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Employee engagement helped Booth Welsh adapt to lockdown

Booth Welsh employee

How employee engagement helped Booth Welsh adapt to lockdown

Aimee Doole, Head of Marketing, Communications and Engagement at Booth Welsh, talks about how its investment in an effective employee engagement strategy helped the Irvine-based engineering technology business adapt to life in lockdown and how it plans to develop this to 'build back better'.

Employee voice should always be the guiding factor when times are tough. It’s important not to stop listening or fear feedback. Throughout lockdown, we used online tools to build a community remotely and to engage our our employees during this time of uncertainty.

Aimee Doole, Head of Marketing, Communication and Engagement at Welsh Booth

Aimee Doole, Welsh Booth

As a modern engineering technology business, Booth Welsh has always tried to use innovative and timely communications to speak to our target audience around the world.

However, as we all broke out of our offices on the 23 March when the UK lockdown was announced, our marketing efforts needed to take on a different and more local form. This time with our employees at the centre.

Over the last 3 years, we've invested heavily in internal workplace innovation and employee engagement initiatives across the business, which have been supported and partially funded by Scottish Enterprise. We've been fortunate enough to speak on a number of stages, sharing our cultural success story. Now it felt like we were really putting it to the test as - overnight - we went from 0 to 150 employees working from home.

Today, as we all sit in a bit of a limbo state between lockdown and normality, it feels like an opportunity to take time to reflect on what the last 6 months have been like, the lessons learned and how we can ‘build back better’.

AnneMarie McCabe, Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Specialist, adds:

“Having worked with the Booth Welsh team over the last few years, its investment in workplace innovation and putting this at the forefront of its strategy has truly allowed it to adapt to meet unplanned challenges. These internal practices align with the fundamentals of Fair Work which are: effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect. It's been great to see how these have been creatively put into action at Booth Welsh.”

5 tips to help you build back better

Here's our insight into 5 things we focused on building during lockdown and how we plan to further develop them.

1. Have visible leadership from the top

Internal communication isn’t easy at the best of times. And with each employee virtually on a different site, the challenge just became greater during this time.
From day one, we started regular, mini 'video blogs' that we streamed live from our Managing Director - commenting on news announcements and what this meant for us as a business.

It wasn’t always uplifting and positive news, but we always tried to make it honest, transparent and reassuring. We also held a number of live online Q&A sessions with an 'ask me anything' approach lead by our MD to put people at ease and allow our teams to directly ask what was on their minds.

These sessions and 'selfie' style videos were by no means professionally shot and scripted, but many of our employees have commented that this visibility and openness was very reassuring during these times. 

Today, our video blogs are slightly less frequent, but we've continued with them. Other department heads have also followed suit and we now have this as a weekly feature in our communications strategy.

As well as communication from the top, we needed to foster strong communications in all directions.

2. Create a virtual office platform

Not being in the same place meant we needed to think out the office box (literally). For the last two years we've used an internal platform called ‘Workplace’ by Facebook, which is like a modern intranet, giving us stronger communication and a chance for employee voice to be heard across the business.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, we had around half of the company accessing it. During lockdown we had a higher percentage of our employees actively using it. And it's evolved into a solid community outwith the office, where people support, update and celebrate each other.

Our strategy with this platform has been to keep communications fun and collaborative where possible and to ensure there's an attempt at boosting morale.

For example, 'cheer up Tuesday' posts were a regular weekly feature. We also had a prize for 'best lockdown garden’ picture and shared tips on ‘wellbeing Wednesday’. And we polled best book and TV recommendations. We even hosted weekly ‘winedowns’ on a Friday evening as a chance to informally catch up with colleagues. BYOB of course.

This virtual community acted like a physical space where people could come together in the same way that they do in the office kitchen or coffee bar to share ideas, jokes and generally just a supportive and friendly ear. If you haven’t already explored this platform for your business or a similar community building tool, I’d highly recommend it.

3. Focus on learning and upskilling

As a business working across many complex industries in a technology space, the need for us to continually stay ahead of our game is always there. To allow our employees to make the most of their extra time at home, we set up an online library which they could access for useful resources on everything - from how to keep kids entertained during home-schooling, to future-focused online courses.

During this time, we also kick-started our internal learning and mentoring programme and held sessions with experienced trainers. We also ensured recognition for our people going the extra mile, with our #Lockdownlearning posts on our online community.

We were keen to give our employees the opportunity to future proof their skills. For one of our team members, this time out and experimentation meant that he was able to teach himself how to 3D print visors. As a result, we were able to give back to the community and successfully delivered over 250 visors to the NHS.

We also looked not just at professional coping strategies, but personal coping strategies. We understood people were feeling vulnerable during this time and we asked what our employees would find useful to help them cope. Following this feedback, we brought in expert speakers to run webinars on emotional resilience, mindfulness and even how to manage personal finances.

4. Invest in technology

It goes without saying that technology really has been a life saver for many businesses. We invested in Office 365 and Microsoft Teams around two years ago and it's completely transformed how we work.

Amongst many great collaborative functions, making use of the feature to record meetings on Microsoft Teams has been a game changer. No longer confined by location, we've seen an increase in people being able to attend meetings. This in turn has created stronger links across departments to work together and identify new ideas.

The idea of being able to catch up ‘on demand’ has meant more people are tuning into meetings and having their say. Collaboration bonds across the business are naturally being strengthened as we use technology to bring us all together more, despite the distance.

Booth Welsh has also been able to realise new business possibilities amongst COVID-19 disruptions. As a company we've been working in the digitalisation space for a number of years. Post COVID-19, a new world of opportunities has opened up across all industries regarding remote working and digital technology support.

As a result of our internal innovation from employee ideas, we've been able to adapt our external offering to support clients to work smarter, get more out of their assets (both people and plant) and do more with less. Whether that's increasing quality, safety, productivity, saving costs or time, we're able to help others build back better.

5. Pivot, adapt and ask for feedback

Employee voice should always be the guiding factor when times are tough. It’s important not to stop listening or fear feedback. Throughout lockdown, we used online tools to build a community remotely and engage our employees during this time of uncertainty. This allowed us to take the pulse on our employees' views on certain topics and react quickly to what was suggested.

Perhaps a bit unusual during these disrupted times, but we decided to go ahead as normal with our biennial 360 diagnostic survey, which is run by Workplace Innovation Europe. This survey asks for views and opinions from teams on practices needed for high performance, engagement and workforce health and gives an in-depth understanding of where change is needed and how to deliver it.

Interestingly, our scores increased across the board despite the backdrop of the pandemic. It gave us valuable insights into how our employees want us to adapt our practices as we move into the new normal.

Despite staying closer to home than normal, I think we went the distance to engage our employees in these uncertain times. Although there's no magic key here, new doors will be opened when businesses realise a people engagement strategy is for life, not just a pandemic.

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