Corangamite’s staff engagement on the intranet has grown to nearly 100 percent.
Not long ago, working from home was something employees did in a pinch - kids were home sick, or roads were unsafe from severe weather. The idea of remote work arrangements as semi-permanent, let alone permanent, seemed outright impractical to private businesses, and certainly to local government leaders.
Oh, how times have changed - quickly.
In the face of recent events - specifically the COVID-19 outbreak - the shift to remote work has accelerated. According to Australia-based McCrindle Research, research suggests almost three in five Australians (58%) have a job that allows them to work from home. Fortunately, for those in the public sector, turn-key technologies like employee intranets are providing the digital framework to empower local governments.
Done well, intranets allow councils to evolve toward an effective remote work model. Done poorly, intranets can cause friction and slow adoption, such as when staff are required to use VPN for at-home access - or worse, have no access outside the office.
Proper intranets serve as a center point or home base for distributed teams - an internal communication hub, a single source for policy and procedure awareness and learning and a collaboration station. The convenience of cloud-based technology allows people to securely login from their own devices. A capability gaining in importance as BYOD (bring your own device) becomes a growing trend for maintaining worker productivity. Not only in times of crisis and emergency response, but also in a world of shifting customer expectations and digital services transformation.
A council ahead of the curve
Corangamite Shire Council began planning for a remote work reality well before the urgency of COVID-19 forced many organizations’ hands. With nine towns within its boundaries and more than 275 distributed staff members, Corangamite had a team engagement challenge. Roughly 60 percent of staff work outdoors or in the field, making it hard to keep everyone informed of important updates, urgent notices and new policy information.
Corangamite’s existing intranet fell short on many levels—mobile accessibility, outdated content and poor communication capabilities, to name a few. Employees were left disconnected and unable to self-serve. Inboxes flooded with irrelevant emails—or worse, critical communications could not be prioritized for urgency and went unnoticed.
Clearly, there had to be a better way. Corangamite project leaders knew a smooth transition to a new and improved technology required collective organizational ownership. As with any change in process and tools, there was sure to be an adoption curve. But the transition would be much easier with early involvement from staff and stakeholders.
Collective ownership drives eager adoption
“It is so important to get staff involved and invested in the project no matter what stage you’re at,” said Rory Neeson, Manager of Growth and Engagement for Corangamite Shire Council. “Ensure you have the support of your team, manager and really push for top-down leadership in use of the site.”
The Council went so far as to champion an internal naming competition for the new intranet, and that is how CHESTER was born. CHESTER (Corangamite’s Handy Electronic Shared Treasure-trove of Essential Resources) reflects the staff’s enthusiasm and genuine sense of ownership in the naming, planning and implementation process.
As users continue to discover the full capability of Corangamite’s intranet, staff engagement has grown to nearly 100 percent. “People want to be connected to their job and their workplace. Our intranet makes it possible, especially for part-time staff or those working remotely,” said Neeson.
The intranet has a mobile responsive design that ensures Council staff in the field have a user experience that is as equally accessible as it is for those on desktop devices. More than 30 OpenForms have replaced inefficient PDFs, saving as much as 40 hours/week and allowing all staff to easily complete new hire forms, timesheets, creditor/debtor forms, media requests and more.
CHESTER is now the default Corangamite staff homepage, featuring single sign-on to make access incredibly fast and easy. As the hub for internal Council interaction, staff now have a single source for Council announcements, notifications and informational content. The mobile-friendly design makes sure all users have a clean, functional experience regardless of their device.
Crisis reinforces the value of focus and connection
Fortunately for Corangamite, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the intranet project was already in active use across the organization. This made for rapid response in standing up an internal COVID information page, to keep staff up to date with one source for the latest in emergency policies, procedures and resources.
“Without a central source for the latest information, we run the risk of ‘over information,’” said Neeson. “Too many emails or alerts and staff may start tuning it out. But CHESTER lets us keep the stream of information focused and serves as the one source of internal communication and guidance.”
It has also been a welcome source of connection and teambuilding for staff feeling distanced from colleagues and missing daily interaction. “Using the message board, we started weaving in human interest stories that help break up the constant stream of serious data and crisis communications,” said Neeson.
It’s provided a platform for teams to strengthen the organization’s culture and inter-department relationships by sharing personal or professional content and insights. “A great example is the recent exchange between staff regarding homeschooling challenges,” said Neeson. “The message board plays an important role in building camaraderie.”
Efficiencies on the inside lead to better service on the outside
“When you close the Council office doors, it makes difficult for residents to get business done,” said Neeson. “We’ve seen a 20 percent increase in website use since March, when COVID-19 closures began.” And because Corangamite has optimized the quality of communication and collaboration on its intranet, those benefits extend to how staff are able to serve the community.
In addition to the expected crisis communications on the Council’s public site home page, they have expanded the use of the business page to provide information and steps regarding grants available for small businesses. There is an effort to educate residents about how to access available digital services, with a greater emphasis on the ease and speed of doing business online. The hope is for residents to take advantage of these online channels given the temporary office closures. But also, to encourage them to embrace a shift to digital services as the “new normal.”
Engagement. Ownership. Accessibility.
As remote work models continue to expand, forward-thinking local governments will be ready. Effective intranets are a key part of making that happen. According to Neeson, the shift is not about if but rather when. His advice to fellow Councils making the transition to a more robust intranet is to keep three core factors in focus.
“Engagement is essential. You need to have a tool that enables full staff engagement. Ownership should exist across the organization—your staff should want to see and interact with the content. Accessibility eliminates usage barriers, so staff can have what then need whether it is off business hours, using mobile devices or having single sign-on. There are all sorts of efficiencies to be gained with an intranet that is embraced and used by staff, even for smaller Councils.”
Is your organization struggling to adapt to recent remote work mandates? Let us show you OpenCities’ Emergency Hub, our intranet “lite” offering that can be set up in a matter of days. Provide staff with a single, secure home base for staying informed, engaged and productive. Get in touch for a personalised demo.