WestJet faces “daunting” communication questions
Robin Farr isn’t one for hyperbole. And so in her words, the nature of the business she’s in makes communicating with employees “challenging.”
The rest of us might not be so calm in describing Robin’s reality. As Director of Internal Communications and Culture for WestJet, she leads a team responsible for engaging with 12,000 employees, the majority of whom are desk-less and in airspace spanning three continents. It’s a portfolio on the verge of growing even more complex as WestJet reaches toward its goal of becoming a global airline.
With expansion in sight, keeping WestJetters connected to the company’s vision and to each other is a massive task, and the team set out to explore three questions:
- How could WestJet communicate with employees about its evolving vision?
- What would enable more regular, purposeful communication?
- How could WestJet reach its mobile, front-line workforce more effectively?
“These were daunting questions, workload-wise and tech-wise,” admits Robin. With a commitment to the Microsoft platform and a need to be thoughtful about the future of WestJet’s technology landscape, “we really didn’t know where to start,” she says. “There was so much to tackle, and we always have a desire to do everything and to do everything well.”
Habanero finds answers in five-day design sprint
Tackling this project started with a one-week design sprint. Walking into Robin’s office on the first day, Habanero consultants Meghan Armstrong and Sarah Berg knew the project could go in a dozen different directions. Their task was to help WestJet decide on one.
Meghan and Sarah dove in. “They started off by asking questions that were the right questions for us,” Robin recalls. Probing Robin and her colleagues for insight into WestJet’s internal ecosystem, Meghan and Sarah quickly saw a clear opportunity emerge: connecting with flight attendants.
“We went into this project thinking about all employee groups,” says Robin. But she recognized that the timeline wouldn’t allow for a complete overhaul of their existing intranet, Westnet. The team needed to deliver something quickly to take advantage of the momentum built by Ignite 20. “Meghan and Sarah were clear about needing to prioritize. And when we broke it down, flight attendants are one of our largest and most vocal audiences,” Robin says. Learning how to connect more regularly and purposefully with them would be a litmus test for communication strategies with other WestJetters.
With a clear objective, Meghan and Sarah went to the drawing board. While Sarah parsed content from Westnet, Meghan sketched different prototypes. “Meghan’s sketches were fun, and they gave us a really good visual of what we could do,” says Robin. Using cardboard, paper, and Sharpies, Sarah and Meghan created more detailed versions of the sketches. The end result? A “mobile device” that simulated the user experience.
The team tapped into WestJet’s Office 365 Change Champion Community for testing and user feedback. In 15-minute feedback sessions, Change Champions reviewed content and made suggestions for improvement. To update the prototype after each session, Meghan literally cut and pasted content. At the end of the day, the team regrouped to validate and sign off. “Habanero was incredibly tight on process and deadlines. They did a great job of managing the process to hit the milestones we had identified,” Robin says.
Team builds fully-responsive solution in seven weeks
Once the prototype was validated with WestJetters, the team knew it had a hit on its hands. But WestJet had an aggressive goal: in 60 days, the team wanted a complete solution built within Office 365’s SharePoint Online and fully integrated with Yammer.
What would typically be an herculean task was made simple with Habanero’s GO Intranet Accelerator. Leveraging GO, we created a fully-responsive communications portal that was integrated with Yammer, WestJet’s enterprise social network. It also set the stage for future phases that will see the existing Westnet experience transition into SharePoint Online.
Over the course of just seven weeks, Habanero’s experience designers, solution architects, developers, and infrastructure specialists collaborated with WestJet to refine the low-fidelity prototype, build on the initial requirements identified in the design sprint, and create a branded interface for the news portal now known as The Hub. With a simple URL and login, WestJetters can access The Hub from anywhere in the world to see important news, urgent alerts, and conversations about workplace topics that matter, thanks to its full integration with Yammer and Office 365.
Launched in early August, the site is being evaluated on “the extent to which the integration with Office 365 makes it easier for people to do their jobs,” says Robin. The team will also be closely monitoring news and the increase in awareness of news-related conversations on Yammer. So far, she says, feedback on the portal has been extremely positive. “The consistent comment from employees is that it looks great and makes accessing our news a great experience,” says Robin.
As opposed to simply deploying a product, empathetic research and design-thinking were at the heart of every step. “Working this way made us think about our audience in a different way than we typically think about them,” says Robin. “It set the stage really well for what we’re trying to accomplish.”