Connecting the cooperative. How using Workplace is bringing over 36,000 S Group employees together

by Dany Agostinho

We meet Workplace Pioneer, Filip Winter – Communications Development Manager – to learn how he's leading the deployment across S Group and why using Workplace is transforming how people work together.

S Group is one of the largest retailers in Finland and consists of twenty independent regional cooperatives, back offices and the SOK Corporation. S Group employs 36,000 people, along with a large contingent of seasonal workers at peak times.

Workplace origins

It's an organisational structure that brings with it some internal communications challenges. And Filip first identified some of these in 2017 when working in one of the cooperatives. In particular, he saw difficulties with information retrieval via the intranet and a disconnect between frontline workers in shops.

Filip believed that new technologies could be an opportunity to renew the company intranet and introduce a social component at the same time.

This resulted in a period of research and trials of other platforms. Nothing was working. Then, Filip heard about the Facebook at Work pilot and "went out on a limb" to secure director support and begin the Workplace pilot in 2017. This is the story of how it all went down – and what's in store for the future...

Putting people first

"Our ambition was to give everyone a voice", Filip tells us. "At the group level, if we could give everyone in the organisation the best tools, we could achieve two things. We could reach our goals of better customer service, better employee happiness and better staff retention. But more importantly, we'd make people's work lives easier, more natural and more fun. And that's really important."

This was one of the reasons why Filip began looking at Workplace almost two years ago. "It's a set of familiar tools similar to those that people already use in their personal lives", he says. "To put these same tools into the hands of our employees would mean we could make our owners' working lives better. It would improve our processes. And it would ultimately benefit our customers."

The role of Workplace Pioneer

Once Filip had overseen the Workplace deployment at SOK group, he turned his attention to planning and managing the roll-out to all the cooperatives.

"My role has evolved over this whole process. Originally, I was looking after all aspects of Internal comms development. But as Workplace came online at the group level, people realised how serious an impact it was going to have on culture, on comms on internal processes. So, my role now focuses exclusively on driving adoption of Workplace as the de facto internal communications tool for everyone."

And that roll-out to 36,000 employees is happening at the moment. But what have been the main drivers for adoption in the business? In short, why Workplace?

Using Workplace integrations to create a modern, mobile intranet

"Our old intranet wasn't collaborative. And we only had 12,000 licences – which meant that people in shops would have to share licences to log in to see stuff. So, it wasn't very accessible, either."

Filip identified that integrating both Sharepoint and Office 365 would enable S Group to use Workplace as the central repository of documents and information. This could replace the existing intranet, as well as improving group communication.

"We're now building a document repository in O365. The cool thing is that we're using Azure AD to manage restrictions and permissions. This will allow people to share links and previews directly through Workplace. They can then collaborate on documents in real time, without having to worry about version control. It's great!"

"We're building a document repository in O365 to allow people to share links and previews directly through Workplace. They can then collaborate on documents in real time, without having to worry about version control."

- Filip Winter, Communications Development Manager, S Group.

This is, Filip believes, the critical application for S Group. "This Workplace integration will be the cornerstone of our modern and mobile intranet", he says. "There should only ever be one master version of a document and people should be able to share it wherever they need to. This powerful Workplace integration will enable us to do both those things at once. It's a much smarter way to operate."

Workplace giving frontline workers a voice

The second major driver was the need to connect frontline workers in thousands of shops across Finland. "We have 36,000 employees at the moment", says Filip. "Then we have a fluctuating number of seasonal workers – as many as 15,000 more people who cover celebrations or summer holidays."

And the goal is to connect every single one of them using Workplace.

"It's a challenge. But it's one I know Workplace can help us overcome. These people are literally the frontline. They encounter customer feedback. They identify new opportunities first. They see problems before anyone else. So, it's critical that we get everyone on the platform – even a person who joins us for just a couple of weeks."

So, as Filip and his team prepare to complete the first phase of the full roll-out, how is Workplace already helping S Group – and what can new users expect?

The peer support model

The first big benefit was using Workplace groups to crowdsource answers and solve problems. "We set up a group called Workplace Peer Support", Filip explains. "We encourage people to ask their Workplace-related questions openly on this group and not to their own IT support teams."

And with open questions, comes open answers. And for S Group, this rapidly became a constantly updating resource for the whole business. "People see resolutions to similar queries and it's allowed us to build up an organic and searchable FAQ section. This saves time and repetition and makes painful tasks a little easier. People love it."

Connecting the frontline

Effective groups are just the start. Developing them into the default system for raising and resolving support tickets is next.

"We noticed that frontline workers were using groups to raise issues and challenges. A credit card fails at the till, an IT system glitches or faulty stock arrives. Membership often goes from 0 to 2500 completely organically with people using groups to report issues immediately."

This popularity has a knock-on effect. The sheer amount of reported issues means that the original support structures are struggling to cope.

"So, now we're now looking to integrate groups as part of a ticketing system. We're looking to work with a Workplace Partner to make them the official channels. This will drive more efficiencies as we can mark and ticket issues in real time."

"There are many cases where the customers identify issues. This will shorten the timeline between reporting and fixing an issue – and that makes our customer service even more effective."

Doing the basics. Just better

One final innovation aims to simplify the painful processes that suck time out of people's days. "HR is piloting a bot", Filip explains, "where people can type a search term into Workplace Chat about 'maternity leave', for example. The bot goes off and retrieves relevant information in a step-by-step process to tell you about maternity leave."

"It's crushing the old methods about finding and acting on information. No need to call HR, or fill in forms and email them. It's a checkbox. It's a smarter process."

Ready for the roll-out

And, as he makes final preparations for full deployment, that's really what it's all about for Filip. Connecting people and giving them a voice. Using technology to make processes smarter, lives a bit easier and work a little more meaningful.

With huge thanks to Filip Winter, Communications Development Manager, S Group.

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