Bringing employees together from opposite sides of an ocean used to be a logistical, fiscal and temporal challenge. Barclaycard has begun using a digital solution to allow its corporate leaders to meet, despite the difference in space and time.
Around 3,564 miles of land and ocean separate the cities of London and Wilmington, located in the UK and North Carolina, U.S. respectively. On an airplane, the journey takes the best part of an entire day; in the bygone days of steam-powered ships, it took two to three months just to cross the Atlantic.
For companies with offices in both countries, this vast expanse of ocean means interaction can be compromised. Ensuring leadership teams collaborate effectively can be difficult.
Yet, for global payment corporation, Barclaycard, virtual reality software and the development of real- time video links enabled its headquarters on either side of the Atlantic to interact and participate in team exercises and activities – with no lengthy journey required. For head of leadership communications at Barclaycard, Christina Haydon, this development of real-time virtual internal communications means physicality has become less important for continued collaborative success. Getting around the time difference was merely another obstacle for a team which thrives on its connectedness. Haydon says, “We have always had a very connected leadership team, the top 80 or 90 colleagues in the business are part of our leadership team, spanning across the U.S., UK, Germany and Europe – it was important to keep this sense of community.” The challenge became how Barclaycard could retain the sense of employee community on which it prides itself – while migrating no further than their respective Barclaycard offices.
Navigating the ocean without meeting face-to-face required effective planning and decision- making. A method was devised by communications and leadership agency, Top Banana, focusing on the Barclaycard values of collaboration and communication to deliver an effective transatlantic programme. Managing director of Top Banana, Nick Terry, says, “We work at both the strategic and tactical level with Barclaycard to deliver events and communication programmes that support the company’s strategic vision. In this instance, we achieved this by marrying Barclaycard’s in-house technology with external support to bring two teams from across the globe together virtually and so help build collaboration.”
Despite the time difference, the Wilmington- and London-based teams could interact effectively with the games and video designed to accommodate this temporal shift. Haydon says, “We’re really running to a transatlantic agenda, with timings for the UK starting 9 a.m. UK time, and timings for the US starting at 9 a.m. US time, so there were periods of the event that overlapped, and where teams would go off and have the same experience that the UK or US teams had already had – making sure the experience was exactly the same.” For the employees, however, the challenges began once the games got underway – adding elements of fun would lead to an even closer bond being formed.
Haydon explains, “We swapped the identities of the U.S. and UK teams as well at some points of the event. The UK teams had U.S. baseball caps, and the U.S. teams had St George hats, so it was just a visual identity swap.” A light-hearted approach to internal communications was not confined to paradigmatic national visual cues, however. The event’s theme was ‘Writing Barclaycard’s next chapter’ – and what better way to achieve this than by involving Harry Potter. Haydon says, “We played on the book event with a Harry Potter thematic, where we asked our leaders to tell the story relative to the four houses of Harry Potter – that was really good fun, and we were really able to articulate our story in a creative way, so everyone was able to understand each other’s strategic direction.”
The commonality of Harry Potter was not the only theme of mutual interest running throughout the communications strategy, however. The internal communications exercise was based on the historic Barclaycard values of communication and collaboration, inspiring traits which every employee should be willing to engage with. Barclaycard’s heritage was used as clues and answers for team games, encouraging the leadership to engage with the company – as well as with each other. Haydon says, “There were different clues, all a mixture of things that related to Barclaycard’s last 50 years. As we were starting our 50th year, we were able to put a lot of the clues and games around things that are part of our past, like some of our products and services and how they’ve developed, about different product launches, the way the business works.” Focusing on innovation as well as heritage also allowed Barclaycard to introduce their employees to a new strategy, which focuses on positive change as a way to drive the business forward.
“It was just a really simple articulation of how all the different elements fit together, so engagement is really at the heart and having engaged colleagues is really essential for what we do,” says Haydon.
By using its knowledge of Barclaycard to focus on areas integral to its leadership success, Top Banana was able to deliver an integrated programme that took into account spatial and temporal differences, while remaining relevant to both audiences. Haydon says, “We wanted to bring to life collaboration in terms of community, which doing two separate events wouldn’t have achieved. We also wanted to show it’s not just actually about being physically together, you can use online and digital channels and be experiential to connect people.”
A changing strategic direction and the logistics of transatlantic transportation required Barclaycard to find an alternative to its face-to-face event, but for a company which relies almost solely on digital channels to reach its customers, it seemed natural to employ the same strategies with its own employees. Haydon adds, “In this world, with a senior leadership team which is really mobile, on the road and across different sites, being connected digitally is really valuable.”