Workplace by Facebook is transforming the way the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) communicates.

RNIBRNIB invited me to visit them on their six-month anniversary of using the enterprise social network and learn how it’s dramatically boosted their internal communication.

Communicating effectively with blind, partially sighted or deaf-blind employees takes careful thought and attention.

How can visual communication work and can Workplace help address employees’ accessibility and usability needs?

I’m going to share their answers to these questions with you.

PatMossopPat Mossop, Senior Communications Manager, Organisational Change at RNIB attended an All Things IC Masterclass last month.

I was fascinated by the examples he shared of communicating in an environment where over 10 percent of employees are blind, partially sighted or deaf-blind.

I wanted to find out more and Pat kindly invited me to their headquarters in London to talk all things comms and see how they’re using the latest Enterprise Social Network (ESN) on the block.

I’m going to share our conversation with you.

But before I do, check this out… I’ve visited countless places of work, but RNIB’s dog toilet was a first. You learn something new every day!

Rachel: Pat how did RNIB get involved using Workplace?
workplacePat: We contacted Facebook after hearing about their plans for an ESN looking for a way to share knowledge across our group of charities.

Yammer wasn’t right for us because of its accessibility and we were asked to participate in the beta trial of Facebook at Work, which we were happy to do.

Rachel: What problems did you encounter with Yammer?
Pat: There were several issues we encountered. When communicating with employees we need to be mindful of many things.

Not least to ensure every channel can be read by a screen reader or zoom text.

Practical things like polls or surveys for example don’t work unless set up correctly. If you’re asked to rate something and distribute points across answers, you need a complicated piece of technology behind the page to ‘read’ the answers and enable the person to know what the options are, how many they have distributed, add as they go etc.

Rachel: So how does that work for employee surveys?
Pat: That’s a tricky one! We need to use more open text boxes, which can be costly to analyse, so not ideal for a charity, or use Likert scale (agree/disagree option) questions consistently through the survey so all staff get a good survey experience.

Rachel: what do you use instead?
Pat: SurveyMonkey works well for us as it’s designed with accessibility in mind.

Rachel: So were you using Yammer before Workplace?
Pat: Yes, we were for around a year, but when we started using Workplace six months ago we decided to turn Yammer off given the accessibility challenges.

We’re working with Facebook and constantly sharing our experiences of using the platform and they are trying to problem solve issues – such as the polls function which isn’t as accessible as it needs to be at the moment.

Employees haven’t missed Yammer because it wasn’t accessible to everyone easily. We need to be able to create it in a way which can be read in audio and by braille display keyboards.

Rachel: What makes Workplace accessible?
Pat: The system adopts of lot of established accessibility elements from Facebook.com.

We can do everything I’ve just outlined, plus use it across every device, so that’s usually laptops, mobiles and iPads. There are four different types of Workplace used internally.

For example, we promote using the mobile version of Workplace via laptop because displays the site into a simpler form, which is much easier for screen readers to read. The app works well for nearly all people on a mobile device too.

Rachel: What can you do now that you couldn’t do before using Workplace?
Pat: Reach all employees to give them an online collaboration space. That’s huge for us.

Rachel: I can imagine! How are you using it and do you see it as a comms channel?
Pat: Yes, I do see it as a comms channel, but critically, it’s for our employees too – so it’s a mixture of broadcast and dialogue.

We share information in groups and the IC team is incredibly active on it.

RNIB Workplace via All Things IC

Rachel: What does that mean for employees?
Pat: It means they know Workplace is the place to go to get stuff done. It unites us as a workforce in a way we haven’t seen before.

We’re spread across 60+ sites and there’s more to do to ensure we reach every employee, but the conversations, connections and collaborations have been excellent to date.

There are new features being added, such as uploading documents, and I expect to see the way we use it evolve as the site changes and evolves too.

Rachel: How do you know it’s working? How do you measure?
Pat: The dashboard is comprehensive. We not only know the most popular groups and number of active users each week and month, but who the influencers are.

Rachel: How will you use that information?
Pat: We’re observing now and seeing how people are experimenting and sharing information.

We are trying to encourage people to post content and that liking and comment helps the system give you a better experience.

Rachel: How are you encouraging them to post content?
Pat: When we use visual communication internally we must do so in a careful way. For example, every picture needs to be captioned on Workplace so a screen reader can do its job.

We wanted to encourage the right behavioural change internally and decided to create a group called Peps, Pooches, Purrs and Pets. Employees have been sharing photographs of their guide dogs plus personal cats and dogs.

We know posts get better engagement when they have an image, but need to ensure they are presented in a way all employees can access them, so setting examples through captioning is working well.

Plus, everyone loves a guide dog picture!

Rachel: Well who can blame them! So, what about leadership comms? How supportive are your senior team?
Pat: Incredibly.

Our CEO Sally Harvey was the first person at RNIB to do a Facebook LIVE post.

She could watch comments coming in in real-time and recorded the footage on a smartphone.

Rachel: Did it work well for you?
Pat: Yes and no as we realised some of our employees who were listening to Sally’s broadcast wouldn’t be able to read the comments through a screen reader.

So, that comes down to facilitation tips – in the same way it would work in a conference environment when someone asks a question and you can’t hear them, it falls to the person responding to summarise the question before they answer it. The same is true for us for future LIVE broadcasts.

Rachel: How did you find rolling out Workplace?
Pat: Relatively easy, as it is so like Facebook.com – apart from the colour, people don’t need a lot of training.

We created accounts for all employees and they need to activate them, which they have been doing. It’s an active site and people enjoy using it.

We’re getting feedback from people who haven’t used social media before that by using it at work it’s increased their confidence, helping to connect them family and friends outside of work.

For our colleagues with sight loss, we hope by using Workplace they build new skills to get online and connect with others through Facebook.com – a win-win.

Rachel: That’s brilliant! So did you need to make any modifications to Workplace?
Pat: We developed some specialist training for staff using access technology. The background colour isn’t ideal for us though!

It’s variations of grey, and we need it to be darker to be easier to read for some staff, so we’re talking with Facebook about that.

Who's using Workplace

Rachel: What challenges do you have when it comes to communication at RNIB?
Pat: We need to be mindful of creating content that works as hard as it can to reach the right people. For example, when we shoot a video we upload it to our private YouTube channel, which then inserts the captions.

We then send it back to ourselves and upload it to Workplace so those with hearing loss can also view video content.

In the same way people watch videos silently on Facebook.com, we have the option to do the same internally as we use subtitles on every video.

It’s just good accessibility practice really.

Rachel: I spotted the trending articles on the right-hand side of the screen, how do you use those?
Pat: I find the trending articles useful to take a temperature check of the organisation. I can see in real-time what people are reading and responding to, both in terms of likes and comments. As they interact with a post, it boosts its rating so it goes up the trending list and is featured.

That helps us as a comms team know what is resonating with our people.

Thank you, Pat, for sharing your experiences.

Want to know more about Workplace? See my previous articles on the All Things IC blog:

May 2017 update: Read how Hello Fresh has been using Workplace

What did you think of the information Pat shared? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Latest Workplace videos…

Sign up to learn about internal communication 

Want to learn about internal communication? Sign up to an All Things IC Masterclass.

These are one-day courses held in London to boost your comms skills.

Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 17 January 2017.

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