South East Water joins forces with Interact to build and launch their collaborative intranet, "Gurgle"
Utilities and Power
South East Water is a UK supplier of drinking water to 2.2 million consumers in the English counties of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, and Berkshire.
Every day, the company supplies an average of 521 million liters of drinking water from its 83 water treatment works and manages more than 14,500 kilometers (about 9,000 miles) of its water mains. The company's supply area covers 5,657 square kilometers. The company takes water from rivers, reservoirs and underground sources (aquifers) under abstraction licenses issued by the Environment Agency.
The project team at South East Water faced a number of challenges – firstly, their legacy intranet was failing to fulfill organizational needs. Communication was still heavily reliant on email and there were problems with siloed working. But one of the most significant problems was that the organization covers six separate sites which meant a constant struggle to provide consistent comms across the entire network – especially to the many South East Water workers who were continuously non-desk based. A system that would facilitate better communication means for collaboration and a way to publish news and company events was needed.
The opportunity to introduce a fresh rebrand
Better access to news and information
Intelligent search function improving productivity
A rewards program that championed individuals from within
A democratic approach to content production
A successful suggestions and ideas generator initiative
South East Water shows how successfully overhauling a legacy intranet system with 'Gurgle' transformed their organization.
You’ll know when your intranet isn’t working when it isn’t solving significant problems in how your organization functions.
When you and your colleagues communicate heavily on emails, when there are distinct silos in the workplace, when it’s hard to access the right, up-to-date information – that’s when an intranet isn’t fulfilling its potential.
So, when South East Water approached Interact to overhaul their legacy intranet, they had five goals in mind:
To reduce email traffic
To stop ‘silo working’
To create a social culture to improve staff engagement
To provide easy to access, relevant and up-to-date information to users
To enable people to create content and contribute via blogs, message boards, and award programs.
It was a tall order, but they knew with the right type of software and good organization, they’d achieve their goals.
Design and brand
Deciding on an intranet’s name is an important step. This sets the tone for the branding and design. It is also, of course, what people will be calling it – so needs to be easy to read and say and feel familiar enough for the whole of the organization to embrace.
The opportunity to name the intranet was rolled out to the whole of South East Water. After many suggestions, it was decided that Gurgle, a water-based pun on the popular search engine, was the winner. It fitted in with the bright, modern, fun approach of the new system.
With a focus on design and excellent user experience, Gurgle was born. While the initial response was warmly received, the intranet team realized that to keep up engagement and encourage further adoption in the hard-to-reach areas of the business, more work needed to be done on its sustainability. This manifested itself in two significant changes: the homepage and content.
The homepage of an intranet carries out a lot of functions. As the first intranet page that a user sees, the plan for Gurgle’s homepage was to encourage staff to keep revisiting and making the intranet part of their daily toolbox.
Initially, the homepage consisted of a carousel displaying articles on engineering works and environmental finds. Despite this having relevance to some members of staff, there were more exciting things happening within the business that wasn’t being covered. Other features, including an inactive rewards system and a microblog, were surplus to requirements and removed from the main page.
South East Water improved their intranet homepage by delivering news that would interest the whole organization.
A homepage banner replaced the carousel and allowed one good story to take prominence for a certain amount of time. Generally, these banners will broadcast a story relating to staff. However, it has proven useful to relay operational incidents which need to be seen as many members of staff as possible. A recent example of this is a phone fault which meant contact with technical teams was affected. This ‘main story’ position allowed the team to communicate instructions on how to process different types of situations until the issue was resolved.
This feature has been so successful that the external communications team has used it on the public website so that customers can be informed of important news in the most effective way.
Of course, improvements to the homepage need to be supported by good, quality content. To maintain staff engagement, competitions, blogs and debate have been promoted and encouraged. This kind of material creates a fun space that helps Gurgle not merely act as a place to access important information, but also to look and see the latest happenings within the organization.
In order to keep up the momentum for regular, fresh content, the project team has encouraged individual areas to set up their own pages within the system. Thanks to a nominated team caretaker, each department’s news and information are kept up-to-date and frequently shared on the social space.
As Amelia Wilson, Communications Officer at South East Water says, “this small change to our internal news section on the homepage has seen staff like and share much more digestible content with their peers.”
An essential part of any intranet’s introduction to the workplace is its launch. However, rather than focusing on one office, South East Water had six sites across Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, and Berkshire to consider in Gurgle’s roll-out.
In order to engage the entire workforce across the business, posters were put up in every office, and computer screensavers were changed to show the logo, and the words ‘Gurgle is coming soon’. With small teasers like this, anticipation was built, and a buzz around South East Water’s offices began.
Their launch day began with a desk drop of concertina leaflets, highlighting Gurgle’s benefits: its accessibility, excellent search functions and ability to connect with colleagues, catch up with news and take part in the staff rewards programme. Activities were planned throughout the day to celebrate the system’s introduction and allow colleagues to learn more about its many features.
The Gurgle project team handed out the benefits of the new intranet to South East Water staff on launch day.
Gurgle in practice
Since its inception, Gurgle has been a success. This is down to a number of factors, most notably the project team’s strategy and the setting of carefully-planned objectives. The system now benefits from staff of all ages contributing to the site, uploading content, creating groups and sparking discussion and conversation online.
One of the biggest successes on Gurgle is ‘Pipe Up!’ – an ideas generation network that allows staff to make suggestions to senior management regarding all areas of the organization. These can vary from improvements to the intranet to staff well-being, and is a great way to allow everyone to participate in changes within the organization and get feedback on a whole host of subjects.
Pipe Up feature on Gurgle allows staff at South East Water to contribute with ideas and suggestions which could improve the way the organization functions.
“Listening to each and every suggestion is exactly what our internal communications strategy is about. We want everyone to feel valued and incorporated into the business, and even those less confident about the way we approach widespread company problems can have their say – whether this be in favour of the idea, or to call out the problems that it may cause their area.”
The success of an intranet can be demonstrated through statistics, but also through cultural change. An intranet can be responsible for the way in which an organization drops bad habits and adopts new and better ways of working and communicating. However, these less tangible results aren’t as easy to measure than the more traditional metrics. But in South East Water’s case, we can see both.
Since its introduction, Gurgle has been a hive of activity with the following stats (from the first year of operation) to back it up:
717,691 unique visits
5,344 ‘High Five’ rewards given
1,267 profiles created (267 contractors)
1,187 unique visitors
944 pages created
573 blogs written
74 teams created
504 forum threads
This has all been done across 35 departments, 28 locations, and just 950 staff. But it’s not just stats that have excited South East Water’s internal communications department.
But there is also significant evidence to show that Gurgle has:
Reduced email traffic
Gurgle is used to broadcast both big and small news, as well as for sharing ideas and gaining feedback.
Gurgle has replaced the all-user emails that were previously sent to keep staff in the loop. This means that management can reach a wider audience (those members of staff who aren’t desk-based, for example), and track their reach. News is also up-to-the-minute, meaning there’s no risk of obsolete information in the quarterly magazines that are still produced.
There are many individuals within an organization that can be at risk from isolation. Lone or remote workers, those without access to a computer and colleagues who may feel anxious about speaking up may all easily ‘lost’ in traditional forms of communication.
One of the advantages of systems like Gurgle is that they provide a safe, easily accessible (you can login on your mobile if you prefer!) space for them to make their voices heard and feel a valued member of the organization.
“We have geared many of our internal communications towards our field staff, and our new intranet has by far been the most successful way of getting them involved.”
Thanks to the ability to communicate in a variety of media, people are now able to get a better insight into their colleagues through the sharing of experience, back stories, images, and video.
South East Water Customer Services Director, Steve George, uses his weekly diary to share updates from his area of the business, give recognition, and connect with staff.
Candid shots of board meetings and frank exchange and commentary from senior management contribute to building a bigger picture at South East Water. These types of interaction help make everyone feel part of the organization’s future, and increases employee satisfaction.
Thanks to Gurgle, there have been cultural changes across the board at South East Water, but none more so than the rewards feature, High Five. Saying thanks and letting people know they’ve done a great job is an essential part of a happy, healthy workplace culture. High Five allows staff to show gratitude – whether it’s for something minor like a morning cup of tea or something more substantial, like help on a project.
And of course, High Fives are public, so the whole organization gets to know about the everyday acts of kindness and hard work that occurs in every department. This has a massive influence on how colleagues regard and respect each other at work.
A recent employee survey showed that 90% of staff were proud to work for South East Water and 92% enjoy their job.
Although we can’t prove that the high levels of staff satisfaction is down to Gurgle alone, when combined with the sheer amount of high fives awarded by colleagues to their peers, and the pure amount of happy thoughts we see written on Gurgle every day, we feel confident that it played a part. It shows that Gurgle has met its objective of increasing job satisfaction as our best ever survey results were achieved immediately after Gurgle was launched and used as a primary communication tool for the survey.
Essential intranet guide
A must-have guide for every stage of your intranet journey.
Download our free guide and learn how to get the most from your intranet; whether you're looking to make improvements to your existing platform, or you're planning a new project.