Videoconferencing has achieved hyper-reality but it still can...

Videoconferencing has achieved hyper-reality but it still can elicit very feral reactions

By Ames Flynn, SVP & CIO, Extended Stay America

Ames Flynn, SVP & CIO, Extended Stay America

In the last year, Extended Stay America underwent a complete upgrade of its corporate intranet platform, transitioning from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint Online— Office 365. The upgrade included a complete redesign of the intranet, including a new name, The Lobby, as well as a mass refresh of the content and taxonomy. As part of the upgrade, our teams also developed workflows within the SharePoint platform to manage system access requests and approvals for employee lifecycle, as well as administer construction change requests and recycle information for hotel renovations.

One reason for moving to the Microsoft Cloud SharePoint solution was to eliminate having to rely on our internal staff for system engineering support and updates. With this implementation, our internal technology team can now focus on the design, functionality and content of the intranet, providing the business with easy access to shared information company-wide. We partnered with a Microsoft Gold Partner, to execute the new SharePoint solution and provide support and instruction to our ESA team members that would serve as the SharePoint administrator and developer.

With more than 620 hotel locations nationwide, even the most meticulous company-wide roll out plan could leave way for unforeseen setbacks, especially when implementing a completely new technology. While there were many successes, the team also faced notable challenges during the roll out. The biggest hurdle was implementing Microsoft’s active directory to all Extended Stay America properties that allowed for secure access to The Lobby, while only requiring a one-step login. Even after the roll out, ESA had access issues, specifically with setting up field PC’s and laptop configuration and cookies to automatically point to The Lobby as their default upon Internet Explorer launch.

How has this platform impacted out employees day-to-day tasks, improving daily company culture? During our 2014 associate climate survey, distributed to ESA general managers, field management and Charlotte Support Center staff, one of the top notes of feedback was that the Extended Stay America team at-large did not feel connected with top management. We recently discontinued the use of daily voicemail blast, as only 30 percent of recipients on average were listening. So, our new associate portal, The Lobby seemed like a natural way to better connect with our leadership at times when most convenient (pull vs. push). Also, more people seemed to be visual vs. verbal.

The Lobby offers multi-media opportunities with documents, pictures and videos. A one-stop hub for the latest brand happenings, The Lobby includes Extended Stay America “in the news,” spotlighting top media coverage and social media activations, associate awards and anniversaries as well as company financial performance and daily company stock updates. The Lobby also provides employees with access to discounts from partner vendors of Extended Stay America’s guest loyalty program, company “who to call” listings, status updates on latest company initiatives, reminders on brand mission and values, as well as easy navigation to department tabs for specific policies, procedures and forms. There is always an up-to-date message from our CEO or senior leadership team.

One of the more strategic efforts we enacted during this project was the creation of the cross-functional SharePoint group; we call “The Lobby” Governance Team. The team’s primary role is to ensure that all brand departments and disciplines are reflected on The Lobby, and that the platform consistently showcases the most relevant and important information and brand news. To achieve this, the Governance Team collaborates with department content owners to update and migrate specific content. Throughout the project, the Governance Team engaged senior executive leadership and in anticipation of the official launch, developed a communication plan, which included tailored messages from each leader, intended to build excitement among employees across the company. The Governance Team continues to meet weekly to make sure the content remains fresh, review end user feedback and prioritize future enhancements.

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