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Best Workplace Awards: Virtually a winner

Virtually a winner

‘People before profit’ is a well used cliché in business, yet there are few organisations which could rival CORE Education when it comes living this vision. And with most communication, in this 80 plus employee organisation, happening virtually, its placing as a finalist in the JRA Best Workplaces Survey is even more remarkable.

The JRA Best Workplaces awards is the largest employee engagement survey in New Zealand. Almost 31,000 employees across New Zealand took part across 245 organisations. CORE Education was placed second in the small – medium workplaces, missing the top spot by less than one percent on the performance index. Winners were announced last week.

Across the 60 questions covering a range of measures, including communication, culture and values, common purpose, learning and development, and reward and recognition, the CORE team scored consistently high. Where the majority of participants rated 68% when asked “I feel my contribution is valued”, CORE scored over 90%.

“Our management style is very people focused and this is reflected in way staff interact, making it more a large family than a mere organisation,” Chief Executive, Ali Hughes says.

“CORE Education places relationships ahead of all other facets of its business. It is important to listen to your staff, to understand them as people and value their contribution to the organisation,” she adds.

The recent Canterbury earthquake was a typical example of the sense of community and whanau within the organisation. “Team members from outside the city responded by sending money and donating annual leave days to the Christchurch team.” Hughes shares another example where someone used a CORE team dinner last year to propose publicly to a CORE employee. It was wonderful he felt so comfortable in our company that he wanted to share that personal occasion with us all”

Communication amongst the dispersed teams is open and regular and most of it takes place using various online platforms, mainly Skype, ichat, Facebook, Twitter and through the CORE intranet. All operating systems, accounting and work platforms are cloud based (on the internet, not held on a physical server in any of the organisations offices) and interactive. Google documents form the basis of the day to day work flow. The company also uses video conferencing and programmes such as Elluminate to keep in touch and work with staff across the country.

Director of eLearning, Derek Wenmoth says CORE uses Facebook like other work places use the water cooler. “One of our strongest points of difference is around that virtual organisation. It should be difficult to communicate and to be placed in awards like this, but we have done it and done it better than many face to face organisations.”

Hughes says one of the company’s principles is to “think of ourselves as people - as individuals. So it’s not all about work. We actually are really interested in what is happening to all our team socially and what is happening in their personal lives.” For this reason, the majority of the team connect with each other via their personal Facebook accounts. So whether they are in Invercargill or Whangarei, each knows that one of the staff went sailing in the weekend or that the receptionist’s daughter won a ballet competition.

Despite this ongoing virtual dialogue, the management team work hard to create opportunities for face to face interaction and also encourage cross-staff communication.

Wenmoth describes the organisation’s communication being like a spider web. “It does not all flow from the top down, or the bottom up. Like other structures within CORE – the communication is non hierarchal and contributes greatly to the sense of empowerment and belonging the team shares”. Survey results report that 95% of the team agree the organisation encourages ideas and suggestions from employees on how to improve the way things are done.

X takes on Y

So how has a group of Gen X’s and baby boomers been so successful in meeting all the archetypical criteria of a highly successful Gen Y organisation? How have they overcome the challenge of making virtual communication so personalised?

“It’s by understanding social networking software and how it makes a difference,” says Wenmoth. The software is very personalised – “it’s your account and you build your network to suit how you like to work”, he adds.

CORE Education is one of New Zealand’s foremost educational research and development organisations and provides a range of services to schools and early childhood centres, with a particular focus on innovative and creative eLearning, curriculum support, ICT and school review.

They were selected from hundreds of organisations vying for a place as a finalist in the Medium Workplace category (50 – 149 employees). Winners will be announced on November 11 in Auckland.

For more than 10 years, the JRA Best Workplaces awards has enabled many hundreds of New Zealand organisations to measure engagement levels, benchmark these against ‘best practice’, and gain insight into factors contributing to and detracting from a productive and engaging workplace environment.


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