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Feature
In Partnership with MHR

A juicy new approach to tech transformation

Britvic's MD and Director of HR explain how technology is driving the company towards its goal of being a fast-growth business...

Words by Amanda Vlietstra

When the pandemic hit, it appeared to completely change the way companies did business, seemingly overnight. Research from Finder discovered that 60% of the UK's adult population worked from home during the first lockdown – compared to just 1.54million who regularly worked from home prior to the pandemic. As the benefits of saving on commuting costs, and the ability to have a more flexible work-life balance, dawned on the working population, it became clear that some level of home-working was here to stay.

What's fascinating about this is that, less than a decade before the pandemic, the UK – along with the rest of the world – would not have had the technology available to facilitate mass home-working. But in fact, the pandemic only accelerated a journey towards a different, more flexible way of working that many companies had already embarked upon – enabled by technology.

Britvic was one such company. The FTSE250-listed company owns a portfolio of best-selling soft drink brands, including Robinson's, 7Up, Purdey's, Lipton and Drench, as well as best-selling MiWadi in Ireland and Teissiere in France. It also has a synergetic market in Brazil, which is one of the largest concentrated squash markets outside of the UK.

Paul Graham

In the first quarter of 2022, Britvic's total revenue increased 16.5% to £373.9million on a constant currency basis, with GB leading this development and delivering revenue growth of 17.1%. Speaking exclusively to myGrapevine magazine, Paul Graham, Managing Director of Britvic PLC, said: “We have grown and performed well over the last few years, but we want to be a faster growth business than we have been, we want to be recognised for being a growth business, so we want to manage our core portfolio of brands, but also innovate around new opportunities. It could be a product development, or format or channel, or where we sell our products.”

Britvic was originally founded in the mid-19th Century in Chelmsford as the British Vitamin Products Company (and its name today is derived from that).


It started producing fruit juices in 1938 and began marketing them under the Britvic name in 1949.


In 1987, it acquired the Tango and Corona brands from Beechams, and also acquired the UK franchise for Pepsi and 7 Up.


Healthier People, Healthier Planet is Britvic's sustainable business programme – the company aims to create a business where work is purposeful and rewarding, and to reduce the impact of their operations on the environment and transition to a low carbon business.


In 2021, Britvic acquired plant-based milk, juice and shots company Plenish. Plant-based milks are set to acquire retail sales values of over £500million by 2024.

Transition during the pandemic

Britvic is based in Hemel Hempstead, England, and Paul says that, prior to the pandemic, they'd already done the work of getting their office-based employees kitted out with laptops and Microsoft Teams – the platform they'd decided to base their internal communications around. “We'd been bringing the technology in and thinking about how we use it, but culturally we were a face-to-face business,” he explains. “It was great that when lockdown hit, we weren't all stuck at home thinking ‘I haven't got anything to work on', but we then had to think ‘how do I use this?' But it was all quite intuitive and easy.”

Initially, Paul says that the company adjusted extremely well to working from home and using Teams to communicate, after a few months of lockdown, they realised that, although the technology was great, there were flaws. “We realised that actually having a meeting on a screen and talking to people was more difficult to focus and concentrate than having it face-to-face,” he says. “The energy, trying to read the signals, trying to connect to people – it's hard doing that on a screen. All the soft signals you take for granted in a face-to-face meeting are gone. They are 2D rather than 3D conversations. It's harder to get the flow right – when do I come in, when do I speak?”

Paul came up with a novel solution to this.

“We got into the habit of doing a quick vox pop round the virtual room to make sure that people were in the conversation, and expressed in the conversation, and also given the time to speak,”

he explains.

In larger meetings, Paul says the chat and Q&A functionality in Teams became invaluable in increasing engagement during meetings. “We really encourage people to ask us questions as we go along. Using the Q&A functionality makes sure people are engaged with that.”

Remote Working

Remote working challenges

While there are clear advantages to remote working in terms of reduced time and money spent commuting and the ability to find a better work-life balance, there are disadvantages, too. Last year, a survey of 2,000 US and UK office workers by hybrid work experts Chargrifi found that since working from home, Generation Z and Millennial employees, in particular, feel more isolated, with 67% saying that since working from home they've found it harder to make friends and maintain relationships with colleagues. The research also found that this negatively impacted on their productivity.

Although technology is incredible at keeping us all connected, it cannot as yet replicate the level of connection we get from seeing colleagues every day. Paul says that one problem with remote working is you can lose the “soft tissue” around meetings, which helps keep the company engaged and working collectively. “The conversations that happen going into the meeting, or coming out of the meeting, or at lunchtime, are really important parts of the overall mix,” he says. “There isn't an ‘afterwards' with Teams meetings so you need to make sure they don't become too transactional.”

This helps explain why, when the first lockdown ended, and workers were allowed to return to the office, Britvic reopened its Hertfordshire-based HQ and kept it open. “We asked our workers what they wanted to do [remote working or return to the office] and they said ‘a bit of both, please',” Paul says.

Now as the pandemic fades into the background, he notes that hybrid working is here to stay, and Britvic encourages desk-based staff to spend 50% of their time home-working and 50% in the office, depending on the individual circumstances. So far, this has worked well. “We started to challenge ‘what do I need to do and where do they need to be to do that work?',” Paul says. “It's about trying to get over that hurdle of thinking if people are in the office and I can see them all, they're doing good effective work. It doesn't matter where people are so long as they're working well.'

Talking of working well…

During the pandemic, the company set up an in-house initiative, Working Well, which offers help and support to all its staff, whether they're working remotely or in the office. Sophie Hemmingway, Britvic's HR Director, explains that there are six components to Working Well:

Flex

Where possible, starting from the position that work can be done anywhere, anytime

Together

Recognising the importance of collaboration and coming together to connect, co-create and have fun

Tech

Having the technology and training we need to be together, even when apart and always thinking digital first

Vitality

Putting our colleagues' wellbeing first

Planet

Making sustainability an integral part of everything teams do

Place

Ensuring vibrant and inspiring surroundings

Sophie points out that Britvic is a manufacturing company, so many of its employees were unable to work from home during the pandemic. However, Working Well, which is designed to support workers who are not desk-based as well as those who are, “is part of the reason engagement is still strong – though we aren't complacent – it is something we monitor very closely. There'll never be a complete substitute for face-to-face, but our tech-enabled dynamic ways of working programme, Working Well, is already, er, working well,” she smiles.

Sophie Hemmingway

Sophie Hemmingway's top tips on keeping staff engaged


  1. Keep them in the loop
    Regular communication between leaders and colleagues will build transparency and make your team feel included. Make sure that what you're sharing is relevant to your people, otherwise you may lose their engagement altogether.
  2. Make 121s more meaningful
    Your chats with individual team members shouldn't stop being about how well they're doing and what they need to do next, but they should start being about much more. Open conversations about mental health, career ambitions and worries will not only get to the root of key issues faster, they'll also help you to build more human relationships. However, none of that will be possible, if your 121s are happening every six months…
  3. Praise your people
    We're often guilty of talking about the things that go wrong far more than the things that go well – that can't be the case in your workplace; your people produce excellent work and that shouldn't go unnoticed. Creating a forum exclusively for shoutouts – it could be a Teams channel – can soon build a culture that's seeing all your people, at all levels, openly praise their colleagues. You don't need me to tell you that people like being told when they've done a good job!

Driving engagement

Indeed, it's technology that helps ensure Britvic staff are focused and engaged – and part of the Britvic family. In addition to introducing Teams, the company has upgraded their intranet, Focus. “We now use a platform that is agile and where it is easy to adapt content,” Sophie says. “Colleagues can create their own home page – and all messaging is tailored to the market, role, site or team. We can reach most other employee tech platforms from the intranet, which has been game-changing, and we are building interactivity all the time.”

The company also has something rather unusual – a Tech Bar, where Britvic employees can have a face-to-face chat with a member of the IT staff any time they need tech support. “It looks like a real bar!” Paul says. “It means our IT guys are much more visible than they were, and our employees can be confident that they can just walk up to them and get their tech issues solved things easily and quickly.”

In fact, technology is woven through the strata at Britvic, helping them pursue their goal of becoming a fast growth business. The majority of their L&D programmes are tech-enabled, and the company is building a digital academy to super-charge capability development. “The plans for this digital academy are truly impressive and will in time involve tech-supported mentoring schemes,” Sophie says. “Already, our leadership, accelerated development and women in leadership business-wide programmes are supported by tech – though delivered through a blend of in-person and online learning.”

She adds: “This is all supplemented by a strong suite of tools, curated to drive personal and team awareness and effectiveness. These include Strengthscope and Strengthscope Teams – trait-based diagnostic tools, allowing colleagues individually and collectively to identify their strengths at work and ensure maximum performance.”

Technology even feeds into the company's performance management processes. As well as using online platform MyPerformance, Britvic's HR team runs a twice-yearly digital employment engagement survey called Employment Heartbeat. This “always proves very popular, with more than 85% completion rate and consistently yielding top quartile engagement metrics of around 80% or so,” Sophie says. “From a technology perspective, the survey tool is highly flexible – generating real-time data and analytics for line managers, and a wide range of informative reports to help us get the most from the data.”

Wellbeing through technology

The wellbeing of its staff is also of high importance to Britvic, which has a number of internal network groups including Be Empowered, Be Seen, an LGBT+ network and a BAME network, too. Paul is the executive team sponsor for both the LGBT+ group and the neurodiversity group. The company also has a number of ‘Wellbeing Warriors' who use the internal connectivity methods to support and educate colleagues through talks and events. As Paul says, this may not seem particularly tech-related until you start to think “are we being inclusive, and how does that lead into diversity, and has everyone got an environment they can succeed in?”

“Following the pandemic, wellbeing remains high on the agenda,” Sophie agrees.

“We need to do all we can to guard against burnout across the industry and ensure our colleagues are supported, nurtured and engaged

– this means looking at the future of learning, providing opportunity and looking at how we develop leadership potential – all of which can be supplemented and supported by online resources and blended programmes of digital and in-person events.”

Bright future for Britvic

Not only has technology helped Britvic survive through the pandemic, but it's helped it thrive, too. The success of their Working Well strategy and transition to hybrid working, all enabled by the rapid take-up and implementation of digital technology, helped the company retain its identity throughout the pandemic and beyond. UK at-home sales are continuing to grow, and with such comfortable figures for the first quarter of 2022, it seems the company is well-placed to push through the challenges currently facing all businesses in terms of soaring inflation, supply chain issues, and issues around the 'Great Resignation' – but no company can afford to rest on its laurels, and going forward, technology will be fundamental to the future success of the business.

“For Britvic, technology spans many fields including sustainability, data and analytics, digital marketing, e-commerce, direct to customer sales and supply chain resilience,”

Sophie concludes. “Winning the war on talent to attract the best new talent for each of these will be critical.”

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