By Gloria Lombardi

The British mutual financial institution Nationwide is the largest building society in the UK. Today, around 17,000 employees are serving 15 million customers in specialities including retail financial services, mortgages, savings and banking, credit card and personal loans, insurance, investments and protection.

As the business becomes more and more reliant on mobile to communicate externally, the company is implementing a full digital workplace strategy, which includes giving staff the ability to access corporate content from their mobile devices.

Buzz, the internal communications app based on APP:IC by Sequel Group, sits within that strategy. It is a hybrid application that delivers news articles and other information useful to employees. 

Testing Buzz

The approach used with Buzz has been tactical, starting with a trial within a small internal crowd of around 60 senior managers, rather than launching it broadly as the official employee app for the entire Nationwide workforce.

“When you build a digital strategy for the entire organisation you need to understand all the different technologies that you are delivering as well as their impact on your audiences,” says Intranet Innovation and Optimisation Manager Paul Wheeler.

“We are transforming our old intranet, which is not mobile at present. We are also delivering new BYOD policies. The effect of those initiatives is big for the business. That is why we chose to test the app with a modest audience first.”

Wheeler’s team wanted to understand what the cultural change looks like, how quickly the company can implement a full mobile experience across the organisation and what the key priorities are. Also, “we wanted to see if we could improve communications with targeted groups, such as our management teams.”

Buzz was introduced at an internal event in November. “All our senior managers came along with their corporate iPads. We made a presentation for them on how to download the app, how to use it and its key benefits.”

Wheeler’s team spent the whole day testing Buzz with the managers. “If there were any queries and questions we were there ready to answer them.”

Buzz – what it is exactly?

“The beauty of the app is that is highly customisable.” Sequel Group helped Wheeler to create a tool relevant to the chosen audience.

Buzz features internal news, industry-wide news and information on events that take place within the business and that are relevant to senior people. It displays social media feeds – Nationwide Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts – as well as leadership blogs.

The internal communications team manually upload the content to the CMS that supports the application. “They review and update information on a daily basis so that it is always specifically relevant to our senior management teams. The task is very simple to do.”

Looking for feed-back

Within the last three months, a great deal of feedback has been gathered. For example, they saw that internal news is the most used feature. “Our senior managers want to read information about Nationwide. Everything that is generated internally, as opposed to external news, appeals to them the most.”

This represents a big step forward. “Historically, our management teams did not read the news that we posted on the intranet. It was more the general employee who used to do that. But now, thanks to Buzz, this has changed.”

The main driver for this change is the ability to access the content while on the go. “50% of our managers are generally on the move. They typically don’t have the time to log on to the intranet from their laptop just to read the news. Now, they just click on the app from their mobile device.”

The power of rating

Through Buzz employees can rate and recommend any article to their peers, which helps to spark interactivity.

Wheeler believes that there are two others main benefits from rating. “The first one is for the author of the content. They know when an article has been appreciated by their colleagues, and through that understanding they can build further collaboration.”

The second key benefit is for the business itself. “We are able to get a view out of the back of the app.” For example, they started to see that the articles with the highest ratings are also the ones with videos attached to them. “Articles with videos are more engaging to our senior teams.”

Rating also gives Wheeler’s team an insight on the type of content employees want to read – “we can  appreciate whether it is business related or more personal content, whether it is high level communication or detailed information…every time they rate the content, we can infer really valuable insights, which we can then act upon to produce future content more appealing and relevant.”

Leadership blogs

Leadership blogs have also proved to be very popular on Buzz. Each month every leader has the opportunity to write a post about what they have been working on, and what type of responsibilities they have. That is a chance to raise their profile as well as to interact with colleagues who rate and recommend their posts. “It is another way to boost collaboration.”

A good example comes from one of the leadership team working on a project in India. A new business function was operating in that area and they saw a great opportunity in blogging to let everyone know what they were doing and what ther were trying to achieve. “They blogged about what was like living and working in India, how operations were doing in that country, and anything else that could be relevant to colleagues in the UK. Those posts sparked a huge amount of real-time interactions with the rest of the management team.”

Push notifications

Another feature that Wheeler rates highly is the ability to send push notifications. “When something interesting is taking place, push notifications are a good way to notify our management quickly and in real-time. So, wherever they are they are kept up to date on the now, rather than relying on historical information like follow-up emails.”

Understand the needs of your people

Wheeler’s team is costantly talking with their staff, conducting surveys and meeting people to understand their needs and preferences. Based on that listening they are making evolutionary changes to Buzz. For example, someone suggested thaving the ability to go beyond the firewall and book their holidays from the app. “Employees not only want to read news and receive relevant information, but they also want the opportunity to process their own information.”

‘We do understand that the traditional working environment is thing of the past, and we are now working to make that happen.”

Another important feedback was around the ability to collaborate more. Once again Wheeler took notice. “We are now looking at introducing the commenting function. And, once the intranet will be fully mobile, employees will be able to build their own profiles, start to follow each other and collaborate like in an internal social network.”

Key learning – experiment

Wheeler believes that using Buzz as an experiment before implementing a broader digital workplace strategy was the right thing to do. “You cannot just launch an application for the sake of going mobile. You need to understand the needs of your audiences and ask yourself, ‘Is the application going to the right direction? Is just for internal communications or is also for collaborating? Are there any additional features we should add?’

Ultimately, he thinks that the rest of the organisation will appreciate the tool as much as the senior management does. He appreciates that not everybody is the same and that the cultural change required may take more time depending on the different audiences. Yet, he has not doubts that “the business world has changed and so have the expectations of our people.”

The key learnings from Buzz will now inform the development of Nationwide’s new web-based mobile intranet which will be rolled out later in 2015.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate