With a holistic approach to employee communications and engagement, the Wellcome Trust has an inspiring working environment. Gloria Lombardi reports.
“We fund academic researchers and institutions to look at the big and little questions relating to health,” says Chris Newstead (pictured right), Head of Internal Communications at the Wellcome Trust.
Since 1936, this global foundation has helped to save and improve millions of lives by funding biomedical science and research projects. Last year, they granted £750 million, helping to fund around 11,000 projects. While a majority of funding focuses on work undertaken in the UK, they are international in their outlook. “We have significant centres operating in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and SE Asia in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, as well as a large partnership with the Indian Government.”
Internal Communication wanted
With around 800 employees based in the UK, “there is obviously a role to play for internal communication to help them connect with the work we fund but also the work of colleagues.”
Employees cover a range of disciplines in support of grant-giving but also further include people working in investments, policy, a public medical library and those looking after Wellcome Collection – this innovative museum adjoined to their offices in central London looks to explore what it means to be human.
Recently the Internal Communication function has been separated from other areas within Communications, reporting now directly to the Director of People & Facilities. “Our team remains physically located alongside our other comms professionals. But we’re building new bridges out through the rest of the organisation, enabled in part by reporting outside of Comms.”
Because health matters at work
Wellcome has an inspiring working environment. With purpose built premises in Euston, they work hard to ensure that employees have not just the basics in place that they need to work effectively.
A corporate well-being group sits at the core of health and safety, ensuring the needs of all the members of staff are considered. “Desks, chairs and individual space are carefully and purposefully considered on a person by person basis.” The office has an on-site gym where classes run throughout the day. And, an award-winning in-house catering partner provides healthy food options. “The restaurant offers everything from meat-free to ‘wonky veg’ and special meals with recent campaigns to reduce sugar and salt in all our on-site food.”
They host mindfulness classes and have appointed mental health first aiders in every division. Plus, their flexible working policies and working parent groups are having a positive impact on people at all stages of life.
Bespoken engagement activities
The organisation offers employees a variety of entertaining – yet work-related – activities to engage with: from games to films, broadcast television programmes, theatre, music and festivals. For example, staff screenings in 2015 included the Wellcome-funded Electricity, a cinema release focused on dementia, and The Secret Lives of Four Years Olds broadcast on C4. They also invite in their academic researchers – on average one per week – to share details about the research or projects they are undertaking, presented in layman’s terms, for science and non-scientists alike to appreciate.
Themed days are also run. For example, in the last 3 months, there have been sessions on virtual reality, 3D printing and the roles of dogs in medical care, which saw several canine friends invade the workplace for 8 hours! “The aim of our activities is always to shine a light on the extraordinarily, wide range of things that Wellcome enables. And, to give our people opportunities to appreciate and feel personally connected with what we do.”
They invite public figures into their offices, across the year, to speak with staff. They are “provocateurs who can bring some fresh thinking.” For example, in 2015, they had the CEO of M&S, the CEO of Twitter UK, the Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the President of Medicins Sans Frontieres. These activities are an opportunity for staff to gain slightly different perspectives on issues that are important to the organisation. “Whether it’s around environmental issues or global health, there are always new ways of looking at things.”
Knowledge sharing is highly valued across the whole organisation. One way to encourage it has been through a ‘Knowledge Club’. “It’s an idea taken from the lab, whereby weekly Journal Clubs are run for scientists to share with each other research findings that others may have missed.” The Knowledge Club is a monthly event where employees explore specialised or technical topics such as big data or the UK Biobank. Anyone who has an interest in that subject can join the sessions, listen and assimilate and share their own insights as well. “We deliberately try to cross-pollinate knowledge among people between divisions and look to do so in a manner where ‘there are no stupid questions’.”
Once a month, they also have an all-staff meeting with over 200 regular attendees. “Not always the same faces, which is good.” It is an opportunity for five-minute updates from staff in an energised, town hall, magazine format. Anyone can share what they are working on – current projects, campaigns, or initiatives – with their colleagues. “Employees appreciate knowing what others are up to. And it’s great to enable a common platform for all to use, from the most junior to the most senior.”
A place for social collaboration
In September 2015, they relaunched their new Drupal-based intranet, Trustnet. “It is platform and device ambivalent,” says Chris, emphasising that catching up with mobile was an essential evolution. “Being able to work and check news while on the go or travelling abroad was a fairly big leap for us. Overnight it became our central tool not just for sharing information, but for truly connecting people no matter their location, the time of day or the device they had to hand.”
“We use its forums, comment and social features. It’s been fantastic to see discussions involving more than 50 members of staff on topics as eclectic as evolving our corporate font to more fundamental areas such as our strategic framework.” What is clear is that their people care and want to understand better the decisions that are being made throughout the organisation.
The redevelopment of their intranet was also an opportunity to separate out document management. “No documents are stored on Trustnet. We put all of them on SharePoint sites, which we use exclusively as a document management system.” It was an important stepping stone to universal accessibility and enabling flexible working, directly linked with their current rollout of Office 365.
They are seeing the power of connectivity enabled through instant messaging and video conferencing, not in replacement of email or face-to-face meetings but as additional options. With it, there are more opportunities for internal communication than ever before.
“Increasingly in internal communications we are agitators in ensuring more and more barriers to accessing information are removed. The traditional roles of information gatekeepers are becoming redundant. And we are better focused on becoming guides, signposting colleagues so they can find the answers they need and not assuming we know what it is they want.”