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How Sunlight Financial Helps Employees Stay Connected with Communifire as Headcount Grows

How Sunlight Financial Helps Employees Stay Connected with Communifire as Headcount Grows

Sunlight financial

How Sunlight Financial uses Communifire

Spaces: Every department has their own space to share announcements, files, and documents.

Badges and Recognition: Employees nominate coworkers for badges when they demonstrate one of Sunlight Financial's six core values.

Employee Directory: Every employee has a profile in the company directory. When new hires join the company, their profiles are showcased on the intranet homepage.

Document Management: All documents are stored in the Communifire document management system—including legal policies, onboarding materials, health benefits, and product release notes—making them easy to find.

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Visual designer Nick Dumont remembers a time—not long ago—when he knew every employee's name at Sunlight Financial.

Today, the fast-growing provider of consumer loans for residential solar and home improvement has 165 employees—and Nick expects that number to grow to 200 in the next year.

"We were named the number two fastest growing company in Charlotte last year," he shared in our recent conversation. "We're growing so fast that it's tough to keep track of everyone."

In 2015, Sunlight began partnering with solar installers to provide loans to customers who need funding for their residential solar energy systems. The entrepreneurial company, with offices in Charlotte and New York, has recently diversified into home improvement loans as well.

Sunlight is growing by leaps and bounds, and as exciting as that is, it also poses some new challenges.

A growing problem

When Sunlight hit 100 employees, the leadership team realized they needed a better way to keep everyone connected. In early 2019, Nick was tasked with choosing, designing and launching an intranet for the company as part of his new role.

"I had never used an intranet before, but a lot of my coworkers came from big banks and other financial companies where they had one. So I reached out to them and listened to what they thought went well with their previous intranets and what they think could be done better."

Nick said that most of those coworkers were not impressed with the intranets they were forced to use at previous companies. They remembered the intranet was SharePoint-based—not very customizable and required a lot of work to maintain and use.

Their advice to Nick…

"Find an intranet that's cloud-based and easy to manage."

The maintenance and usability issues weren't the only problems that Nick was made aware of. Several of his coworkers remembered that everyone at the company was excited when their intranet first launched—then after a month or two, people stopped using it.

Nick knew that keeping employees engaged with the intranet was going to be just as important as getting them to adopt it in the first place.

"I was just madly googling away, trying to find as many intranet platforms as I could. I had a huge list to begin with and then started eliminating options based on if they were SharePoint based, if I would require outside assistance to get them set up, and price obviously."

As his list shrank, he began weeding out the intranet solutions that weren't customizable, had lengthy average deployment timelines, and were missing the gamification features he knew would be important for the employee experience.

Quick and easy to deploy, fully customizable, cloud-based, and packed with gamification features—Communifire was one of Sunlight's final five.

Narrowing in on the ideal intranet solution

Together with Sunlight's head of IT, Nick scheduled demos with the top five intranet companies. Communifire was the clear winner, checking all of Nick's boxes … and then some.

"As the designer I was really impressed with how the platform looks without any customization at all. It was definitely the best aesthetically out of all the ones that we saw, and I didn't want to do a total overhaul of the intranet. I wanted to be able to put in my design elements and not have to do all of it from the ground up. So I liked that the default platform looked nice already."

In the process of getting demos, Nick found that customer support was even more critical than he originally thought.

"When we were thinking about an intranet that was overseas like in India or the UK, we were questioning whether or not their support line would be able to help us as quickly as we needed. So [Axero's rapid support for] Communifire really impressed us."

Ultimately, it was how easily customizable Communifire is that won Nick over.

"It seemed like everything was customizable, and we wouldn't have to reach out to Axero to customize it for us. It seemed like we could just log on and whatever we wanted to change we could do it."

Up and running in no time

Once Nick made his decision, he double-checked the technical aspects with Sunlight's head of IT and shared his findings with the company's executive leadership team. They agreed—Communifire was the right intranet solution for Sunlight's needs.

With everything he heard and read about launching an intranet, Nick felt like he wasn't out of the woods yet. He expected a lengthy implementation.

But Communifire surprised him.

"I thought [setting it up] would be a lot tougher than it ended up being. I remember reading all these articles about setting up an intranet and all the work—it'll take three to four months to get it set up—but I remember with Communifire we were up and running in a couple weeks."

One thing that helped Nick deploy Sunlight's intranet faster than he expected began during the demo phase.

"One thing that really helped was Matt (Customer Success Manager at Axero) setting me up with a demo site. When we signed up with Communifire, Matt was like ‘Hey do you want to just make your demo site your live site?' And I said yeah, that'd actually be a huge help because I already built so much in there. So I feel like when we signed the contract I already had a head start cause I'd already done so much with the demo."

Nick continued…

"Before we even got it started, I had to create mock-ups of how the main pages would look and get those approved. That's why it was really helpful to have the demo site, because as soon as I got those approved I just hopped right on the demo site and started building it."

Even with the kickstart of using his demo site as his launchpad, Nick found that Axero's online support community was incredibly helpful.

"I never worked with an intranet before, and so I asked quite a few questions on there, and you guys always got back to me super quick."

Nick found the Communifire platform easy to use, and when it came to bringing his intranet vision to life, he never had to compromise.

"Anything we wanted to do on there we are able to do."

Lighting the way for Sunlight Financial employees

We named our intranet ‘Watts,' to keep with the solar energy theme," Nick said.

When Watts was ready for the big reveal, Nick took no shortcuts. In the days leading up to Watts's debut, he put launch teasers up on the TVs around the office and created a funny little launch-day surprise for the employees.

"I created a fake profile page for Abraham Lincoln, and I used that as an example, as a way for them to get to know the platform, while also keeping a sense of humor about it. Also, keeping them engaged during the training, I know those things can get kind of boring."

Nick did a big presentation for the entire company, and followed up with multiple training sessions so every employee could get hands-on help and a guided tour of the navigation and features.

In the year since Watts launched, Sunlight has added 60 or 70 employees to their growing company—but Nick never had to repeat that training.

"No one's needed any additional training. I haven't had someone reach out to me who was hired last November and say, ‘Hey I have no idea how to use this intranet, can you help me?' I haven't heard that from anyone, so that must mean that it's easy to use, if everyone's just learning it themselves."

Nick noticed that the new employees are logging in frequently, updating their profiles and engaging with different pages. He doesn't feel like he needs to check in with his coworkers on how they're managing with Watts, either, because he gets requests to add new things all the time.

Engagement from the get-go

One of the things Nick is most proud of is how quickly Sunlight employees adopted their new intranet solution. Of course, the profile contest he ran at Watts's launch may have had something to do with it.

"The winner got an Amazon gift card. And then we also had some awards, like the scrappiest profile, the funniest profile, the most detailed profile. So even if you didn't get first prize, you got some sort of consolation."

"Sunlight's Culture Club was in charge of choosing the winner. We split into three groups and went through everyone's profiles. Then the three groups picked their favorite, and we looked at the three favorites and chose one. Our coworker Venita won. She had a nice mix of GIFs and YouTube videos and jokes and lot of personalization. It's a really brilliant profile."

Nick remembers the incredible level of participation throughout the whole company.

"It became a thing where people were joking with each other about it like, ‘Oh, your profile's looking kind of bare, work on that before the deadline.' And people were doing hilarious Photoshops and putting that as their background image. Just some really creative stuff."

The initial adoption went well—but for Nick, the proof of Watts's success was in the continued engagement. Even today Nick still overhears the name Watts with incredible frequency.

"I'll be around the office and I'll hear someone ask a question, and I'm always hearing 'Go on Watts, go on Watts, go on Watts.' People are constantly referring to the intranet for solutions. It makes me really happy that it's become that kind of a resource in our office. Or if you need to find an important document, if you need to find the latest notes about our IT releases, anything like that, you can just go on the intranet and find it."

When every department has its home, everyone knows where to go

One of Nick's early tasks was to set up an intranet space for each of Sunlight's departments. He was surprised that this simple undertaking actually brought everyone together even more.

"I've worked with almost every single person at the company, it feels like. It's created this feeling of unity between all of us because we've all had to work on Watts at some point. It's not just me building it, I've had to work with every single person on building it."

Once the department spaces were set up, the feeling of community grew even more.

"Having our departments on the intranet makes it so that we're all more interconnected, so we know what everyone else is doing. I think it really helps us understand what we're all doing, and it keeps us all on the same page."

Recognition spurs motivation and camaraderie

Before Axero released a new suite of recognition features with Communifire 7.0, Nick built a custom recognition center for Sunlight. Today he's working on integrating the two systems because recognition features were so pivotal for Sunlight's workforce.

Nick recounted one of Sunlight's most successful recognition programs to date.

"We have six core values that we run our company off of, and these were created when our company was started back in 2015. The values are: fair, genuine, honest, scrappy, talent-focused, and passionate. And so when someone displays those characteristics, you nominate them for that badge. For example, if you think that someone created a solution in a way that was very creative or saved the company a lot of money, then you give them the scrappy badge."

When someone earns a badge, it appears on their personal profile page on Watts for everyone to see. The nominee also appears on the recognition center, and anyone in the company can read about how they earned it. If an employee collects all six badges, they get the ultimate prize: lunch with the executive team.

"It's a big deal, so everyone's trying to get their badges right now. Everyone's so nice around here and maybe that's the reason why, because they're trying to get those badges," Nick joked. "We've probably got over 100 different pieces of recognition from people around our office, just recognizing teammates and giving them shout-outs, which is really cool. And that's something we never would have been able to do before the intranet. I think it goes a long way to be able to have a platform where you can recognize other people. It's nice to be able to have that personal touch where you can go and thank them for something and build that bond a little bit stronger."

Nick believes that the recognition center and this six-badge contest helped solidify Sunlight's core values for all the employees, too.

"Actually seeing our core values put into use on the intranet has turned it more into a concrete concept. See how someone is being talent-focused, how someone is being passionate, as opposed to just seeing those words on a wall."

He was most surprised by the level of detail that people went into when nominating their coworkers for these badges.

"I was expecting one or two sentences, but we usually get two or three long paragraphs when someone's nominated. So when you go on our recognition page you'll see these huge write-ups. Just one badge can have three paragraphs of compliments towards this one person. Which goes a lot towards the culture."

Making new faces more familiar as the company grows

New Sunlight employees are taking to Watts quickly, too. Part of this is because of the profile requirement Sunlight put in place with new hires. Employees are expected to fill out their personal profiles on the intranet—and that includes uploading a headshot. If they don't have a headshot, Sunlight will arrange to have one taken.

"We added fun facts about you, interests and hobbies, favorite food, favorite movies, favorite TV shows. That's been really nice to take advantage of with newer people where we might not know who they are. If we have a new person, it's like ‘Who's that? Who's that new person?' They're like 'Go on Watts and see if they have a profile up yet,' and I always see just about everyone at the company has filled in something."

Making documents more accessible and useful

The personal-connection aspects of Sunlight's intranet solution are worth writing home about—but Nick has found that managing documents is much easier with Watts, too.

"It's been huge for documents. We didn't really have a way to store documents for everyone to find beforehand, but now if you go on the HR page you can find our teammate handbook, you can find announcements about teammate outings … if there was a charity event then they'll put the flyer on there, health benefits, onboarding materials, legal policies. That's really helpful because it's tough to keep all those things in one place."

Nick said that Sunlight was using Box.com for sharing documents—and managing the folders and finding the right link with the right permissions was a pain.

"With Watts it's really easy. You don't need to send out a link, you just say 'Hey can you go on the Business Development page and look at the latest file they uploaded?' and you go on there and you can see it."

The built-in security features make Nick feel a lot safer about Sunlight's file management as well—which is saying something in an industry known for tight security requirements.

"That's one thing that we love about Communifire just in general, not even with files, that it's very secure. We're able to post internal numbers, numbers that we don't want our competitors to see. We're able to post them so our teammates can see how we're doing without having to worry about them getting out. And we can post any sort of press release that isn't ready to go public yet, but we want internal people to see it. I have never once worried about any sort of security breach or anything within Communifire."

Nick's advice to new Communifire users

When we asked Nick what word he would choose to describe Communifire, he chose "versatile."

His advice to new Communifire users is to lean into that versatility.

"I think that the best thing I can say, is that it's perfect for any level of involvement that you want. If you just want to roll with their default features and default looks and just put out an intranet, while doing as little as you can, then it's perfect for that. But if you want to go in-depth and customize as much as you want, then it's also perfect for that too.

There are a lot of platforms that require so much hands-on development work and customization from you. This is not one of those platforms. Even if I didn't make single change to it, I think we would still love it just as much as we do now. But the fact that I was able to change a lot of it, just as a graphic designer visually, I really appreciated that I could do that."

Before we could get to our final few questions, Nick also insisted on adding…

"This has got to be the easiest intranet to launch."

What Sunlight is looking forward to next with Watts

One of Nick's recent requests from his coworkers was to set up a page for the company's Culture Club.

"It's a small group of people in the office who plan events for the company and [keep everyone informed on holidays and social awareness issues]. Just basically culture around the office. They recently came to me and said ‘Hey can you build a space for us? ‘Cause every department has their own space, so can we have one?' So I said yeah sure, and I built that.

They plan happy hours, they handle fitness challenges, they send out emails with every holiday to explain its meaning and why it's important to celebrate. They have a newsletter that comes out every quarter that goes over new things at the company. So there is a lot we can put on this page. And I think it will definitely be one of the most popular pages, if not the most popular."

Per the CEO's request, Nick also added a widget to Watts's homepage that showcases new teammates.

"I'm looking to see how Communifire will grow with the company, if there are any changes that we'll need to put in there. I think we'll probably have to create more contests and more things to engage our teammates once we get that large. And so I'm looking forward to seeing how creative we can get with that. I know that with Communifire it's the best platform for getting creative so I'm looking forward to that."

8 Surprising Employee Problems You Can Avoid with a Modern Intranet

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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