Ensuring employee wellbeing in major infrastructure projects

Change Management
Equity by Design
Service & Experience Design

Client : Design House

The challenge

Maintaining morale across multiple teams on a megaproject

How do you reset an organisation when everyone in it is stretched to the limit on one of the world’s most ambitious, and complex infrastructure projects? That was the challenge facing Kate Hall in August 2021, when she took over as project director at Design House, a joint venture between Arup, Grupo Typsa and Strabag, managing the tunnelling for a new high speed railway HS2 on the approaches to a new terminal at London Euston. 

In Kate’s words, “when I arrived, the team had already been slugging it out for more than four years and it was hard to see how they could maintain that over the months and years ahead unless something changed. They were knackered, demotivated and didn’t have much downtime to think about how things might be done differently.” 

Kate got in touch with DK&A to see what could be done to improve employee experience. 

The approach

Creating Kudos: an employee recognition platform to encourage positive feedback & highlight issues

DK&A adopted a collaborative innovation approach, putting Design House employees and leadership at front and centre of the process. A research discovery phase kicked off the project, mixing a range of ethnographic research techniques, including interviews with key stakeholders and quantitative surveys with employees. This was crucial to uncover the true employee experience at the heart of Design House and the root and cause of the problems that were encountering. 

Collaborating with the senior leadership team, DK&A & Design House’s research was used to create some immediate practical initiatives that could help improve processes and productivity, increase levels of collaboration, raise morale, and – most importantly – improve employee wellbeing. Firstly this meant management recognising the many problems that arose from the research and initiating a re-set moment with an agenda for change, branded by DK&A. The senior leadership then attended a week-long course on managing collaboration on-line, with a focus on how challenging it can be for groups to work together on a project post-pandemic. Then an improved induction was designed for new team members, to improve the onboarding process and create a far stronger sense of team and unity. 

The final aspect was co-creation of a recognition scheme that could raise morale, increase motivation, and support staff’s mental well-being. Based on the initial research, the following challenge was set: 

How might we… run our own team recognition programme that celebrates the work of Design House and its contribution to our national infrastructure? 

A Design Sprint programme was devised, collaborating both online and in-person, involving 15 Design House employees split into various teams. They were led by DK&A through the design thinking process, identifying insights and guiding principles for the project, before carrying out further research. An all-day workshop followed, involving the senior leadership team, resulting in co-creation of an internal employee recognition platform called Kudos. 

Kudos was designed to encourage staff to share positive feedback and let the organisation’s leaders know when their interaction was required. 

The impact

  • Impactful recognition programme built and launched

    Kudos, an internal programme based on peer-to-peer recognition was developed, prototyped, and tested within a span of 3 months. The programme was iterated on the feedback from the test and subsequently launched to the wider organisation. The design process has already strengthened connections across a company where work was, of necessity, segmented among so many teams, specialisms and areas.

  • New skills and techniques learnt

    The Sprint brought together a range of participants from different functions, disciplines, teams and seniority levels. They went through the design process and learnt new tools and techniques to collaborate. The project toolkit including tools such as service blueprint, story boards and user flows that provides an ability to create future change.

  • Permission to risk failing to test & learn was achieved

    DK&A’s ‘build test learn build’ approach kept up the sense of experimentation and iteration based on user feedback throughout the programme. This was a totally new way of working for the design engineers at Design House, who strive for perfection in their day-to-day.

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