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How ARCO Sharpened Its Focus on People with Communifire

How ARCO Sharpened Its Focus on People with Communifire

Who is ARCO?

ARCO is the 15th largest design/build general contractor in the US. The company is a national builder comprised of 27 independent family businesses serving local and national clientele. Since 1992, the company has grown from a single office in St. Louis, Missouri to 19 offices and almost a thousand employees coast to coast and has completed more than 4,000 projects in 48 states.

How ARCO Uses Communifire

Associate Directory: ARCO Global Directory connects 979 employees across 19 offices.

Interactive Orgchart: Employees use the orgchart to quickly find the best person to resolve an issue.

Document Management: ARCO businesses and business services access all forms, manuals, policies, and guidelines through the Communifire document management system.

Spaces: ARCO Business Services uses dedicated Spaces for department-specific content and for enterprise-wide initiatives, like the sabbatical program and the volunteer group.

Badges: ARCO awards badges to associates and teams to recognize work achievements.

Videos: Marketing and Communication posts announcements from the company leadership, training videos, and fun memories.

Workflows: ARCO Business Services approves content using Workflows. Moderators monitor and approve every post before they make it public.

Analytics: ARCO Business Services uses the analytics tool to track user engagement.

ARCO Business Services is a ARCO business. The shared corporate services division exists to support twenty-seven general contracting companies that make up ARCO.

"When you manage a ten-story building project in downtown Seattle," explains Chris Brooks, ARCO Business Services (ABS) Applications Manager, "you need support from HR, IT, Safety, Legal, and so on. That's what we do."

The support from ABS extends far beyond paperwork and computer systems. ARCO is laser-focused on taking care of its people. Take the sabbatical program, for example. Every five years each full-time employee gets four weeks of paid leave plus a $5,000 travel allowance to spend however he or she chooses.

So, it's no surprise that the company's intranet is more than a place to store forms and guidelines. The system in use today is a showcase of ARCO's unique character. But things didn't start out in that direction.

When Chris joined ARCO in mid-2016, the board was putting finishing touches on the company's first intranet. The business had been growing fast, with new associates always looking for training aides. How do you do a safety check? How do you start a job? How do you run a job? How do you close out a job? ARCO desperately needed a centralized location to deposit its cumulative knowledge.

The first site was quick and dirty, just links to Word docs. Almost immediately scalability became an issue. Every time a new company came on board, the entire system had to be duplicated. On top of that, HR wanted its own space for forms, employee handbooks, and benefits guides, but the platform proved cumbersome to load and update. Shareholders wanted one-stop shop for financial reports, but configuring permissions was a nightmare.

You can guess what happened next. Back to square one: Benefits Director was emailing IT for the latest documents, while associates kept their own versions on their hard drives. The system was not working for everyone. It created almost as many problems as it solved.

Chris took it as a sign to step back and rethink the intranet. "What do we want out of it?" If management put their heads together and drew a clear picture, Communications and IT could bring it to life.

The executives agreed. Everyone got together in a room and brainstormed. Out of that meeting came one of the most comprehensive lists of requirements in intranet history. Here are just some of the features ARCO was looking for:

  • newsletter look and feel
  • news feed tailored to the individual
  • easy to see the latest and most popular items
  • daily digest
  • easy to search (big deal!)
  • secure content
  • easy to create content
  • easy to do wall posts
  • mobile friendly
  • global associate directory
  • interactive orgchart
  • personal profiles, including mission and hobbies
  • active directory integration (with external directories)
  • team collaboration sites
  • fillable forms
  • document management
  • training management

Chris came from the world of extreme customization. His previous employer used a fully built-out SharePoint site that took fifteen people to manage. So, while he understood the possibilities, Chris was also looking for an intuitive system he could quickly set up and turn over to the users.

"We ended up choosing among Communifire, Igloo, and Jive. We did free trials of all three, but we kept going back to Communifire. It was the one I liked the best. I posted a question to a customer discussion forum, and, even though I wasn't a paying customer, I got an answer within the hour. I was shocked. We made the final decision to recommend Communifire to the Board."

On the user side, it was Kristin Stine, ABS Director of Marketing and Communications, who took charge of design, content, and bringing employees to the site.

"This time we made the user experience our top priority. The Communifire demo gave us a great starting point. The leadership liked what they saw. Posting blogs and articles was super easy, a lot easier than it had been."

In the beginning of 2018, the company signed up with Communifire and started building its first intranet. It was going to have a name and a logo. Chris had googled "how you start off the intranet" and decided to crowdsource the name. He was surprised to get a decent response from his coworkers. He was even more surprised that a few of them, independently of one another, came up with the same name. The leaders took a vote, and the winner was…

ARCOnnect,

the name that kept showing up in Chris' mailbox.

Connect the Names

Connecting the company was in the air. ARCO's strategy was to grow nationally. New offices were popping up all over the map: Chicago, Orlando, Phoenix, San Francisco, Boston, New York. The company was getting big and spread out.

The new intranet used the data stored in HRIS—names, titles, reporting relationships, "About Me"—to populate the global directory, the orgchart, and a section of the associate profiles:

"The orgchart was a big deal for us in the beginning. Without the intranet, no one knew where to go. Employees would pick up the phone and call somebody in HR. That didn't work so well because ABS was also growing. We were interacting with general contractors daily. Now operations people know who their person at ABS is. That was a big piece we accomplished with Communifire. I use it every day, too. It's a huge tool to bring a growing size to a smaller feel."

Connect the Faces

The global directory and the interactive orgchart solved a big problem for ARCO's growing workforce, but the intranet team had their sights set higher. They hoped to bring the company together as a community. Give people a chance to learn more about one another than just a name and a place in the orgchart. It wasn't something Chris and Kristin could do alone. They needed everyone in the company to cooperate. It started with getting associates to complete their profiles:

"Profiles took time. We had a contest to get people to fill out their profiles. Leadership were bartenders at company event, and they would serve you if you filled yours out. Profiles are helpful because they show personal interests, hobbies, and values. You see a face and get an insight into someone's personality before you call him or her. A completely filled out profile is an excellent resource."

Today ARCO takes no chances with the profiles. New hires are required to complete them on the first day. The HR team takes headshots and posts new hire announcements on ARCOnnect.

Connect the Hearts

If ARCO wants you to share your personal interests, it's not out of idle curiosity. Few companies do more to help employees live their lives to the fullest. The sabbatical program alone sends 80-90 people on dream vacations every year.

ARCO recently got a thank-you from an associate who's been with the company for 25 years. He said he's visited places he'd never get to on his own. Over his five sabbaticals, he's been to Tahiti, Alaska, a European cruise, the African Savannah, and British Columbia. He thanked the founders for starting the program and sticking with it no matter the expense.

After they come back from a sabbatical, associates write an article about how they spent their time. Kristin's team helps put it together and makes two framed copies of the finished product, one for the office, and one for home. "It's a big deal," she says.

Between printing booklets, processing applications, and publishing travel stories, running the program is no small feat. Before ARCOnnect, everything was on paper:

"We produced a four-page folded flyer to give to everyone in the company. It was an arduous process to print and mail. We've moved the sabbatical article distribution to the intranet, and we've had a great response. People are sharing it across the company. We now have a growing sabbatical archive, so everyone can read about who went where and see the photos. It was a big change at first, but the program received a lot of recognition since we've been publishing articles on the intranet. We get comments like, "Hey, it looks amazing!"

The articles are the best advertisement for the program and its impact on people's lives. In the past, publishing each one was a major undertaking. Now that she has a platform to store, organize and share the files, Kristin has made a huge dent in her backlog:

"We‘re always working on four, five, even ten articles at a time. The publishing process is moving a lot faster since we've gone digital. Now we publish one every few weeks."

ARCO Has a Heart is a matching gift program supporting employee philanthropy.

"We digitized the program using Communifire. It was super easy to build out a page on ARCOnnect! Now, if you want to make a donation, just search "charitable match" on the intranet, and you will get a form. It's a lot more efficient, and the company embraced it right away."

Kristin now has a blueprint for getting the word about programs and initiatives out to the people:

"We take programs that exist, rebrand and re-launch them on the intranet, and we see a lot more engagement."

ABS awards programs are next on the list. ARCO has always been looking to recognize individuals and teams for outstanding work. Now that everyone's on ARCOnnect, the company has the full power of a social network to make it happen. The HR team is taking the award systems to the intranet, using special features like Communifire award badges to spotlight the winners.

Stay Connected

Since launching ARCOnnect, Kristin rediscovered her calling as a social connector:

"I have a camera at every event, and I go around documenting. Our culture is fun and upbeat. I see happy faces, people enjoying their job. Communifire is a perfect platform to share these memories. If I were to send them by email to the whole company, it would not be appropriate."

Last year, she created a recap video after the ABS training event and posted it to the intranet:

"It was not a training video. It wasn't about anything, just showcasing people having fun. I didn't know if anyone would watch it. It got over 400 views!"

As a marketer and communicator, Kristin is always hungry for ears and eyeballs:

"I like to hit communications in lots of different ways. Communifire broadens my ability to talk to people, because they can do it on their terms. Initially, there was some resistance: "Oh, another place to go!" Now people are getting used to us talking to them through ARCOnnect."

The biggest advantage of the new system is transparency. One of Corporate Communication's toughest and most important jobs is to get upcoming changes across to people. Now that ABS has a permanent digital home that's easy to get to, there's much less room for confusion:

"Change can be stressful. Our intranet allows us to be transparent and ease people's minds. When we make a big announcement, we tell people there's more information on ARCOnnect, and its always going to be there."

And this is how it works:

"When we launched a new subcontractor form, we published an article and made a video of our General Counsel, Nancy Inman, talking directly to people. She explained the benefits in a very personable way, ‘Hey this is why we're doing this. It's not to torture you. This is what you need to do...' It got a lot of views."

Is It Working?

Communifire keeps track of visitor analytics. The intranet team prints them into a five-page report as proof that people are using the site. But even without the hard stats, they know they've got traction:

"For the last year we've been pushing people there. We've had full support of our tech-savvy owners. It's becoming more of a one-stop shop for anything you need to know at work. It removes the uncertainty of who to ask: people know where to look first. If they can't find it, it usually makes its way to ARCOnnect."

Want to be sure people are taking notice? Sneak a buzz-worthy item into your post and see what happens:

"I would hear people say something, and I know the newsletter is the only place where they could've learned it. Recently, we did a company-wide employee survey. A lot of people knew which department got the highest score. It was in the article and nowhere else. I thought, ‘Oh, they read it!'"

The ultimate proof that the ABS intranet team is doing something right is member companies following in their footsteps:

"We started as ARCO Business Services intranet: Marketing, Legal, HR… Soon people were saying: "This is out there. How can we use it for our business? This year five general contracting companies plan to migrate their files from the old system to Communifire. They liked that they could click on a link and see a file preview. A small feature, but huge for them! Another company loves the Calendar widget; they put on a lot of events."

Why Is It Working?

Even though, by their own admission, the ABS intranet team is "only using a small subset of tools available on Communifire," it's already a success. Things are on the upswing. ARCOnnect is getting more traffic. More features are coming on line, and more companies are building their landing pages on Communifire.

How did they do it?

They started from an unmet business need. ARCOnnect started from the simple idea to help employees navigate through a fast-growing company to get to the best individual to solve their problem. The active directory integration feature, a must-have on Chris' list of intranet requirements, allowed the team to quickly build and maintain ARCO global associate directory and the interactive orgchart.

They "built it to last." Even though it has been used to solve one specific problem at a time, ARCOnnect was designed to anticipate the company's growing needs. All the upfront work to envision the features, select a platform, and lay out the "bones" of the future intranet paid off when content and users started pouring in.

They market and advertise it. It didn't hurt that Kristin, a marketing and ad pro, has been strategic about pushing people to the site. "You can never just hope they will come. You need to know how you are going to bring people in. I like to hit it from all angles. "That's what she did. She launched an email campaign and worked with HR business partners to promote the new intranet. On top of that, she is always looking for associate advocates to be coaches and role models for the rest.

They respect employees' choice. Under ARCO's corporate structure, general contracting companies operate as independent businesses. Most companies choose to custom-build their own landing pages. "Our companies take pride in their unique brand identities. ABS works to keep the navigation of the site consistent. Once we launched ARCOnnect, they can do whatever they want with their spaces."

They stand on their founding principles. One of ARCO's core values is to "treat people fairly and do the right thing." Another one is to "be upbeat and have fun." The company has been true to these principles long before ARCOnnect. The intranet was simply a tool to organize the effort and broadcast the outcome. It's no surprise that the sabbatical program and ARCO Has a Heart resonated with associates and became the early drivers of the intranet success. That's who they are!

When asked to summarize the company in one word, Kristin and Chris hesitate:

"One word? Really? We just gave you a few thousand to choose from…"

Then Chris gives it his best shot:

"People. Our company is people-centered. And our platform is people-centered. We built it for them, to onboard, engage and share, to have all the tools at their fingertips. We collect and share all the best practices. We're a fully dedicated people site. Many companies—one family."

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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