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Virgin Australia Group

How an airline used Workplace to keep their culture alive through challenging times

Part of the world renowned Virgin Group, Virgin Australia Group has become one of Australia’s most iconic brands. Made up of Virgin Australia Airlines, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA), their cargo and Velocity divisions, as well as TigerAir, 70% of the Group’s employees are out on the front line. 

With COVID-19 causing the closure of international and state borders in March 2020, the Group was forced to stand down 80% of its workforce. Despite this, their culture has remained strong, something the team attributes, in part, to launching Workplace from Facebook at the height of the pandemic.

We had the chance to catch up with Emma Mehaffey, GM Culture and Employee Experience and Luke Evans, Leader Employee Experience, to hear all about how the Group has amplified their culture with Workplace. Watch the video and read the additional Q&A below. 

The background

Tell us about Virgin’s culture

Emma: I’ve been at Virgin for 15 years, so I feel like I’m equipped to say that we have the most incredible culture. Our workforce is passionate about what they do. We work in aviation, it’s an incredibly exciting industry to work in, and people genuinely come to work every day because they love what they do. I’ve never known a workforce to have such a desire to go above and beyond. 

What was the decision behind rolling out Workplace, what pain points were you trying to solve?

Emma: We’ve grown a lot from the Virgin Blue days, when we were a smaller carrier with fewer staff. Back then we were able to connect better because we were located together and it was easier to interact. As we grew and diversified, we also spread geographically to America and Bali, and soon to be Japan. It became harder for us to connect and get information across, and people started feeling siloed. Our inboxes were just cluttered with emails. One day I was talking to a pilot when I was traveling around the network and he said to me, what time do we get to check these thousands of emails? We needed to find a better way to connect with our people.

Luke: Emma and I spent a lot of time advocating for the platform because we truly believed it would be able to show that amazing culture that Virgin has. And it’s only continued to prove us right in a variety of ways. It’s been a platform that has allowed our people to express themselves creatively, to be the social bunch that they are, and remain connected with each other. 

What was the launch process like with Enablo?

Luke: Rolling out a program like this around COVID was a blessing in disguise. It was also really challenging, so we had to be agile. We had to rethink our program very quickly. We also were really lucky to work with people like Enablo and also a great project team internally who were able to move with us at that pace. 

Emma: From the moment that we made the decision to work with Enablo and implement Workplace from Facebook, we had a great experience. It’s like two positive cultures came together. Enablo very quickly understood the kind of business we are and that we work fast.

Emma Mehaffey, GM Culture and Employee Experience and Luke Evans, Leader Employee Experience, Virgin Australia Group. 

The results

How has your organizational communication changed with Workplace?

Emma: Before Workplace came in, we were really struggling to communicate with our people. We had people in all different parts of the world, working for different brands and in different functions. How do you make sure there’s a consistent message going out to those people? We ran a survey with our frontline workforce, which accounts for 70% or our staff, and the feedback told us that only 30% actually made time to read their emails. 

Luke: Workplace has fully transformed that. We have over 92% of people who have claimed their account and 85% of those are active on Workplace on a monthly basis. Depending on the type of content, we can have up to a 100% of total views for that content too. We’re actually reaching our people for the first time ever.

I know there’s people that have actually chosen not to look at mainstream social media. Instead, Workplace is their place to go because not only do we commit to sharing accurate news articles, we also share verified news information updates straight from the leadership team. 

I actually don’t know where we would be right now, considering the events that have gone on, if we hadn’t done it.

How did your leaders adopt Workplace?

Emma: Leadership is probably one of the most fundamental elements of running a successful online platform. If your leaders aren’t there, your people aren’t going to be there. Our CEO was passionate about communication from day dot. He’s got his own page called ‘Paul’s Place’ where he puts all his updates, whether that’s a live feed, or a video, or just a message, even the odd Bitmoji, it all goes on there. And that means that our people know to go there, to hear from him on a regular basis. What’s been fantastic is the rest of our leadership have followed suit. It’s given people permission to be their more genuine selves. 

How have you seen your culture amplified in what has been a difficult time for VA Group?

Emma: Workplace has just reminded us how great our culture is and that’s re-energized us. It doesn’t matter what level you are, there’s that ability to just talk with someone you might not normally talk to. We’ve had leaders walking around and saying, everyone’s recognizing them – they’re getting on planes and everyone knows their first name. That’s just amazing. That’s the kind of culture we have and Workplace has enabled us to do it better.

What are some of the Workplace stories that have stood out to you?

Emma: We had one of our very amazing crew members, George in Sydney, who works in Ground Operations. We’d just heard about COVID and the airports were suddenly going from extraordinarily busy to quite quiet. George took this opportunity to coordinate a giant Nutbush dance with all of the Virgin crew, as well as some of our other partner airlines. They all got together and he videoed this massive choreographed dance and he posted it around about 2pm in the afternoon. By 6pm that night, it was on Channel Nine News because it had gone viral so quickly!

Luke: Over the last couple of months, we went from full operations to all of our planes being grounded. We needed Workplace so that people could remain connected because we didn’t know what this new world looked like. One of the really standout Workplace stories for me, was from our people support page which we set up immediately so that our recruitment team could redeploy people out to other businesses. They connected with over a hundred different organizations and businesses across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and we found that our Virgin people were in demand. We were able to use Workplace to communicate with people about the redeployment which helped people feel less lost and uncertain.

How is Workplace helping to bring your Support Crew (Head Office) and front line staff together?

Emma: One thing Workplace is helping us do is put a face behind the name. Some of the guys who work in our Operational Control Center (OCC) have started this fantastic weekly post, where they introduce the crew member who talks to the crew when they need to have their rosters changed. In the post they say their name, then they ask them 10 questions about who they are. What this means is, the next time you ring up and Kelly answers the phone, you’ve already met Kelly. You probably know her pet’s name and who her kids are. It’s really great for people to comment and say things like, I’ve been speaking to you for five years and I don’t didn’t know what you look like, it’s been fantastic to meet you.

How is Workplace helping VA Group be more agile?

Emma: Recently we did a quick check in on health and wellbeing so we can understand how our people are feeling. As the data’s rolling in, I’m reading it and getting a bit passionate about some leadership feedback. Traditionally, you’d send an email out, wait for the survey results, create a PowerPoint pack and send it out. It’s all a little too late. In this environment, things move too quickly, so I actually went live on Workplace and told our people what I was hearing from the survey in real-time. I immediately shared it to our leadership team page, which meant they immediately had information that they could correct and change. Within 24 hours, I saw an increase in communications from leaders.

We have over 92% of people who have claimed their account and 85% of those are active on Workplace on a monthly basis. Depending on the type of content, we can have up to a 100% of total views for that content too. We’re actually reaching our people for the first time ever.”

Luke Evans
Leader Employee Experience at Virgin Australia Group

The future

What do you see as the future trends for technology at work?

Emma: There is a simplicity in Workplace, there is beauty in simplicity. Sometimes we can get caught up with a lot of complex ideas and frameworks and fancy ways of doing things when actually it’s about being a good human it’s about connecting with your people, talking real language. With Workplace, you can’t throw in too many big words when you’re typing quick responses to people. I think the future is about being agile and quick to respond to things. 

What does the future of Workplace look like at Virgin?

 

Emma: We see it becoming more than just a communication tool, integrating into the business and changing the way that we do work and approach the challenges we have. We know that there are other carriers who use it for full operational standpoint. We know the capability, we see it.

“From the moment that we made the decision to work with Enablo and implement Workplace from Facebook, we had a great experience. It’s like two positive cultures came together. Enablo very quickly understood the business we are and that we work fast.”

– Emma Mehaffey
GM Culture and Employee Experience, Virgin Australia Group.

For a free consultation about how Workplace could transform your organization’s culture, please get in touch

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