Maureen Chambers – William Hill

In our latest IC Leader Q&A, we speak to former ICT Associate Maureen Chambers, now Group Head of Internal Communications at William Hill, to find out about how she and her team have managed internal comms through the Coronavirus pandemic…

How has William Hill dealt with the pandemic as a business?

The pandemic has obviously had a major impact on the business with the closure early on of our UK Retail shops and the Casinos in the US. The suspension of most major sports was clearly an issue for a bookmaker too! Before it was mandated by various governments, we pretty much moved all of our office staff across the world to working from home. This was interesting because there had always been some roles that it had been argued had to be in the office. The last year has shown that’s not the situation and many colleagues feel they are more productive at home.

The business adapted very quickly to home working and the technology has been very reliable. We regularly surveyed our colleagues about how they were finding working from home and hugely increased our wellbeing activities and communications.

Through these surveys and our regular monthly Peakon engagement surveys we were starting to see that our colleagues were looking for William Hill to provide more certainty about flexible working when this is all over. We embarked on The Big Conversation – taking themes from the feedback and exploring them further. Having held 50 virtual conversations with over 500 colleagues as well as the continuing feedback from Peakon, Balance was born. We want to create a two way, high-trust culture, tied to our values, that empowers colleagues to work flexibly in a way that suits them. And that’s Balance. We’ve embarked on a large learning programme for our leaders to make sure that they can support their teams to find balance and to manage teams effectively in a virtual world. Our colleagues really appreciate the certainty we’ve given them as to how we will work when this is all over.

At the moment our UK offices remain closed. And across our locations this has been dependent on local advice – throughout this we’ve had a general central approach but have always followed local government/health authority advice in the specific location. But all offices, regardless of location are set up to have limited capacity for safety reasons and appropriate PPE. But the main guidance is work from home if you can. If a colleague needs to work from an office for a wellbeing perspective for example, they need to complete a training module on how to keep themselves and colleagues safe and they can’t go back in without doing it or without the permission of their manager. We’ve also introduced a desk booking app, so that when we’re allowed back in, even if that’s with restrictions, we’re able to control the number of colleagues in the office and do test and trace if needed. It will also help us when things are normal as hot desking will become the norm because some of our colleagues could potentially work from home up to four days a week. As our shop colleagues returned to work when restrictions were lifted, we made sure that the shops had everything they needed to make sure that customers and colleagues felt safe.

How have you changed / adapted internal comms at William Hill in response to the crisis?

Yes we used to do a monthly update with the top 150 managers and we changed that to fortnightly. We used that to help the team understand the current situation both from a pandemic and a business perspective. These are hosted by our CEO and includes contributions from various Exec members. We’re very clear with the senior team what we expect from them and get really good engagement with questions submitted on Sli.do. After the call, a recording is sent out, along with a comprehensive presentation pack and script for the leaders to use as appropriate with their teams.

The day after this session, our CEO sends out a message and video to everyone across William Hill. And in the divisions, the Exec members have been doing more local Town Halls, virtual check-ins etc. We did much of this before, but we’ve upped the ante in terms of timing and content to be far more regular and we’ve decided to keep that cadence in place. We’ve tried to strike the balance between positivity and the reality of Coronavirus and its impact on the business. We’ve had so much positive feedback about the communication and support we’ve been giving to our colleagues over the last year.

What channels are working particularly well with face to face communication in person not possible?

We’re using video conferencing a lot – and no surprise that many colleagues have video conference fatigue. Something that used to be a 5 minute conversation over a desk is now a 30 minute video call. But they are very effective and a great way to bring people together either in teams or for bigger events. Videos are proving popular – rough and ready, recorded on an iPhone or a laptop in homes. It brings an element of personality to the Exec member. Many teams have been holding virtual coffee breaks, virtual drinks after work, virtual workouts, you name it. And colleagues have said they are seeing an improvement in collaboration between teams despite not seeing each other face to face.

How are you ensuring that your people can raise queries and give feedback?

Every time we do a video conference we always use Sli.do which allows colleagues to raise questions and give feedback. This can either be at the company level or a more local level. Slack is used in some divisions with specific ‘ask me’ channels and Yammer of course, although that is mainly for our Retail colleagues. And whilst we’ve been using Peakon as a way to survey some colleagues for a number of years now, we’ve just rolled this out to everyone in William Hill. Peakon has been invaluable to us throughout the pandemic to understand how our colleagues are feeling and many initiatives have been borne out of their feedback – Balance is just one of them.

How has the role of you and your team changed during the crisis?

We’ve been very reactive as you can imagine and very, very busy. Whilst some teams were encouraged to take leave, that was difficult for us as we were at the heart of everything. It was impossible to get away from Coronavirus because that’s all we were talking about and the impact on the business! But we’ve made sure that we’ve also communicated the great things going on across our business during these difficult times.

Pretty much all of our Retail team in the UK have been furloughed on and off over the last year and they were sharing on Yammer how they were supporting their local communities. We had a colleague in Leeds who was making and supplying PPE from a 3D printer, teams in Krakow preparing and delivering meals for front line health professionals. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there were so many things like that going on across our locations. It was important to share these heart-warming stories during a very uncertain period for the business. Of course, all planning took a back seat but we’re now back to being more forward looking particularly as we’ve had a lot of work to do communicating the offer that Caesars Entertainment made in the autumn to buy William Hill and what that means for colleagues.

How are you measuring the effectiveness of crisis comms?

We do a mood report every week for the Exec. In that we measure engagement through Peakon, as well as ad-hoc feedback we receive from the business. We look at Peakon and Yammer comments which give us a clear indication as to how things are landing and in Peakon we’ve included specific questions about the effectiveness of communication during COVID. We also measure the usual stuff like read rates on articles and we’ve never seen the level of engagement around our CEO’s messages that we’ve seen during COVID. It’s been amazing. And we also look at number of attendees on video calls, Sli.do engagement etc. Our colleagues have really appreciated the level of communication right across the business during this time both from a central and a local perspective and we’ve been told that we’ve done so much more than a lot of other businesses.

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