Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council overcome communication challenges using an employee communications platform.

The council launched the iConnect app to re-engage and communicate with their diverse workforce.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council was formed in 2015 after the amalgamation of  Antrim Borough and Newtownabbey Borough Local Councils.  This came about as part of an overall strategy in local government in Northern Ireland merging 26 existing local councils to 11 ‘super councils’.  The council serves a population of 141,000 residents across several large and small towns as well as across a large proportion of rural communities. 

The Challenge

As a result of the amalgamation of councils in Northern Ireland, many council employees found themselves moving location, merging into new teams and generally experiencing disruption to their previous working lives under separate councils. The council  takes the responsibility for their employees very seriously and in 2015 they received the “Investors in People Silver Award” for their work with employees.  As part of that initiative, the communications team were determined to further analyse and improve employee engagement across the workforce.  In terms of employee satisfaction measurement, internal communication scored the least - although 61% of employees stated that internal communication had either improved or remained the same, 39% of employees remained dissatisfied.  

Diving Deeper

Not satisfied with these results, they were determined to re-engage and improve morale which was purportedly low due to the merger and disruption in employee’s working lives and environment.  During deeper discussions at staff engagement roadshows, ideas were discussed concerning how the employees might feel better engaged and how communications could be made more readily available.  The suggestion of having a mobile app came from within the 50% of staff who do not have access to a computer and therefore remain outside the traditional communications loop of email and intranet.  Staff who already had access to email agreed that separating communications away from email, would lead to a de-cluttering of overloaded inboxes and reduce the chance of missing important information or communications via email. 

"The App has transformed our internal communication. We are working in real time for the first time with staff in all service areas. For many staff it is now their go to place for lots of news and key info. Its great too for our recruitment and training news. The App is an integral part of our overall communications activity and we are looking to develop the content further and promote greater staff recognition using it."

Tracey White, Head of Communications and Customer Service, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council

Bridging the Communications Gap

The communications team set about solving the problem and were determined to find a way of  re-engaging with those who felt left out of the communications loop.  As an app had been the agreed solution, the council engaged Thrive as a recognised leader in the field,  to help provide the solution. A team was assembled comprising of communications personnel and a mixture of staff without computer or email access to champion the app within the organisation.  

Goals of the Employee Communications App

- To improve internal communications

- Measure the overall download and engagement rate with the app

- Give opportunity to ALL staff to participate in the communications of the council

- Reaching those currently without email or computer access was given priority

- Clearly defined launch date and aim to reach all staff in the first month

iConnect launched

Using the input from the multi- disciplinary project team, the app was built in close collaboration with Thrive over a matter of just a few weeks. The app was launched internally to the workforce under the branding of ‘iConnect’.  From the launch it was available to all staff for download on mobile phones and desktop regardless of the operating system or ability to access email.  Everyone was given the opportunity to connect and engage with the newly developed, fresh communications channel.  

Predicated by an internal marketing campaign , the launch saw 20% uptake in the first day alone.  Bolstered by a positive and energising staff roadshow, the number increased in the first few weeks of use to 57% of staff having downloaded, registered and started using the app.  

Users found that the information presented gave them up to date and useful content that enabled them to stay abreast of the news and information relevant to their job on the move. 

“I love using iConnect. I work in one of the leisure centres and I usually work in the evenings and weekends. iConnect allows me to stay up to date with what is going on in the Council and gives me access I didn’t previously have!”

Adele - Employee of Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council

Upon review of the campaign, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council noted that there had been significant improvements in communication over what was in place prior to the app being used at the council; 

- Improved 2-way communication with the front line staff

- Shared company core values and goals with front line staff  in a new and exciting way

- Facilitated interdepartmental information sharing and communication

- Promoted staff engagement by combining internal communications and training materials into one power-packed mobile app

- Increased activity and coverage of staff recognition programme

- Enabled peer-to-peer recognition

- Overall increase in staff engagement with council news and communications

- Significantly reduced print costs for internal communications

"My job is to create and distribute daily communications with our staff and Councillors. The app has given me the assurance that what we are generating gets to everybody. Bolstered by push notifications I can target groups with important and timely communications as well as the general and fun side of the council. It’s a great leap forward in terms of getting better engagement from our staff and making us all one big team!"

Jennifer Coulter, Media and Marketing Officer, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council

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