teams from across the organization to ensure Curo covered all their bases. A group of 13 Content Managers was selected, who would not only have ownership for managing content in their dedicated team areas but would also train the rest of their team members.
Staff were also involved in the refresh of the Orb, conducted in 2017.
“We wanted our homepage to be a social, eye-catching area that worked for all colleagues, so we sent out a survey asking for ideas on what staff felt was most important to have on the homepage. We use individual widgets to display all the key information, so in mobile view our remote teams can still find what they need easily and quickly.”
Planet Curo: Designing the Orb
“When it came to naming the Orb, we wanted something quite short and fun that would have its own unique personality and character,” says Becky.
“We’re also very icon-led, so when the Orb was born we took a creative approach to designing a planet icon that feeds into the logo. Although our branding changed during the refresh in 2017, the Orb icon has remained.”
Curo has a set of secondary colors that sit alongside the main brand colors and are used for internal purposes. Although the project originally launched with the full spectrum of brand colors, as the organization has evolved and grown in recent years the design has been stripped back to a cleaner palette of greys and greens, with photography and visuals used throughout.
The design is dynamic, with content updating regularly as widgets pull through news, blogs and new starters to provide a snapshot of what’s happening in the business. The team also use the homepage to showcase fundraising campaigns, events and celebrate successes to drive positive news to staff.
“What a brilliant way to start the day… A colourful, informative and easy to use platform for everything that you want to know as a Curo colleague. The homepage looks like a magazine and behind it is a wealth of information. What a great tool!”
Jane Jones, Director of People
Launching (and relaunching) the Orb
In preparation for launching the Orb into Curo, the intranet team supported Content Managers by providing ‘Learn over Lunch’ sessions to introduce the new intranet to staff. The new platform was also promoted ahead of launch with a poster and email campaign, designed to build anticipation among colleagues throughout the organization.
“We actually pushed the launch to align with the 2014 World Cup, as some of our Exec team were interested in the Football Manager widget offered by Interact and we felt it would be a good way to create a bit of a buzz and get people involved straight away,” says Becky.
“On the day of the launch, we set it up the Orb to be the default page on everyone’s browser. We were on hand throughout the day, asking staff for feedback, helping them find things and generally keeping it front of mind to build a bit of a buzz.”
Curo went live with the full range of features including Rewards, Blogs, Football Manager and more: empowering staff to find their way around and search for things, learning on-the-go.
In 2017, the Orb underwent a refresh with new branding, layouts and a general overhaul of the look and feel.
“We stayed late one evening and laid out a load of mini refresher sweets on all the desks, as well as posting some out in advance to all our dispersed offices. With them, we gave staff a card that outlined what had changed. It went down really well: people were getting straight on to look at it when they came in.
“Since the relaunch, we’ve seen a real push on the more interactive features and in particular the blogs and our rewards.”
Hotspots on the Orb
The Curo team launched the Interact rewards feature to facilitate its ‘Limelight’ recognition program. The objective was to give colleagues across the business a way to recognize one another for the help or support they receive, supporting cross-team working.
Each colleague can give 10 Limelights a month anyway they wish, with the top 3 awarded colleagues each month recognized on the Orb and receiving a Love2Shop voucher. Quarterly, the top colleague receives a bottle of champagne, presented by a member of the Exec team. In just 8 months, the team saw 8,847 Limelights awarded: averaging over 1,000 a month.
Curo has also succeeded in cultivating a sharing culture in the business, using the Orb as a facilitator.
“We don’t monitor the content of blogs: we try to foster a culture of, ‘if you want to tell us about it, you can tell us in your own words’. Colleagues don’t have to check anything with us before posting, and that’s built up a trust over time,” explains Becky.
“Now, people blog about lots of different things; there are business-focused ones of course, such as team away days, work projects, or ‘a day in the life of’ style sharing. But people are also posting more personal stories: about Aspergers, depression, suicide awareness, terminal illness and more. Colleagues feel they can be open and that it can help other colleagues to understand what people may be going through. It encourages relationship building within teams who don’t usually work together, which helps improve our services.”
The Orb sees around 70 blogs posted every quarter, with over 6,000 unique visits in that same time frame.
I have found the blog function on the Orb to be extremely helpful and useful, for a number of reasons. It’s easy to use, and the ability to include images, links to other colleagues and web pages makes the blog a useful reference point for other information. The ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ buttons are also a quick and visible indicator of how much further each conversation has gone around the business.
I joined Curo just over a year ago and have found the blogs to be a smooth and efficient way of engaging with a wide number of colleagues on whichever topic, particularly as a newcomer. I have written 25 blogs now, and each one has enabled me to either start a conversation on an important theme, gauge sentiment and feeling around the business, or influence behaviour and thinking. I would definitely be less effective without the Orb blogs.
Paul Harris, Executive Director Customer Experience
One of the focal points for the business which motivates employee engagement with the Orb is its annual CSR initiative of selecting a ‘charity of the year’. After posting to the Orb asking for ideas, colleagues are encouraged to nominate a charity and explain why this is a cause they care about. A panel is assembled to determine a shortlist, which then goes out to the wider business on the Orb to vote.
“A lot of personal blogs come from the process of choosing a charity, as colleagues appeal to colleagues for their vote and explain their personal reasons. We also share stories throughout the year about events we may be running, things we’re doing and how much has been raised. Everyone really gets behind it and it works really well.”
Curo’s charity of the year for 2018 was the organization’s local hospital, Royal United Hospital, which is raising funds for a new cancer center. The team is now initiating the process of selecting a cause for 2019.
Connecting people, connecting information
The Orb is structured around team spaces, which offered dedicated areas for departments and specific areas of the business. With the same widget layout to optimize them for a mobile experience, these are used to provide clear and accessible information for staff, empowering them to better serve customers.
“Our Customer Contact Team has a hugely difficult job, answering a very wide range of queries from customers. The Orb, and in particular the teams area, allows them to gather the information they need to answer the customer quickly, without having to contact other colleagues to ask them questions. It frees up valuable employee time elsewhere in the business, as well as improving the customer experience – a win-win!” says Becky.
There is also an area called ‘Curo Space’, used to share news and updates about the business, alongside social areas to keep staff informed of social events, well-being initiatives, even noticeboards for staff to post items for sale and more. Quick links to other vital business systems, such as the organization’s HR platform, connect staff to everything they need to effectively perform their day-to-day roles. The organization has seen measurable improvements in employee engagement, a reduction in email traffic and cross-team relationships.
Our intranet, The Orb, plays a pivotal part in colleague engagement. It allows all colleagues to interact with each other and the organisation on a very sociable and informal basis. The levels of engagement have risen increasingly over the past year or so, with many colleagues taking the opportunity to share their successes and stories with others – some of which are extremely inspirational and motivating.
We use the Orb as our prime info-sharing and communication tool, providing Just in Time access for colleagues to info and data when they need it. Without our intranet we would not have the close-knit culture that we have and our teams and services would feel much more disconnected from each other.
Donna Warr, Head of Colleague Experience
The Curo team is continuing to invest and grow the Orb in-line with business needs. Future plans include the roll-out of the new Interact app to further engage remote workers, potential integration of the organization’s SharePoint system and continuing improvements to meet colleague needs following the results of their annual Internal Communications survey.
We’re really pleased with our colleague engagement with the Orb. We have around 350 active users daily, so this is a lot of interaction from a relatively small group. The Orb is central to our everyday activities and we’re proud of where it is now and how colleagues have embraced it.
Becky Davies, Communications Officer, Curo