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AstraZeneca looks at the bigger picture in enterprise social media

How do you work with people in different time zones and from different cultures and what happens when people leave the company?

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The pharmaceutical industry was where the world turned when the pandemic struck. Discussing how the company continued operations unabated, Alun Metford, head of global internal communications and business partnering at AstraZeneca, says it “didn’t stop working during the pandemic”.

Along with the role it played in the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, he says the company worked on initiatives to distribute medicines to people.

“Our employees adjusted to different ways of working. Workplace from Facebook has helped us to stay connected,” he adds. In the early days of the pandemic, the company used the enterprise social media platform to provide guidance to employees.

Capturing ideas

AstraZeneca now also uses Workplace from Facebook to host leadership sessions, but it is also looking at how it can use the platform to tap into experiences and adjust its strategies.

“The best ideas can come from anywhere, it’s not about top-down. Many ideas from employees form the central parts of our strategy and actions, whether they’re big ideas or individual initiatives.”

A 2020 event held on Workplace to help inform AstraZeneca’s growth strategy saw 56,000 ideas submitted by employees in two weeks, resulting in millions of dollars of investment. Another event designed to capture pandemic learnings resulted in a further 24,000 ideas.

“Workplace drives engagements and breaks down barriers,” says Metford.

The pharmaceutical giant has used Workplace for building engagement and helping the company to deliver its business strategy. Patents are a key aspect of the pharmaceutical sector, enabling pharma firms to maximise the return on the intellectual property (IP) arising from their research and development efforts. When a patent expires, however, they lose exclusivity to this IP.

“Workplace has been key to AstraZeneca’s high employee engagement rates, helping us to drive tangible change and adjust to the changing nature of how we all work”
Alun Metford, AstraZeneca

As Metford explains, this was the situation AstraZeneca faced nine years ago: “When Pascal [Soriot, CEO of AstaZeneca] joined the company, we were facing patent expiration. We built our pipeline to deliver medicines and include our employees.”

AstraZeneca introduced Workplace as a pilot for the global manufacturing and supply teams in 2017. The communications platform is used for short-form communications. “It stopped us having to send broadcast emails,” he says.

In 2019, the company extended its use of Workplace and added integration with the Sideways6 tool, enabling the company to boost two-way engagement and participation. This, says Metford, enables employees across the business to contribute future-focused ideas.

“It breaks down boundaries and is used to celebrate and bring people together,” he adds. “Workplace has been key to AstraZeneca’s high employee engagement rates, helping us to drive tangible change and adjust to the changing nature of how we all work.”

Global collaboration

As a global business, the automatic translation functionality in Workplace has served AstraZeneca well. “Translation technology has taken off,” says Metford. “Whichever language you speak [natively], you can get a sense of what people are saying.” This, he adds, allows people to make connections with people they may never have met before.

Another aspect of operating as a global business is the need to be cognisant of time zones and culture, especially when organising live meetings. “We are conscious of time zones when we schedule events, and take into account the diversity of the employee base,” says Metford.

For instance, in the Muslim world, the weekend occurs on different days in different countries – some have Thursdays and Fridays as weekend days. The idea of asynchronous communications is something all businesses will need to tackle as hybrid work becomes cemented into normal business practices.

“We make sure sessions are available on replay, which is what Workplace does well,” says Metford. And the auto-captioning of presentations, which is something in beta in Workplace, is important for non-English speakers.

Right to be forgotten

Workplace works in the same way as Facebook to enable employees to see trending posts. But, says Metford, it also has the ability to control what people see and tag posts as important.

For Metford, it is not only the ability for people to identify relevant posts that is important. One of the considerations for any business that uses an enterprise social media platform such as Workplace is data retention under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The success of any enterprise social media platform relies on creating an online culture where employees share their work and outside of work experiences. As such, the ability to be forgotten and have posts removed is among the policies AstraZeneca has put in place to meet GDPR compliance.

Looking ahead to 2022, AstraZeneca expects Workplace to continue playing a vital role in delivering real business value and maintaining strong employee engagement. Following AstraZeneca’s recent acquisition of Alexion, Workplace will be used to connect 4,000+ new employees with the existing community. 

“Workplace will play a central role as we adjust to the next normal,” Metford concludes.

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