Housing Technology interviewed Wrekin Housing’s group head of marketing and communications, Edward Thomas, about how the housing provider coped with the pandemic, digital transformation and the importance of maintaining connections with its staff, tenants, contractors and external agencies.
How did Wrekin Housing support its staff during the pandemic?
Success for us means providing the best services and support to all of our customers, some of whom are very vulnerable, but every service we deliver starts with our staff.
When the pandemic began, we realised we needed a better way to help our employees remain connected to us and to one another as well as share vital information as the pandemic-related rules and guidelines changed.
We needed a platform that enabled all our employees to connect, no matter their job title or role within the company, and share updates, news and critical information. Facebook’s Workplace did that for us and helped us to connect every employee, with even those on the frontline able to connect via the app on their phones.
We needed to find a way to maintain a sense of human connection, and Workplace let us do just that. We now have a vibrant online community of staff, from formal groups for company updates through to more informal, staff-led themed groups, including gardening and sports, that have helped to replace ‘water cooler moments’. Overall, we’ve used Workplace to reach our employees at a time when our culture really demanded a genuine focus on our employees’ welfare.
How did you support Wrekin’s front-line workers’ critical activities during the pandemic?
Around 70 per cent of Wrekin Housing’s staff are on the front line, from support workers to bricklayers, roofers, plumbers and other operatives maintaining more than 13,000 homes. Ensuring that everyone in the organisation feels involved and engaged in our overall mission is very important to us, and this mustn’t be limited by someone’s proximity (or not) to our main offices in Telford or if they’re sat behind a computer screen at home.
Connecting everyone with Workplace helped us level the playing field, enabling everyone across the entire organisation to connect in a way that they’d never been able to previously, even before the pandemic.
On the first day of lockdown, we had no easy way of sending a message to each member of our staff, with confidence that the information would actually reach them all. With Workplace, we can reach staff in seconds when it really counts. For example, if I need to send out an emergency message, I can mark it as ‘important’ and be confident that it will be seen across the organisation.
However, the main goal for us was to give our people real human connections with their colleagues, despite being separated by the pandemic. At the same time as supporting front-line workers delivering critical services, we were also able to create a space to share ‘exceptional work’.
With employees congratulating one another and sharing their own experiences, this helped everyone to feel more connected to one another. Since implementation, Workplace has been used to announce changes to Covid-19 rules and guidelines, host live Q&As with our CEO, share strategy updates, host a staff conference and develop Wrekin Housing’s family culture by keeping everyone engaged.
Where’s the next stop on Wrekin’s digital journey?
Even before we launched Workplace, we had an eye on the future development of the community, encouraged by the team at Work Networks (one of our IT suppliers). Until recently, we’ve been focused on ensuring the widespread uptake of Workplace, and we now plan to embed Workplace even more into our daily operations.
For example, we have a monthly ‘Ask Wayne’ live video session with Wayne Gethings, our group chief executive, where we discuss a topic and encourage employees to share any questions to be answered live.
We’ve seen huge engagement with these group-wide sessions, with employees submitting lots of questions and having great debates. As a result, these enable our senior leadership team to make better decisions because we can actually see what employees want.
Ultimately, by implementing digital tools to empower our employees and serve our communities, we’ll be able to keep delivering the best possible care for the people who need it most.
Edward Thomas is the group head of marketing and communications at Wrekin Housing Group.