Keeping staff communicating through COVID-19

Name: Aoife Madden

Title: Head of Business Improvement

City: Limerick, Ireland

When COVID-19 hit Ireland, it quickly created a communication problem for about 500 employees in the locality of Limerick. Frontline staff such as firefighters and road crews don’t have an official email — typically, they check in with supervisors face-to-face at tea breaks or other points in the day. Those routines got scrambled by social distancing.

Aoiefe Madden stepped in to help. She shepherded creation of a smartphone app these employees can use to keep up with their work and key information on how to stay safe while doing so. “They’re not at a desk all day,” Madden said, “so the app provides them with immediate, up-to-date information.”

Now, the app is helping connect the local authority’s 900 other employees as well. With many of them working from home, it’s become a central platform for information related to staff health and wellbeing, leave policies, counseling services, and more. The change has lightened the load on inboxes — “people are just sick of email,” Madden said — while also creating a new channel for employee feedback.

Madden, whose background is in LEAN process-improvement techniques and service design, has a role roughly akin to what chief innovation officers do in city halls in the U.S. She says she’s lucky that Limerick’s top leadership is so focused on driving innovation within the local authority that they’ve written that into their corporate plan. “The expectation in Limerick is not only that you manage, but that you also must innovate and look for improvements and ways to do things better,” Madden said. “It makes it easier to do my job.”

Pro tip: “Innovation should be an expectation of everyone in the organization, not just the responsibility of a few people in the organization who are tasked with it.”

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