Transport for London (TfL) is the local government body responsible for the transport network across Greater London in the United Kingdom. Three thousand TfL employees volunteered to be ‘Travel Ambassadors’ throughout the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to support the unprecedented numbers of customers using the London transport network. Travel Ambassadors (TAs) were stationed at underground, rail, bus and boat stations throughout the city and were identifiable by their bright pink jackets.
The Travel Ambassadors’ Yammer Network
TfL provided a dedicated Yammer network for the TAs, which launched on 25th July. This network provided a forum for all TAs to communicate with one another to support their service to the public. TAs were able to access Yammer on their iPad or iPhone while on their shifts, and also by web browser when in the office.
Within three days of the network launch, 1,254 users had signed up to the network and 1,303 messages had been posted, illustrating that the platform was already providing value at an early stage.
How Travel Ambassadors Used Yammer
On their Yammer network volunteers let each other know which locations were busy so coordinators could redeploy them quickly. TAs gave each other tips on what to expect while volunteering, reassuring those on their first shift. They advised one another on how to use their iPads and how to get the most out of the apps available to them (for example, Twitter, Yammer, etc).
TAs boosted team morale by expressing what a positive experience they were having (even when it was raining). They shared comments they’d received from members of the public, which sometimes included the enviable feedback ‘you have saved my life’ and even ‘you have saved my life again’.
A #celebrityspot hashtag encouraged staff to share photos they’d taken of celebrities from their device. The TA who managed to get a snap of Boris Johnson obviously got a lot of feedback on the network! They also set up a dedicated Photos group in the network, and included here was a picture of volunteers lined up— assuming Usain Bolt’s now-iconic pose—in order to direct passengers from Stratford Station to the Olympic Park.
Staff coordinating the volunteers also made use of and benefitted from the Yammer network. Toward the end of the first week of the Games, TAs were requested to do shifts within the Olympic Park itself over that weekend. Coordinators used Yammer to arrange the shifts for 400 volunteers in less than 24 hours.
Socially Connected Volunteers Supporting the Games and Transforming TfL
The positive outcomes of the Travel Ambassador project were numerous for the public, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and TfL staff.
Yammer not only provided the platform to support the delivery of this project but the medium through which feedback from staff could be collected and shared.
The efforts of the project management team were crucial in ensuring that the use of Yammer and mobile devices was well supported. This team analysed the conversations happening in the network to contribute to operational decisions and to realize and accurately convey the impact the project had on the entire organization. Their findings were as follows:
The Travel Ambassador project contributed to a growing spirit of collaboration across TfL’s organizational modes. Volunteers from different roles and modes worked together for the first time, and many staff expressed a greater appreciation of the operational roles that their colleagues carry out on a daily basis.
Virtual connections also arose: they started as simple questions and answers later developing into stronger conversations based on insight, thoughtfulness, support and respect. These ongoing relationships are expected to contribute to a more connected culture across the organization.
Influencing operational decision-making
Following the Olympic and Paralympic Games, TAs took to Yammer to make the case for having TAs to support similarly large events in London in future. As a result, senior staff took the decision to rollout TAs for London’s Notting Hill Carnival over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Significantly, employees that volunteered for this role felt valued and appreciated, notably from the positive feedback they received from the public (both in person and via the press and social media). Employees also expressed their appreciation to senior leaders at TfL who had taken the time to visit them on their shifts.
What’s happening on the ground?
Clearly, volunteers benefitted from getting questions and answers to and from one another to support the public. An additional benefit, however, was to empower these employees and, ultimately, to make them self-sufficient, reducing the burden on coordination staff.
Many in London (and beyond) are sad that the Olympic and Paralympic Games have come to an end. There was a conciliatory, helpful and happy atmosphere across the city during that period, largely thanks to the work of the volunteers (and the British gold medalists!). The Travel Ambassadors’ Yammer network similarly took on that tone of collaboration and positivity, facilitating the fantastic service the TAs delivered and positively influencing the longer-term operational and cultural direction of TfL.