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AstraZeneca looks at the bigger picture of companies on social media


The pharmaceutical industry was where the world turned when the pandemic struck. Alun Metford, head of global internal communications and business partnership at AstraZeneca, explains how the company has continued to operate unabated and says it “has not stopped working during the pandemic”.

In addition to the role it played in developing and manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine, the company has worked on initiatives to distribute drugs to people.

“Our employees have adjusted to different ways of working. Facebook’s Workplace helped us stay connected, ”he adds. In the early days of the pandemic, the company used the company’s social media platform to provide guidance to employees.

Capture ideas

AstraZeneca is now also using Facebook’s Workplace to host leadership meetings, but is also looking into how it can use the platform to unlock experiences and adjust its strategies.

“The best ideas can come from anywhere, it’s not about top-down. Many ideas from employees form the central component of our strategy and our actions, be they big ideas or individual initiatives. “

At a 2020 event on Workplace to learn about AstraZeneca’s growth strategy, 56,000 ideas were submitted by employees within two weeks, resulting in millions in investments. Another event to collect findings from the pandemic led to a further 24,000 ideas.

“Workplace encourages engagement and breaks down barriers,” says Metford.

The pharmaceutical giant used Workplace to build engagement and support the company in executing its business strategy. Patents are a key aspect of the pharmaceutical sector that enables pharmaceutical companies to maximize the return on intellectual property (IP) that arises from their research and development efforts. When a patent expires, however, you lose the exclusivity for that IP.

“The workplace was key to AstraZeneca’s high employee engagement rates and helped us drive tangible change and adapt to the changing way we all work.”

Alun Metford, AstraZeneca

As Metford explains, AstraZeneca faced this situation nine years ago: “As Pascal [Soriot, CEO of AstaZeneca] entered the company, our patent was about to expire. We built our pipeline to deliver drugs and involve our employees. “

AstraZeneca launched Workplace in 2017 as a pilot project for its global manufacturing and delivery teams. The communication platform is used for communication in short form. “It eliminated the need to send broadcast emails,” he says.

In 2019, the company expanded its use of Workplace and added integration with the Sideways6 tool, which enabled the company to increase engagement and participation in both directions. This, according to Metford, enables employees across the company to bring forward-looking ideas.

“It breaks boundaries and is used to celebrate and bring people together,” he adds. “The workplace was key to AstraZeneca’s high employee engagement rates and helped us drive tangible change and adapt to the changing way we all work.”

Global collaboration

As a global company, the automatic translation feature in Workplace has done AstraZeneca well. “Translation technology has caught on,” says Metford. “No matter what language you speak [natively], you can get a feel for what people are saying. ”This, he adds, allows people to connect with people they may never have met before.

Another aspect of being a global company is the need to understand time zones and culture, especially when organizing live meetings. “We take time zones into account when planning events and consider the diversity of the workforce,” says Metford.

In the Muslim world, for example, the weekend takes place on different days in different countries – some have Thursday and Friday as weekend days. The idea of ​​asynchronous communication is something that all businesses need to address as hybrid work is cemented into normal business practices.

“We make sure that sessions are available on playback, which Workplace does well,” says Metford. And the automatic subtitling of presentations, which is in the beta phase in Workplace, is important for non-English speakers.

Right to be forgotten

Workplace works just like Facebook so that employees can see trending posts. But, says Metford, it also has the ability to control what people see and mark posts as important.

For Metford, it’s not just the ability to identify relevant contributions that is important. One of the considerations for any company using a corporate social media platform like Workplace is data retention under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The success of any company’s social media platform depends on creating an online culture in which employees share their work and experiences outside of work. Therefore, forgetting and removing posts is one of the policies AstraZeneca has put in place to ensure GDPR compliance.

Looking ahead to 2022, AstraZeneca expects Workplace to continue to play an important role in generating real business value and maintaining strong employee engagement. Following the recent acquisition of Alexion by AstraZeneca, Workplace will be used to connect more than 4,000 new employees to the existing community.

“The workplace will play a central role as we adjust to the next normal,” concludes Metford.


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