Technology transforms event workforce communication

by Janet Houen, Group Manager, Organisational and Change Communication

Published on
May 18, 2017

Good people doing good things. Even though motivations are diverse, the spirit of volunteering has not changed for centuries.

The response to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games’ volunteer recruitment campaign shows that the ethos of giving your time and your commitment for free is alive and well — around 47,000 applicants for 15,000 roles at the 2018 event, now just under 11 months away.

What has stunningly transformed, however, in the 17 years since the Olympic roadshow — can it really be that long ago? — is communication technology. Back in about 1997, with a workforce of about 100,000 (including 50,000 vollies) to find, prepare and motivate, we would have given our eye-teeth for some of the tools and systems now available for mass communication and personal engagement.

Our little team literally started the workforce communication planning for Sydney 2000 with some butcher’s paper and blu-tac. We designed a workforce communication and recognition strategy that was recognised as an ‘Olympic first’, but always grappled with the logistics (and cost) of timely distribution of communication materials to such a massive, dispersed, dynamic group. Maintaining regular contact, sending simple invitations to thousands for events or training, generating excitement and ownership and motivation with campaign-style programs over a long lead-time, would all have been a relative doddle with today’s social and digital channels at our fingertips.

In the long-range rear-view mirror of now, our approach was distinctly old-school — lots of paper and mail-house and face-to-face, and not much ability to respond quickly. Forward planning and simplicity were key. But we set a precedent for major events to follow — an amazing legacy of atmosphere and welcome and passion generated by people coming together to celebrate sport and be part of history. I’m not saying the communication program was solely responsible for this success, but capturing and putting some shape around a culture of teamwork and pride, contribution and storytelling, was a big part of the triumphant Sydney 2000 story. As SOCOG’s legendary CEO Sandy Hollway said so eloquently to all of us — staff and volunteers —when the Closing Ceremony firework smoke had cleared … “we nailed it”.

For the Gold Coast organisers, as they start the interview process for the next gen of volunteers to welcome the world (well, the bits that used to be pink on the map), the digi-tools they have — the ability to talk to thousands at the push of a button — will make the task seem just a bit less mammoth. We Games veterans wish them all the best!

Here’s me carrying the torch all those years ago…