Freeserve pioneered free access to the Internet when it launched just over a year ago and is now the UK’s number one Internet portal with 2 million people having signed up to it. It has grown to a staff of over 250, with plans to recruit around 200 more within the next 12 months.
As a company whose lifeblood is dependent on technology, it also maximises its use in its daily work. “The technology we introduce is more about communication, business change and corporate behaviour than it is about technology itself,” says Freeserve’s leader of people strategies, Simone Fornoni.
Freeserve has also eschewed traditional titles and roles in favour of trendy new ones – you won’t find an HR department, for instance, but you will find a talent management team. E-biz goes behind the designer labels to find out how this high-tech unit actually functions.
Title Director of talent management
Use of technology Meech’s brief is to make Freeserve’s environment, culture, reward systems and personal development processes the best in the industry so it can retain its dominant position and “Freeservers”, as they are called, stay with the company. Technology-led initiatives include kitting out every Freeserver with a Palm VX palmtop computer (the same diary and contact information is loaded on each) and encouraging staff to work from home, accessing e-mails via WAP phones or through their Palms. Continued development of the intranet by the talent management team is at the heart of Meech’s agenda.
Title Recruitment manager
Use of technology To encourage all job applications to be made through Freeserve’s recruitment web site, which went live last month. Candidates will complete a cultural fit questionnaire on-line to assess for themselves whether the company is for them. For technical vacancies, candidates complete ability tests on-line before submitting applications. An internal “Find a Friend”‘ scheme to encourage Freeserve employees to nominate friends for vacancies is accessible via the company intranet.
Current project To recruit 180 people across the company in the next 10 months.
Title E-space manager
Use of technology O’Neill has initiated on-line stationery ordering via the Internet in all five Freeserve offices and has also set up an on-line account with a business card supplier. She is currently compiling a database of local services – mobile car mechanics, health clubs, electricians, plumbers, builders, washing repair specialists etc – which staff can access from their PCs. The intranet is also used to communicate Freeserve’s “fun at work” ethos, telling staff about regular services such as massage, ironing, dry cleaning, and books, cards and stamp sales.
Current project Building a health and safety related self-assessment package to run on the intranet.
Title Leader of people strategies
Use of technology Fornoni’s plans for an advanced intranet will play a vital role in Freeserve’s knowledge management project. Knowledge and ideas will be exchanged via a possible chat forum and a bulletin board will carry company announcements, events, achievement targets and news of deals and new employees. There will be an on-line database of company contacts. The intranet will also be used for staff to take part in attitudinal surveys on the company and each employee can create their own web portal called “Free-Yourself”, which allows them to administer their own personal records and benefits and gives access to their pension information.
Title Talent development manager
Use of technology Developing an e-learning strategy via the Internet or intranet to offer staff a flexible way of learning. Has already introduced the Freeserve induction programme on a password-protected area of Freeserve’s recruitment web site. New staff can access this before they start work and go on a virtual tour of the company.
Current project To put in place an evolutionary on-line staff development system, encompassing self- and peer-assessment, as well as from a manager, known as a coach. This system will integrate with Freeserve’s succession planning process. Other plans include a tele-coaching programme.