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How to keep far-flung managers informed and engaged

On set at Ericsson's R&D digital conference broadcast / Photos: Ericsson



Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. But what do you do when your company employs 3500 managers around the world?

The latest in collaborative technology enables even the most widespread multinational to bring employees together for the next best thing to being there in person.

According to tradition, our company organised a yearly face-to-face meeting with managers from our global research and development (R&D) organisation. But out of 3500 managers, we could only afford to host 700 of them.  With an enormous ongoing company transformation, how could we get our messages across if we couldn’t reach them all? This was the starting point for the development of a digital platform to communicate with our colleagues, spread across more than 40 places around the world.

With a very supportive steering-group by our side, we turned all our traditional plans upside down and made the decision to go all in with a digital event. Our task was now to develop an event platform that allowed us to communicate with 3500 managers in real-time. Other challenges we put on the list were time zones, engagement and interaction, content and speaker capabilities.

From brunch in California to dinner in China

A technical platform was established by integrating three different systems. It was very important to ensure a good user experience from the start, otherwise we would jeopardise the trust of the audience. No one enjoys a constantly buffering broadcast.

"Technology sometimes develops faster than human behaviour."

When the platform was in place, we put all our focus on the content and the engagement. A content team was formed with colleges based in the R&D organisation. By talking to the organisation ahead of the event, we got the necessary insights to create an agenda with the most important topics. The challenge with engagement and interaction was a more difficult task. My personal opinion is that technology sometimes develops faster than human behaviour. With that in mind, we decided that the audience was not ready to consume a three-hour event behind their own computer screens.

We reached out to all the 43 sites globally and engaged a site manager who started the preparations of a local gathering. Then we invited the leaders to experience the live broadcast together at each site. Our colleges in California organised a breakfast mingle, our colleagues in Germany organised a full-day manager event and our colleges in China organised a dinner meeting. We also asked each of our participants to download an app, with which they could give their opinion as well as raising questions for the speakers.

Eradicating the PowerPoint germ

Most of us, working in traditional enterprises use PowerPoint when communicating corporate messages. To avoid getting trapped in that habit and just presenting another boring corporate broadcast, we decided to bring in a professional television team and a television producer. This was the best decision in the whole project. We learned how to get people’s attention, how to craft the key messages and how to make an interesting three-hour programme. We used different seating arrangements for different sections, we trained our speakers to talk to the camera, we had a conversation with people in other sites (Skype and link) and we used digital graphics to support the messages. In three hours we used three PowerPoint slides. To summarise the event:

  • Three hours with 25 speakers contributing to the event
  • Two external speakers where connected in real time with Skype from US and UK.
  • 43 sites, in all time zones, where connected to the broadcast
  • Eight sites were part of the agenda and contributed with speakers and comments from the local audience
  • We reduced the initial project budget by 50% and we saved about 300 flights which is a saving of 240 tons of CO2e (Carbon footprint).

As we replaced the face-to-face meeting with a digital live event, we were a bit nervous about people’s opinion. But the result was surprising. 97% of the participants thought it was excellent, very good or good. Almost 70% felt strongly engaged during the event. What more can you ask as an organiser?

“Each event teaches us more about how to improve the content, the speakers and the set-up.”

Ericsson has now established this broadcast platform and uses it for several global events each year. Each event teaches us more about how to improve the content, the speakers and the set-up to make sure the audience is treated to a good experience. We have also exported this concept to simpler, lower-cost productions. The secret lies in the content and the variation of the presentation formats. 

To reach the whole R&D community of 23,000 people, we also provided 60 knowledge sharing sessions on topics that were part of the agenda. But that is another story.

Åsa Degermark

Åsa Degermark holds the position as head of communications in the corporate function strategy and technology for Ericsson. Åsa is responsible for the communication of Ericsson’s R&D capabilities, innovation and technology leadership. Åsa was the main driver in developing a digital platform for communication to leaders spread across the world.