Facebook's Workplace takes off with 7,000 users at Virgin Atlantic

Facebook's Workplace takes off with 7,000 users at Virgin Atlantic

Facebook’s enterprise social network app quickly gains users, helping the airline overcome some of the adoption challenges it saw with Microsoft’s Yammer.

Credit: Facebook

The nature of Virgin Atlantic’s business means many of its workers are continuously on the move around the globe. Ensuring effective communications channels – a challenge for any company – isn’t easy: nearly half of the airline’s 10,000 employees are cabin or cockpit crew members.

Two months ago, the airline rolled out Facebook’s Workplace, the business version of the social network tool, in a bid to improve information-sharing between staff and senior execs. It currently functions primarily as an intranet for internal communications, though the company plans to integrate the software with other apps and processes, such as ServiceNow, eventually.

Since it was launched, Workplace has been widely adopted across the organization, said Virgin Atlantic CIO and senior vice president for technology Don Langford.

“We went live in the beginning of September and our target for the end of the year was for us to be at 65% adoption,” he said. “We are already over that now; we have got over 7,000 people up on it, so over 70%.”

Aside from the 70% activation rate, 65% are accessing the tool on a weekly basis, and 32% of groups are active weekly. (Tellingly, 34% of the users have added their own Workplace profile pictures.)

Deploying an enterprise social network is one thing, but convincing people to use it daily is often quite another. Raúl Castañón-Martínez, senior analyst at 451 Research, said that adoption rate of Workplace at Virgin Atlantic is “very impressive,” particularly considering the number of users accessing the tool on a weekly basis. 

“It validates Workplace’s value proposition, which is based on widespread adoption across the organization,” he said. 

Langford credited the swift uptake to the familiarity workers already had with Facebook – a potential lesson for other companies.

“Workplace has that advantage of having that same interface, that same way of working,” he said, “and we felt – correctly it turned out – that using Workplace would allow our people to move quite seamlessly across from a Facebook platform to a Workplace platform…. That certainly proved to be true.”

Details of the rollout's cost at Virgin Atlantic were not immediately available. Facebook offers tiered pricing for Workplace: The premium tier costs US$3 per user for the first 1,000 active users, $2 per user for the next 9,000 active users and $1 per user thereafter.

Yammer alternative

Before moving to Workplace, Virgin Atlantic relied on Microsoft’s Yammer for enterprise communications. The result was “poor” levels of adoption, said Langford.

As a result, the company faced a choice: “double down” on Yammer or invest in a new communication tool like Workplace that had a better chance of adoption. 

“The thing that really sold [Workplace] for us was the expectation of much higher adoption, which turned out to be true,” said Langford. “We really felt very strongly that we really wanted to reach those distributed workers, the pilots, the cabin crew, who were not in an office, who did not have a tight communication channel to us.

“One of the things that we found with Yammer is that getting people to use it – training them and the business change element – there is a lot of uphill slog there. We felt that with Workplace people could just slide over very easily from something that they are very familiar with….”

Castañón-Martínez said that adoption is typically a challenge for enterprise software. It is particularly important when it comes to business communications and collaboration apps “because of their nature.” 

“Their value will exponentially increase with the number of active users and the frequency of use,” he said.

Facebook’s Workplace – not just for cat videos

The initial goal for Workplace was to enhance communications across Virgin Atlantic’s operations. That included the creation of Workplace groups, which allows all members of staff to speak directly with CEO Craig Kreeger.

“People ask questions and Craig will respond directly, and if they are technical questions he will find the right person to respond,” Langford said. “So it is a very good real-time, direct communication channel that lots of people are involved in.”

Another is a “recognition” group. It allows team members to highlight work carried out by colleagues, whether they be customer facing staffers selling holiday packages or engineers maintaining aircraft. “It has really opened up visibility of the range of the company really well,” he said.

The software also allows video content to be more easily shared with front-line staffers. “Our CEO made a short video for our pilots and we are able to push that through that channel,” Langford said. “We were able to know for the first time, with a high degree of certainty, that this video that we wanted people to see, or make available for them to watch, was in everyone’s hands.

“I can press a button and now I know that that is pretty much instantly available to that community. That is a really really powerful tool.”

Workplace can be more than a corporate communications application; Virgin Atlantic also sees it as a productivity tool. From a cabin crew perspective, this might mean team leaders equipped with iPads sharing real-time performance information through the app, or the ability to assign crew members responsibilities for a particular shift. 

“When we started this, I said, ‘Oh gosh, I am going to need to get lots of bandwidth for all the cat videos,’” Langford said. “But I turned out to be wrong on that. In terms of being a productivity tool, I think there is an enormous amount of capability that we are going to be tapping into the system. 

“We are just really getting started with that because we are only a couple of months into it,” he added, “but already in terms of collaboration we are seeing that some of our workers are really embracing that.” 

There is also potential to communicate with outside companies; Workplace has enabled multi-company groups since its launch. 

“Delta is just starting to use Workplace as well, and we have started a few cross-company groups because we do use a number of Delta IT resources,” he said. “Being able to collaborate directly and seamlessly has been very helpful and I see a lot of potential growth there.” 

Coming up: Integration with ServiceNow

Langford said Virgin Atlantic plans to integrate Workplace with service desk management application ServiceNow.

“My dream in the coming year is to take a lot of processes that we have now and either have Workplace as a front-end – like ServiceNow, for example – or to just completely replace a process and have it stay within Workplace,” he said. 

As an example of how that would work, Langford suggested the creation of a service ticket: “’This doesn't work, that doesn’t work, this is faulty, that kind of thing.’ We could photograph a barcode, send it to Workplace through a bot and then have that automatically turn into a ServiceNow ticket. That would be using Workplace as a front-end into a current process that we have.”

Another possibility would be the ability to record problems that occur during flights so they can be followed up on later. For instance, if catering services fail to meet desired standards, or cabin lights get broken, the current process for dealing with those issues could be sped up.

“These things are written down and then they are sent to be scanned and digitized and there is a bit of a delay,” Langford said. “In [the] future, I could just take a picture of a broken lightbulb and even from on-board an aircraft, because all of our aircraft have Wi-Fi. We could just take a picture of the offending item in question and then have that automatically going to the systems that are necessary to schedule repair.”

Virgin Atlantic is in the process of extending its mobile device policy to a wider range of crew members, which will further support the use of Workplace. Currently 42% of active users access the application through a mobile device.

“At the moment, all of our cabin crew leaders have iPads and our goal is longer term to have that available to everybody on staff. Workplace will be on all of those devices and they will have access on board the aircraft,” Langford said.

This will mean that cabin crew members will be able to access work and customer-related information. “Being able to communicate [this information] into workflows – we are very excited about really leveraging that.” 

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