If you’re a traveler, chances are you’ve used Expedia.com to book your trip.
Much like the customers who use their services, Expedia’s 9,000 employees love to travel.
With Expedia offices in 25 countries, many employees take to the skies, frequently sharing their experiences with colleagues through internal social media tools.
“We have international colleagues sharing images on our ‘We Love Travel’ photo site with an affinity for representing the travel experience,” says Kristin Graham, vice president of engagement and communication at Expedia. “We aim to make communications interactive and always try to remember the fun stuff about why we travel in the first place.”
Working for an Expedia brand that also owns tripadvisor.com, hotwire.com and hotels.com, to name a few, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the company spends a lot of time building an internal culture that’s engaged, enthusiastic and fun.
This year the company’s marking its 15th anniversary.
Moving with the times
Internal communication is focused on employee engagement, Graham says.
“Employees expect instant information along with authenticity and transparency—plus they expect to like their job,” she says. “Employees want to be valued and treated well—from Day One of their orientation to the last day of their employment.”
Though many companies have achieved success using tools like Chatter and Yammer in the workplace, Graham feels that there is a danger if you force too much conversation and employees get information overload.
“The majority of our workforce are in their 20s and 30s, so they obviously spend a copious amount of time using social media tools externally. Internally, though, the attitude has been that people don’t necessarily want to have one more thing to check at work.”
Graham and her eight-person team are working to make all internal channels elective and are in the learning phase of that process, including pilots of both Chatter and Yammer.
The communications channel that Expedia employees tend to prefer the most is email. When supporting a global and, in many cases, virtual workforce, Expedia has found that email can be the most simple tool to reach workers across the company. Even with a workforce attached to mobile devices, email is the easiest to digest quickly, as long as messages are short, compelling and relevant.
To make email channels a bit more enticing, employees are encouraged to create and subscribe to various topics, including Expedia Parents, Beer Lovers and the popular “Travel Deals & Discussion.” Employees often compile responses and send back around or reply using only haiku format. This elective channel helps create a global water-cooler effect via email.
On the company intranet, called BaseCamp, employees are encouraged to post travel photos and link to a travel recommendations page. Launched in March, the photo site already has 500 photos, displaying images from Paris to Peru.
Perhaps the greatest testimonial of the photo pages is that many Expedia executives have added to the buzz. Q&As led by senior managers tackle employees’ travel questions, such as favorite hotels and mobile apps, as well as where the most hassle-free airports are.
“Beyond social tools, tried-and-true communication channels are still critical to ping employees occasionally,” says Graham, whose team uses electronic newsletters, employee profile articles, and create colorful posters for events and campaigns to cover their office “halls and walls.”
When it comes to employee recruitment, Expedia relies on its accessible job site to lure potential staff. Photos on the site are posted by Expedia employees themselves.
“We think of recruiting as the welcome mat,” Graham says. “We want you to look in our front door and see us for who we are—we’re casual, we wear jeans in the workplace. We are a lean and mean staff.”
Graham says, these days, cultural elements are winning out over fancy dental plans. Employees—especially millennials—want to work at a company for the experience, not necessarily for the money. Corporate values are examined as well, says Graham, from ethics to sustainability.
“I once had a candidate ask about our compost practices, so I walked them into the kitchen to show them our recycling and composting system,” Graham adds.
Many are drawn to Expedia in hopes of receiving lots of free travel perks. “People think they’ll receive more travel deals than we actually can [provide]” she says. “The truth is we’re not an airline or a hotel; we are suppliers.”
To better address the travel desire, one new travel benefit that Expedia offers to staff is annual travel funds starting at $250 (or the currency equivalent) to spend on any of Expedia’s global brands. Reimbursement is simple; emplyoees log on to the internal portal and enter the itinerary number of the trip and the amount. The longer employees stay with the company, the more travel money they get each year; five years will earn $500, and employees who have worked seven years get $750 in travel funds.
“We did a cost analysis that found when employees leave a company, they’re paid millions of dollars (in unused vacation time). So we’re redirecting the investment to give people money to those who stay,” Graham explains.
Expedia has also developed a “use it or lose it” vacation policy; if employees don’t take their three weeks of vacation to recharge, it’s gone. They also accelerated how quickly you earn extra weeks of vacation in the United States, with four weeks moving up to three years, and five weeks at seven years.
Just as Expedia customers want to enjoy their time away from the office, Expedia managers expect their own employees to do the same.
“When people are on vacation, they’re on vacation,” Graham says. “We even encourage people to create amusing out-of-office emails, so they remained unbothered during their holidays.”
Food and beer
With a young workforce such as Expedia has, the best way to connect with staffers is to make their internal communication organic and let people choose the channel that appeals to them, whether it’s viewing a video or reading a CEO blog.
“If you give employees enough options, they can choose how to intersect with the company, which takes away from the ‘What have you done for me lately?’ mentality. If an employee chooses not to attend a town hall meeting, the videos and photos are there if they miss the action,” Graham explains.
At Expedia’s headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., the staff of 2,300 can expect to take part in a variety of events—from traditional CEO forums to events of a social kind, including taking part in local food festivals.
“We provide a lot of free food and beer,” Graham says.
Expedia sponsors a “Live at Lunch” music series; employees can enjoy music during their lunch hours on the company’s grassy grounds. Family picnics and Halloween parties are annual traditions. The company also has a strong philanthropic culture.
All these activities help foster engagement among employees—the communication team’s ultimate goal.
“As a communicator, I’m not here to win a Pulitzer Prize,” Graham says. “The best success is where my work is invisible—to put the tools out there and hope that people will have a good time. I want them to leave a little bit happier than when they started.”
A version of this article originally ran on simply-communicate.com.