Global worker communities emerge as Amcor thinks outside the box

Like many multinationals, 33,000-employee packaging giant Amcor had grown so large that its operational divisions had become isolated fiefdoms. An online social collaboration platform is changing that culture by building communities of interest that transcend national borders.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

Nine months after it embarked on a silo-busting global collaboration project, packaging giant Amcor is reaping the benefits as new online communities emerge around common interests including occupational health and safety, and IT strategy.

The effort began as a way to improve communication between the company’s 33,000 employees – of which 17,000 are deskbound and online most of the time – who are spread across over 400 manufacturing and other sites in dozens of countries.

"People want the opportunity to influence the way they work": Ivankovic. Photo: David Braue

Sheer geographical distance, and the broad range of products that Amcor produces, had seen each of the company’s major regions evolve in cultural and functional silos based around key offices in Melbourne, Zurich, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Regional teams tended to work on their own, and when collaboration was needed it was invariably handled through late-night conference calls across myriad time zones.

“It’s a very decentralised business model that’s focused very much on business groups, which are all based in different countries and on different products,” corporate communications manager Zed Ivankovic said at an IBM social-business event in Melbourne.

“From a technical point of view, we’ve found challenges around really simple things that you take for granted when you’re working in a one-site environment – things like sharing files, collaborating on files, and that sort of thing.”

Aiming to fix this, late last year the company began introducing IBM's Connections online and mobile collaboration tool and has been evaluating its ability to facilitate easier online communication. So far, around 800 users are live with the platform – called Amcor Connect internally – and have already created more than 200 online communities aligned around common business issues.

In many cases, this has translated directly into operational benefits: one operating group in Chile, for example, experienced issues with a forklift when reversing, and after reporting it online other business units said they had experienced similar issues.

“To be really successful, you need a culture that supports people working out loud.”

“We started seeing replies from other people in the business who said they love BYOD, from a user’s perspective and not from an IT perspective that’s purely focused on security,” Ivankovic recalled. “That changed the debate, and was quite powerful because it was no longer some faceless IT person making decisions that will impact everyone.”

Early results have shown enough benefits that the system is being expanded, with around 4000 employees to be using it by the end of the year and all of Amcor’s 17,000 deskbound employees online with the system by 2014.

In 2015, the platform may be extended all the way to the factory floor, with many workers having suitable smartphones that could be used to access the system using its mobile capabilities.

“People want the opportunity to have a say and influence decisions that will impact the way they work,” Ivankovic said. “We’re doing a lot of work and change management support to get the culture of our business and its thinking in a smart way. I think that, to be really successful, you need a culture that supports people working out loud." 

Editorial standards