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Facebook at Work Fuels Collaboration at Canadian Tire

Bonnie Agostinho, an IT executive with Canadian Tire, has seen her fair share of technology rollouts over the years. But none, she says, can match the pace at which employees are taking up Facebook at Work.

"This is one of the speediest implementations I've ever been involved in," said Agostinho, who is vice president of Corporate and CTFS Delivery, Information Technology, at Canadian Tire.

Facebook hasn't actually launched a full-blown version of Facebook at Work yet, but a number of companies already have gotten to work with what's available now. The idea behind Facebook at Work is to give employees an easy way to apply the same social networking functionality they use daily in their personal lives to their business selves. Users can post content, add comments, message each other, create groups, and chat, for example. Canadian Tires is one early user; others, as featured on the Facebook at Work home page, include Coldwell Banker, Heineken, and Royal Bank of Scotland.

At a Rapid Clip
Canadian Tire began discussions with Facebook last December, and by mid-month had invited a small pilot group to begin using Facebook at Work. The size of that group quickly grew from 20 to 200 as Agostinho and her team fielded one "Oh, can you add me!" request after another, she said. The company moved from testing to production deployment in early February -- in "a very, very fast transition," as she called it.

"But, when you don't have to set up infrastructure and when you're dealing with a company that you have so much confidence in, you can move that fast," Agostinho added.

Since beginning the rollout, more than 5,000 of Canadian Tire's 85,000 employees have registered for Facebook at Work and are actively using it. And, those employees have supplemented the handful of standard, company-wide Facebook at Work groups set up at the corporate level with about 500 of their own groups, she said.

Some employees set up a "pets" user group, for example. Now the head of pet supply purchasing for Canadian Tire stores is tapping into that internal resource as a focus group. "He's now got this 200-member group that was set up quite organically that he can use as a focus group for pet products," Agostinho said.

Sample Facebook at Work Groups page

Innovation Mandate
Now, you may be thinking, "Canadian Tire... pet supplies?" For those of us North Americans south of the Canadian border and not intimately familiar with the company, Canadian Tire is far more than its name suggests. One of Canada's largest companies, Canadian Tire is a sprawling family of businesses that operate in the retail, financial services (the "CTFS" in Agostinho's title represents Canadian Tire Bank), and real estate sectors. Its brands, or "banner" names as it calls them, include Mark's, a casual and industrial apparel retailer; FGL Sports, which provides active wear; and Gas+ gas stations; among others.

Canadian Tire is determined to bring every last one of its 85,000-person workforce onto the Facebook at Work platform, Agostinho told me. That goal centers on the pledge Canadian Tire CEO Michael Medline has made to be the "most innovative retailer in the world," as he said in an official statement announcing the company's use of Facebook at Work.

That's a tall order -- one that would mean providing employees across the organization, at every level and within every brand, "new and innovative platforms for communications," Agostinho said. "And to us, Facebook at Work is a real example of how we could do that. It provides real-time feedback and real-time communications. It really is instantaneous -- one employee posts a question, and six people jump in with an answer."

From 5,000 to 85,000
Before Canadian Tire reaches full deployment, it has some process challenges to overcome, Agostinho said. For example, not every store employee has a unique work email address. Yet Facebook requires that an employee have an email address when signing up for Facebook at Work. That's a dilemma, since Canadian Tire doesn't feel comfortable asking employees to use their personal email addresses in order to get Facebook at Work.

"So we're trying to figure out a unique identifier we can have at the employee level that Facebook might be comfortable with. Maybe the answer is that we do end up giving everybody an email address, but we haven't landed there yet," Agostinho said.

Canadian Tire has long done a lot of its communicating via disparate brand-centric intranets and corporate-wide email missives, with miscellaneous messaging and other apps here and there, Agostinho said. "To communicate, when you have to be sure to post on five different intranet sites or send email reminding people they need to go look at something on an intranet site, is very difficult."

It didn't take long for Canadian Tire to zero in on Facebook at Work as its tool of choice going forward. "So many of our employees already use Facebook, each and every day. It's familiar, it's easy, and people just know how to do it intuitively," she said. "If you're going to be innovative," she added, "you have to give your employees a tool that allows them to do that, even if it's just in how they communicate."

With Facebook at Work, employees could just "pick it up and run with it," which meant Canadian Tire didn't have to invest in training. Brief as the company's pilot phase was, Agostinho said it served to provide the necessary comfort her team needed to establish that, yes, Facebook at Work is as easy to use as Facebook, users could quickly navigate the tool, and that adoption would be fast. "Honestly, figuring that out only took us days."

Sample Facebook at Work home page

And adoption has not only been fast, but faster than anticipated. "With word of mouth, we've had employees going in and claiming accounts before they've even received their emails inviting them to sign up for Facebook at Work," Agostinho said. "That shows me how much employees love this solution, which is awesome."

Engagement from Execs on Down
Also awesome, she added, is the way Facebook at Work is removing barriers between staff and executives, improving productivity as a result. In one of her favorite user examples to date, Agostinho described how a call center employee posted a question about why he wasn't able to do something on one of the company's websites. An associate vice president of that website quickly responded, telling him that he could in fact do what he thought he couldn't and then explaining exactly how to do it. The employee wrote back along the lines of, "This is amazing -- and I'm going to make sure everybody else on my team knows how to do this as well."

Previously, that employee may have queried his supervisor, who in turn would have asked a manager to get an answer. Follow-through, if at all, may not necessarily happen in timely fashion, she added. "Finding an answer might have taken days or weeks, and here it took, honestly, minutes."

Topping that ability to collaborate are real productivity improvements that are "just phenomenal," Agostinho said. "Even if they are hard to measure, we know they are big wins for us."

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