At the moment Whitbread uses an “open intranet” to communicate with its staff based in hotels and restaurants and drive employee engagement. I’ve written about open intranets before, both in relation to reaching out to staff not based in offices and also those in higher education. By “open intranet” I mean a communications-led site aimed at internal staff which is available via the internet, but can also be viewed by the general public rather than being password-protected.
These sites have advantages and disadvantages, but represent a viable option for companies who have large sections of the workforce without access to a computer, particularly in retail and leisure sectors.
Whitbread is a UK-listed operator of hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, and operates several well-known brands such as Premier Inn, Costa Coffee and Beefeater. The company employs 40,000 people. Although much attention has been given to similar sites such as Adsa Green Room, Whitbread’s “intranet on the internet” has had little attention from the intranet or digital workplace professional community.
Whitbread’s open engagement site for employees is called WHRTube. In my view it’s a spirited attempt to deliver company news and CSR-related information to 16,000 staff in its hotel and restaurants division. (Costa Coffee doesn’t appear to be a target for the site). The site is very focused on engagement and the activities of employees. There appears to be no process or operational information, and it doesn’t include a front-end screen to say a benefits and pay portal either.
Content on WHRTube includes:
- A download and related archive of the firm’s quarterly print magazine for employees
- A company news section, although stories tend to be focsued on CSR efforts, as well as positive mentions in the national and local press
- A link to the WHR’s YouTube channel
- A blog with contributions from employees mainly about their experiences (“Tell the Tube”)
- A photo archive
- Some background information about the firm’s “Good Together” CSR information (including a retro-space invader game where you zap environmentally unfriendly items)
- Competitions and quizzes page
On the surface, sites like WHRTube might look like they have limited opportunity to make an impact, but actually having an open site makes good sense for a number of reasons:
1) Retail and leisure businesses like Whitbread often have a younger workforce, and engagement is important to retain and attract employees. WHRTube would seem to be performing well with its target group. According to a recent article, it gets about 10,000 hits per week (my presumption is they are referring to WHRTube when they talk about an “internal communications channel”). Given that the site is aimed at 16,000 employees this represents good penetration, although some of those numbers may come from non-employee or repeat visits.
2) This is an easy and straight-forward way to reach out to employees who generally don’t have access to a computer during the day, or can’t appear to be viewing one in a customer-led environment. In many companies these employees do not have corporate email addresses, which are often used as the user name for secured environments, adding another level of complexity to reach out to them via a password protected site.
3) This is an extremely cost-effective way to distribute information. There’s no front line support needed and the internal or digital communications function has total control.
4) Although this is an internal facing-site, it also gives a good impression to outsiders. For people considering joining Premier Inn or one of the other brands, it gives a glimpse of what it might be like to work for the company. Even if you argue this will be a company-driven view, it at least shows that management is making an effort to engage employees. It also demonstrates to shareholders and the media that the firm invests time in CSR efforts.
5) Whitbread is in the process of developing a fully-fledged internal social network called Whitbread Avenue aimed at all employee and featuring richer functionality, which should be launching soon. WHRTube may be a stop-gap until that happens, but the site may also provide metrics on what content is popular and what isn’t, providing important insights and identifying early adopters, to help design and implement Whitbread Avenue. For example I could imagine the “Tell the Tube” blog section which features stories attributed to employees (including some funny stories from night staff in Premier Inn branches) could be rolled into a more interactive format in the new site.
WHRTube isn’t responsive so is therefore not mobile-friendly, and could have some basic HR or operational information on there to increase impact, but as a straight-forward site delivering engagement-led messages, it ticks the right boxes.
What do you think? Is this approach effective? I’m in the process of writing a report which will focus on the opportunities, limitations and good practices around providing open intranets. This will be available for free download. Please contact me if you would like to be alerted when it is ready.