Q&A with Gemma Bullock, Communications and Engagement Lead at Ryalto.

Filling in the Gaps - A q&a with Gemma Bullock

Gemma has eight years’ experience in roles associated with workforce development, engagement, communications and culture in various organisations, including the NHS. 

She is passionate about staff engagement, wellbeing, culture and taking people on a journey of improved communications. Much of her work has involved implementing changes in people’s behaviours and attitudes towards technology in the workplace. In Gemma’s own words; “My role is often to convert those people who can struggle to adapt to new technology, so I spend a lot of time educating and objection handling.

In Part One of our Q&A with Gemma, we focus on her work around implementing Ryalto to transform workforce engagement.

Many of your customers are large organisations. How does Ryalto deal with communications in such complex workplaces?

Gemma: In my role, I engage in sessions with nearly everyone in the organisation. It’s very typical for me to learn that, before an organisation launches with Ryalto, communication of news is often in the form of rumour; multiple rumours that start with somebody telling somebody else who told somebody else. For instance, in hospital settings, there’s a really defined hierarchy. Often, news starts with an executive at the top, that then goes to a Chief Nurse, that then goes to the Director of Nursing for that area, and then goes down to a Ward Manager and so on. By the time it hits the people on the ground, the doctors, the porters and the domestics, the news is not at all the same as when it started its journey – and often it has become simply untrue.

You have to remember people are often influenced by news they hear outside of the workplace, for example, colleagues might watch the news in the morning (this happened a lot during the pandemic) and then worry that they might be faced with worse or more challenging situations at work that day. Colleagues would watch the news and think, ‘oh, there’s a PPE shortage,’ and then come into work feeling anxious about their safety. Then it fell to the managers to have to say, ‘actually, here, in this organisation, we’ve got plenty of PPE. Please, everyone calm down.’

When you can get accurate and timely news to the people who need it and you can reassure them, and show that it’s from the right person’s mouth, it’s very valuable in the efficient running of a large organisation. 

This is why I think that good engagement is seeing visible leadership such as a Chief Nurse on a video talking directly to their workforce through Ryalto. That, for me, is top engagement, cutting through hierarchies and all the way to the eighth person down simultaneously. I’ve seen nurses in floods of tears about a PPE shortage that the hospital never had because rumours can spread fear so fast. With Ryalto, you simply don’t get this, however large the organisation is. I think having that live news and a single source of truth is really, really important for a workforce.

What’s the case for Ryalto over email and paper when it comes to workforce engagement?

Gemma: In a healthcare setting, I don’t think that email communication is the right solution to reach all employees. Going by my experience working in the NHS, I’d start by saying that often leaders do not have up-to-date distribution lists. For example, you could email a consultant distribution list, for instance, and you’d have 200 bounce backs from people that had left, so I could never feel assured when I’d sent an email that it was getting to the right people who needed to read it. 

In a previous organisation, I did a study and found that up to 15-20% of the workforce had never even accessed their emails. Colleagues like; porters, cleaners, domestics and the people on the ground who you often need to communicate with. So you are losing that cohort of people straight away. And yet we did all of our comms via email, which, for me, was alarming, as we were missing a third of our people. Everyone else just kind of accepted that as the norm but it cannot be right when such a significant and important cohort of the workforce lack communication. 

Paper communication is even worse. It gets lost easily and is not always compliant when you consider infection control practices. Not in a hospital environment anyway.

In your opinion, what is the range of people that Ryalto helps?

Gemma: Ryalto works for everyone but I think it is particularly useful for clinical and frontline colleagues. I think that if you’re an admin colleague or you work in a role where you are behind a computer all day, every day, email communication is great for you. A Slack, or a Microsoft Teams message; they both work for you too, but for people who are with patients, those communication tools are totally alien to them. They don’t get them; they don’t understand them. And they can feel quite marginalised by them.

Also, there’s this view, particularly in clinical hospital settings, that frontline or workers that work in the evening and weekend are often the last to know anything. So the people who immediately benefit most from communicating through Ryalto are clinical colleagues, particularly nurses, healthcare assistants and midwives. Also colleagues working in support services, outpatient clinics or in any role which is predominantly not carried out behind a computer screen.

I’m also finding that those colleagues on the ground, like porters and your domestic colleagues, who are used to using other social channels, such as Facebook, are already used to the way that Ryalto looks and feels so they use it a lot. It’s very, very similar. 

I used to support the running of a staff Facebook group in my last organisation as a different way to communicate and these were the cohort of people that tended to be most present in there. For colleagues on the ground who want the news fast and who you need to engage immediately, Ryalto really is the right thing for them.

Admin and clerical do use Ryalto too because it’s a tool that they’re used to. However, I think they often get the news from elsewhere. So, I think it’s those people that are on the ground who will be walking around with their phone who will have a little look as they’re walking down the corridor, it’s those people that Ryalto really works for.

So an organisation integrates Ryalto. How do you then make sure that people look at the app enough during their working day to make it useful?

Gemma: This is an area where I think I add quite a lot of value because a lot of what I do with our customers is linked to culture change; behavioural change and learning to create new habits in the workforce. The use of notifications in the right moment can be hugely beneficial. What I try to coach our clients through using our features in the right way, at the right time in order to drive engagement. 

We spend a lot of time analysing the data from our users. From looking at the user stats, it’s clear that most people check for news on their phone at about 8:00am, before they go into work. And then again at 5:00pm, because it’s the end of the work day.

So we also educate Ryalto users to put their own company news up at the right time of day. We pull analytics stats and talk to our clients about shift patterns and what kind of news should go out when. So a lot of the time night staff have been forgotten by comms managers. So I suggest that they schedule a post for midnight to catch the night staff and the engagement goes through the roof. 

A lot of this is around building new, useful habits, but also getting people into a productive routine. For example, on a Monday, we coach our leaders to start the week with a Motivational Monday post, Tuesday, do a Teams Tuesday post and so on. By doing this you are quickly building new engagement habits, but also your workforce know that now, on a Wednesday, if they go on, they’ll find their Wellbeing Wednesday content etc. That’s really, really important.

The type of content is critical too. It has to be something people can’t get elsewhere. It needs to have an exclusive edge. As an employee, I want news about the company that I work for and the other people in the workforce. So, like I said earlier, your wellbeing content is now exclusively on Ryalto and that’s the only place they go to get that knowledge and support. But they also go there if they want to get staff discounts and benefits and other good, exclusive content like that. Things like that really matter to people, so they soon develop the habit of looking regularly on Ryalto for that content. We work quite a lot on that kind of incentive-driven communication.

So is it important that Ryalto is associated with good news?

Gemma: Yes. I always tell colleagues that good communication and engagement is all about hearts and minds. Why would I read through Ryalto in my own time? I’d read it because it offers value to me. Where we see low engagement is when our leaders haven’t understood this. They’re filling the newsfeed with policies and procedure updates; you haven’t done your mandatory training; you need to wash your hands more and things like that. So that’s when I help our clients and suggest that, yes, you can put that on there but it has to be amongst the useful content. You know, we need to have 80% positive, 20% instructional content. You have to get that balance right. 

Also, people need a balance, they want to hear from their leaders but they also want to hear from their peers. The right kind of communication amongst peers often encourages innovation too.

It’s the same in some of our care home settings. One of our clients call their posts ‘Magic Moments’ and carers share those posts with each other, sharing news about special moments with the people they care for, or even great moments with other carers. That really does encourage good habits, positivity, celebration and creativity around ideas for caring. People say, ‘Oh wow, I could do that too.’ It’s really engaging for them.

Even though sometimes companies have bought Ryalto to communicate corporate news primarily, we show them that successful communication and staff happiness starts with useful, focused and engaging posts on Ryalto. 

To hear more from Gemma on the subject of workforce engagement, please sign up for her webinar here:

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