We spoke to the English National Opera about how Workplace from Facebook has shifted the way leadership teams interact with employees and has created a healthier working culture
For many organisations, the first lockdown in March 2020 meant a shift in working culture. Leadership teams were faced with the difficulty of ensuring all employees and volunteers were digitally capable of continuing work, while also managing their mental health.
The workplace no longer constituted the office, but multiple bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens – wherever people could find solace within their homes. Work entered the private space and the private space quickly became public.
The changes in the workplace demanded a shift from leadership teams, too. Leaders are expected to understand the difficult situation employees find themselves in, as has been reflected in recent studies.
Research commissioned by Workplace from Facebook, for example, demonstrated that UK employees are increasingly demanding empathetic leaders since the beginning of the pandemic. More than half of employees (58%) stated that they would consider leaving their job if a leadership style has a direct negative impact on their personal wellbeing and happiness at work.
Employees are demanding a culture that strays away from impersonal and tough leaders. For leaders, however, checking in on mental health can be difficult when you can’t see people in person. We spoke with Stuart Murphy, the CEO of the English National Opera (ENO) about how digital enabled him to maintain a thriving community within the organisation using Workplace from Facebook.
The ENO started using Workplace from Facebook in January 2020, but it wasn’t until lockdown hit that the platform became essential. Workplace from Facebook is a tool that enables collaborative working, video conferencing, and groupwork, while retaining its most recognisable features, such as instant messaging and posts.
The ENO uses the tool to continue sharing important information with relevant team members and for general work purposes. Stuart has also introduced something a little more light-hearted for the team. Once a week, staff can share something more personal, which ranges from sharing record collections to cute pictures of dogs to what got them into opera.
Opera and music continue to play a vital part of the online community, as pianists and singers sometimes post videos of themselves performing (even in strange environments like the bath) onto Workplace.
Stuart felt that this tool helped democratise the workplace, as people who might not have usually spoken in meetings were able to contribute to the organisation’s voice through an easy post or comment. The team also found out more about their organisation as a whole, such as common interests and traits with one another.
The leadership team had been working for several years to make the ENO a flatter, more open company where diversity of opinion and expression are celebrated – and Workplace solidified this goal. As Stuart said: “Because we’re a company where our bread and butter is emotion, and people feel at their best only when they feel safe to be themselves…it 100% made us a better company.”
Due to the culture of sharing interests and personal flares, certain posts were then shared on to the wider public through social media. For example, the Props Workshop Manager at ENO made sets from Lego and shared this on Workplace to colleagues.
The communications team used these images and published them on social media platforms, which created an even wider community between the ENO and their supporters. The light-hearted and universal nature of the images maintained a sense of connection during months of social distancing, giving the workforce motivation to continue sharing their talent.
While opera sometimes appears from the outside as an exclusive field, posts like the above managed to attract people from various fields. By sharing costume designs on social media, for example, the fashion and textile industry were able to engage with the ENO.
The ENO didn’t remain static during lockdown but made an active effort to engage the nation in their work through digital. Whether it was conducting operas on national TV or developing a programme with the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to help COVID-19 survivors breathe well (facilitated over video sessions), the ENO adapted to their situation.
This has in turn helped to grow both their online and physical audience and secured future opportunities such as their upcoming outdoor performance of Puccini’s Tosca at Crystal Palace Bowl.
The use of digital is helping ENO in a variety of ways and will continue to do so post-lockdown. Firstly, Stuart has confirmed that people won’t necessarily have to live in London to work at the ENO.
Lockdown has proved to many leadership teams that remote working doesn’t mean the end for a business. It’s enabled teams to trust one another in doing the work that’s important.
Employees at the ENO feel warmer towards the company due to the mutual feeling of trust. Additionally, Workplace has helped colleagues see one another in a more human way due to the weekly posts and information shared about themselves.
The ENO has gone one step further by introducing group chats to create safe spaces for team members. Since March 2020, there have been more social issues than just COVID-19 that have had repercussions on the mental health of many people. For example, the deaths of George Floyd and Sarah Everard sparked wider conversations and large protests on how people of colour and women are treated in society.
The ENO responded by setting up group chats on Workplace, such as a women’s forum where employees could share their thoughts safely among each other.
Following the important changes that digital has brought to the culture of ENO, they feel more open to embrace other platforms to help them with their work and become paperless. The shift to a digital workplace has brought to light the limitations from in-person work, which has benefited all the team at the English National Opera.