Bringing 138 Years of Tradition into a 21st Century Digital Workplace
You may have heard the saying, "You can't teach old dogs new tricks." Many organizations as old as the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) — founded in 1880 — struggle with the reality of bringing rich tradition into a modern and constantly evolving environment.
Undoubtedly, we have a lot of strengths, not the least of which is supporting our more than 40,000 physician members and the incredible work they do every day across the province of Ontario. We’re also not immune to the challenges that face many organizations. Among those challenges was our approach to internal communications. We knew we needed to continue to serve our members as we deal with the vast number of changes facing the health-care system, while simultaneously strengthening our internal operations and delivering on our plan.
The OMA recognized early on that the health-care sector was changing at the speed of light. We sought to adopt a spirit of continuous improvement and agile operations in order to provide valuable services to Ontario’s doctors.
The challenges we faced weren't unusual, but were significant. We wanted to strengthen relationships between the organization and its employees, as well as communication across the organization. Not only did we face silos, but we were hampered by outdated systems, including our original intranet, which was built in 1998. The tool our staff used was "Web 1.0," and it was a case of technology not reflecting reality or serving our organization's needs.
At its core, our new solution would need to connect all employees. As the person tasked with the revamp process, I felt particularly equipped for this challenge. During my 12 years at the OMA, my previous positions in public affairs and marketing have allowed me to work inter-departmentally and get to know people across the organization. Working with all of these different employee groups gave me insights that were invaluable in developing a strong internal communications strategy.
More importantly, these relationships helped me understand that we required more than an incremental improvement on our existing system. We needed a complete overhaul.
Defining Organizational Needs
When we started the process of selecting a new digital workplace platform, we knew our old system was archaic and difficult to engage with, but we needed to know more. As part of our initial research, we ran an internal communications audit and completed extensive interviews. From this process, we learned the limitations of our old platform as well as the unique traits and needs of our organization.
Among our employees, we have expertise that was not being shared broadly. We were not enabling cross-functional collaboration. There is also a demographic shift happening in the workforce today. This is also true at OMA, with four different generations interacting in the workplace. Some employees thrive with new technology—while others require additional support to engage with it. Our new solution would need to support both groups.
Cascading information is important in any organization, but we also recognized the value of having a central repository of information. We wanted a reliable go-to location for our staff when they needed something to be able to do their jobs, or if knowledge wasn’t flowing freely through traditional channels. We also saw this as an opportunity to empower our employees to create and share their own content, and in doing so build a broader connection to their colleagues and the organization.
This exploration process helped lay the framework for our search for a next-gen intranet.
The Right Platform and Partner
As we evaluated the different alternatives in our RFP process, Igloo proved to be the best solution for our needs. They even built a proof of concept site so we could see how everything would look and function once the new system was in place. Nothing was theoretical—they helped us to visualize it, play around, and experience the technology.
I'm a strategic communicator, not a tech professional, and this was the first big scale tech project I've ever worked on. When we partnered with Igloo, they helped us translate what we heard from staff into the tech world's terminology and processes, so we could build the platform employees wanted.
Our situation reminded me of the famous Henry Ford quote. He said that before he started making cars, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." We were in that situation at the OMA. We knew what we wanted on an organizational and employee-relations level, but we didn't really know what was possible or how that would function until we started working with Igloo.
We built out a comprehensive communication plan and one element of that included a soft launch in early February. Because the old system had been hanging around for so long, we did have some key staff who were, understandably, skeptical about the benefits of instituting new technology. At this point, I decided to use a little humor to promote the soft launch of the new digital workplace.
We created a promo video and chose the theme of Groundhog Day, because that day was coming up and we thought it was a good match to overcome some of the skepticism. You know how in the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray the day keeps repeating, until he does something different, which releases him from the time loop? That would be our story. We shot the whole thing in-house with a digital SLR camera and had an employee as the actor.
It was low-budget, but high-impact. We got a lot of interest and additional feedback during the soft launch that we were able to implement for the full launch.
Handing Over the Reins
When we first rolled out the new digital workplace, we were a little too risk-averse. At a corporate level, we started out with high-level control over the site. Many features were locked down and people couldn't post completely freely.
Over time, we realized this was an unnecessary hindrance. We then gave our employees free rein to create the content they wanted, as long as it fit within our company policies and code of conduct.
Our incredible history at OMA came through almost immediately. A member of our corporate records team started a "Throwback Thursday" blog and came up with great artifacts from the OMA’s archives, including great photos of our doctors dating back to the late 1800s. They were sitting around with their handlebar mustaches—maybe they were talking about the future of health care the way we do now. It wasn't just interesting; it showed the value of health care in our province over time. It gave us a glimpse of medicine in Ontario we wouldn't have seen if she hadn't created the blog.
On a lighter note, we had a National Pet Day post last August. We invited our colleagues to share pictures of their pets. This was incredibly popular. We had more than 1,500 views, which among our 280 employees is incredible. It’s refreshing to see our colleagues engaged and sharing with each other.
A New Way Forward
The system we built with Igloo allowed us to view the organization through an employee experience lens. All of our communications are embedded into the platform. Our digital and other tech assets also live within the workspace. In addition, we have the side benefit of the social features: our staff can share their daily work and interact through the social tools. We've been able to measure our employee’s experience with the new digital workspace. For example, nearly 70% of employees indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied, and noted in verbatim responses that they experienced improved access to department-specific knowledge, content was easier to find, and material was up-to-date. More importantly, nearly 70% indicated using the site more than once a week, and we’ve seen first hand how the site has become part of the organization’s cultural lexicon.
The system has also helped us to deal with intense employment situations, such as operational reviews and organizational restructuring. We've leveraged our Igloo site as a single source for information for staff during these challenging instances.
Sometimes it feels like it's the wild, wild west with technology right now. Working with Igloo has helped us to manage these changes and modernize our technology in a straightforward way. But even more so, it has allowed us to begin to shift the culture and employee experience at OMA.
At OMA, the more than 40,000 Ontario physicians we provide service to are the backbone of the health-care system in the province, and it is our staff who help them every day. Thanks to our new digital workplace, our employees can support those physicians better than ever before. I guess an old dog can learn new tricks.