The Water Cooler

Welcome to The Water Cooler, our newest WST feature.  Here, we take some time to look at a topic that is impacting the organisation and everyone who works in UCD. Nothing fits this description more than the introduction of Workvivo. The new employee engagement platform which was introduced to all staff across UCD on May 8th. We managed to get some time with Mark Simpson, the Senior Manager of Engagement and Internal Communications in HR to chat about the journey to Workvivo and the reception from UCD

Donna Carroll (DC): Hello Mark, thanks for meeting with me. I know you’re busy and that there’s a lot of work still going on supporting the roll out and integration of the new platform so we’ll get right to it.

Mark Simpson (MS): Happy to be here, let’s jump straight in.


What inspired the decision to introduce our new employee engagement platform?

MS: We can’t stand still. The people we’re hiring now are digital natives. They’ve grown up using digital technology to communicate extensively. So the University needs to provide an environment that reflects their lived reality.

What kind of challenges did you have to overcome in moving this along? Was it a long process? What’s the journey?

MS: We’ve been on this journey for about three and a half years. One challenge was bringing everyone on the journey, not everyone is a digital native, it can be counterintuitive to how some of our colleagues communicate. The reason this went over the line was because some of our current leaders said, “We understand this. We think this is a good way of communicating and strengthening our community.”

Were there other types of challenges even with clear support from the top? 

MS: Convincing people that this is the right way for universities to interact. Universities tend to be quite formal, and this is a much more informal, collaborative way of communicating that is a stretch for some colleagues. Over time, we have shown that the platform, Workvivo, is used by many universities, including in Ireland, and getting good reports. So that all helped in making the case that this was the right way forward.

How do you see the new platform contributing to alleviating email overload?

MS: It’s change, and change is difficult. But the University community continuously told us in every forum that they were getting far too many emails and couldn’t identify the important ones. They needed a new way of communicating.

How do you see that contributing to alleviating the issue? Is it the broadcast capability?

MS: No, it’s more the ability that the platform works on the basis that you subscribe to the information you want to get. You get an activity feed that is collated for you. It’s built around your interests and the information you need within your unit, college, or school. It’s built around the information you need for your role and the information you subscribe to. So everyone’s feed is different, but hopefully, it’s more relevant to you. Rather than getting 100 emails a day and trying to decipher what’s important, you now have a feed that’s giving you the information you decided was important for you.

DC: And what’s the impact on the email side? You’re hoping it will reduce the amount of broad information coming in and the number of emails, allowing you to see the context and importance of the emails you do receive?

MS: Yes, absolutely. The overall objective is to reduce the amount of group-wide email, the scattergun approach. It’s not targeted, so people’s inboxes are getting filled with generic information that isn’t all relevant. Over time, hopefully, the emails left will be the more important stuff or individual interactions, making email much more transactional.

How has the platform been received by employees so far? Is there any standout feedback?

MS: Very well. Our KPI for the first month, as advised by the provider for an organisation our size and complexity, was 40% onboarding. We’ve already exceeded 55%. So, that’s a huge endorsement that this is something people want, like, and find of value.

DC: I think it’s a very familiar format as well.

MS: Yes, it looks like and works many platforms colleagues will have used in their personal lives.

DC: There’s nobody who hasn’t engaged with some sort of social media. I guess the significant difference is that this is a closed platform where we’re talking internally to our UCD colleagues and only our UCD colleagues, no public, no students.

MS: Yes and if you have any type of social media experience, you will intuitively know how to use the platform. The benefit is you don’t have to learn how to use it. 

Has anybody come back to you with a standout comment or story?

MS: I have a lovely story from the library. One colleague said they were recognised on the concourse by somebody else because they had seen their picture on Workvivo.

DC: That’s actually pretty nice.

MS: Yes, it is. It’s about making people known, so you’re not just an anonymous name at the end of an email. You can see a person, click on them, see what they’re interested in, what they like, what they commented on. It’s about building community. This helps build community, that’s why we’re encouraging people to upload their photograph to Workvivo and incentivising that with a competition.

Have there been any unexpected positive outcomes since the platform launched?

MS: People’s enthusiasm for it. We didn’t think the response would be so enthusiastic. So many people are actively engaging, using the platform to connect, and requesting spaces to be set up for individual projects or groups. It’s exciting to see the amount of stuff happening in UCD, giving you a window into it all.

Have you seen any creative or surprising ways that employees are using the platform to connect or collaborate?

MS: It’s a bit too early to see all that. But people’s use of graphics, gifs, and emojis, visual communication, is important. Putting time into that pays off and makes their posts stand out more on the platform.

Which aspects of the platform do you find yourself gravitating towards with your overview knowledge?

MS: It’s seeing what people are doing, recognising people’s effort, achievement, and success across UCD. It was hard to get this before in emails. Now, you can see what individuals are contributing to the organisation, which is interesting and exciting.

DC:  I discovered the endorsing feature recently. It’s so valuable to be able to acknowledge and appreciate people’s involvement quickly.

MS: Absolutely. Peer-to-peer recognition or endorsement is fundamental to the platform. UCD is about people working together, and the platform gives those people visibility so you can find and understand them.

What are you most excited about as we continue to develop and improve the platform?

MS: It’s early days, but the potential is huge. Bringing on all the units and schools so they can create their own online communities is particularly important. With hybrid working, it’s even more important to connect people. Demonstrating the exciting things happening on campus and encouraging interaction is crucial.

DC: It feels like I’ve seen so much more about my own peers, the professional staff since Workvivo was launched. They seem to be really engaged on the platform.

MS: Absolutely. There’s definitely a cohort of staff who see the value in communicating about their projects and how they are helping to support colleagues and improve the operations of the University.

What has been your favourite part about working on the platform and the rollout?

MS: I think the collaborative team effort. It’s been a team effort between Culture & Engagement, IT services, POST and Workvivo. Everyone worked together really well. There was a 12-week implementation period, which was quite fast as it also involved some IT development work. But everybody got stuck in, and we delivered on the 8th of May as planned, which was exciting.

DC: That’s quite an achievement. Congratulations.

MS: It is. I think it’s the first project delivered recently that actually impacts every single employee.

DC: It’s everyone, and whether you’re an early adopter or not, it’s changing the conversations that people are having, even if they’re not on the platform.

MS: Exactly.

As a closing thought, what would you say to a colleague who is not on the platform yet? 

MS: I think they’re missing out. Workvivo is an opportunity to connect, engage, and communicate with your colleagues, which is ever more important in this hybrid work environment where we don’t necessarily spend all day in an office with someone. It helps us understand the priorities of the University and what’s going on.


DC: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about this; you’re no doubt still very busy supporting the integration of this into all of our working lives. As you say, this is a project, a platform which impacts every single member in the organisation but I think the enthusiasm that you clearly have for this and the way that our colleagues have embraced it reflects the potential for a really positive impact on us as an organisation.

MS: Thanks Donna. It was a pleasure to be able to talk about it and tell people more about the journey and the successful impacts so far. Hopefully we’ll have more positive stories and developments to talk about in the near future.