UK-headquartered pharma giant AstraZeneca has become a household name across the world during the pandemic.
Not only did AstraZeneca develop a COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Oxford at record speed – the vaccine has been administered in 182 countries across the world – but it also donated 9 million face masks and PPE to health workers across the world.
“There’s such a sense of pride in what we have accomplished as an organization throughout this period,” AstraZeneca’s head of global internal communications Alun Metford tells UNLEASH.
To share these wins AstraZeneca relied on Workplace from Meta, a workplace communications platform that it has been using since 2018.
Now 80% of AstraZeneca’s 70,000 global employees use Workplace daily, according to Metford; a major benefit of the tool for AstraZeneca is that “the functionality was familiar to people”, as it is similar to Facebook’s consumer product.
This is something that is valued by other Workplace customers, such as telecoms giant Vodafone.
Workplace and the pandemic
Workplace was also “key for us in maintaining and sustaining a sense of community across the organization regardless of how or where [people are] working”, explains Metford.
Unlike many organizations in other sectors, not all of AstraZeneca’s employees could work from home.
While traditional office-based employees could pivot to remote working, other departments – including lab-based workers and manufacturing – had to continue to work from the labs and factories.
“We had to deliver medicines that patients are depending on around the world,” notes Metford.
He continues: “Manufacturing and supply didn’t stop [during the pandemic]; they worked around the clock and had to figure out new ways to ensure medicines reach patients with border [challenges].”
“The science and clinical trials didn’t stop” – the teams just had to evolve their processes to ensure they continue to innovate and produce life-saving medicines for patients in need.
Metford adds that Workplace enabled “us to adjust and pivot” to the evolving COVID-19 situation; “the levels of engagement that we saw speak for themselves.”
But Metfords explains that Workplace is more than a communication platform.
“It helps us disseminate information, but it’s far more than that. It is a tool that is really helping us break own boundaries across the organization or to ideate, share knowledge and problem solve.”
Metford gives the example of helping employees who live in different countries and speak different languages to make connections and solve problems together.
“In the past, they were probably not connected,” but Workplace’s translation tool came in useful here to “advance how inclusive work is” at AstraZeneca.
Employees have a say in company strategy
During the pandemic, AstraZeneca changed its traditional in-person town halls to online ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions with the help of Workplace
Not only did AstraZeneca senior executives, including CEO Pascal Soriot, carry out these sessions, but AstraZeneca invited a World Health Organization COVID-19 special envoy.
“Workplace is absolutely a platform that enable you to talk directly to employees”, but also enables two-way communication.
“Through the ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions employees could talk on any topic they want to – whether it was in relation to our own efforts, or in relation to what they were reading in the external media” both good and bad.
Metford notes that doing these ‘Ask My Anything’ sessions and other events online, rather than in person, allowed AstraZeneca to reach more people.
This is primarily because those who couldn’t make the live event could watch on the replay. He says that AstraZeneca’s all-employee webcast had 20,000 attendees.
Another element of AstraZeneca’s two-way communication focus is using Workplace to “ensure all our employees have a voice” on company strategy.
“Good ideas can come from anywhere, they are unique to senior leaders in the organization”, explains Metford.
AstraZeneca mainly collects ideas about strategy through crowdsourcing on Workplace through an integration with Sideways6.
In a 2020 event about AstraZeneca’s growth strategy, the company got 56,000 ideas from employees in two weeks, and another event during COVID-19 about lessons learned and how to “course correct” for the future received 24,000 worker ideas.
This all feeds into AstraZeneca’s employee listening strategy, which comes not only through regular surveys through Workplace, as well as feedback from employee resource groups. “We listen to our employees because at the end of the day our employees are our company”, explains Metford.
The future of work at AstraZeneca
The conversation then turned to discussing the future of work at AstraZeneca, which will see increased flexibility where possible.
AstraZeneca is clear that Workplace will have a central role in driving business value, as well as employee engagement in the future.
“As an organization, we believe that innovation comes from being together, whether that is in a physical workplace or through Workplace, the tool that’s helping us to connect, collaborate and be a community”, adds Metford.
“It is fundamental to how we work” and “it will continue to be a massively important for us as we move forward” into the future of work, concludes Metford.