10 tips on maintaining engagement during lockdown:

A case study on AutoTrader UK

Written by Oliver Lee

Last week we looked at how four UK companies were getting creative in keeping people engaged during lockdown.

This week we’re focusing on one company in particular – Auto Trader UK.


Why them?

Well, they’re a company that takes their culture and employee engagement very seriously, and they’re pretty good at it too. With a 4.5-star rating on Glassdoor, and 89% of employees recommending Auto Trader as a great place to work in their last employee experience survey, there is certainly some magic in their approach.

I caught up with Lauren Mottram-Heathcote, Internal Communications Manager at Auto Trader UK, who explained what they were doing to keep the team engaged.



Auto Trader UK use Slack as their primary internal comms channel, and the stats show it actually gets used. Lauren explained to me that pre-lockdown they had a 90% engagement rate on the platform, that meant every day, 90% of people were actively doing something on there – pretty impressive!

What’s more, during lockdown, usage went way up. Lauren said: “Slack engagement is now closer to 100%, and from an average of 16,000 daily interactions, the platform now registers over 37,000 exchanges between our employees each day whether they are working or on furlough.

It seems Slack is performing well – but what’s the secret?



Lauren says: “We repurposed our onsite restaurant menu channel, which is hosted by the chef at our Manchester office restaurant and it’s a really simple approach. Employees simply type up ingredients in their fridge or freezer and ask the chef for a recipe. He gives amazing advice, last week I had some plums I wasn’t going to eat as they were overripe, and he gave me a recipe to make a plum sauce, which was incredible. Colleagues get engaged with the channel by posting pictures of their creations as well as offering their own advice and recipes.

This is a really simple idea, even if you don’t have a chef you can create a community of home-chefs sharing ideas, recipes and stories.”

What’s great about this idea…

Firstly, the awareness of people’s situation. It’s clear that everyone is at home, and it’s not too easy to go to the shops without queuing for a while. So making the most of food right now is really important. Plus, why not spice up your cooking a bit while you’re working from home?



Lauren says: “One of our original Slack channels which is dedicated to employee’s pets has seen an increase in activity. Our team post photos and videos of their pets looking extremely cute or doing funny things, whether it be sitting at the laptop browsing the intranet or watching our latest CEO video. It’s not just for the furry friends too, we’ve seen reptiles, spiders and feathered garden visitors. Everyone loves watching cat videos online, so why not watch the pets of your colleagues too…”

What’s great about this idea…

Light-relief… It’s a place, on the Auto Trader internal comms platform that is fun, light and easy to engage with. It’s not about work in any way, and it’s a source of laughter. Embedding these experiences into your internal comms platforms makes them worth engaging with.



Lauren says: “When we first moved to home-working in March, we knew the element of having a catch up with colleagues in the office mini-kitchens would stop. So we created a coffee chats channel on Slack. It was originally intended for people to start a call and others to join, however, and although still successful with nearly 300 members, it has not worked like that. We post conversation starters for the day, we’ve seen #autotradermugoff, where we share our favourite mugs, #showusyourbreakfast and asked colleagues what their ‘lockdown silver lining’ was – mine was finally tidying out a kitchen cupboard that’s been on the bottom of a to-do list for a while.

“The informal channel gives our people an outlet to virtually discuss anything on their mind, share thoughts, funny articles and memes – we’ve seen a lot of 2020 related memes!”

What’s great about this idea…

It’s really simple and easy to execute, plus it’s re-creating some office conditions in your home. Often, in an office, you find yourself having a small chat with others over a tea or coffee – so why not re-create that at home? Keep people connecting with their colleagues, even when we’re not in the same room.



Lauren says: “Our channels across Slack represent many communities across Auto Trader, another of our popular channels that brings people together is our ‘Parents’ channel.

The channel offers a place for all parents each with their different family dynamics to come together, talk, make suggestions based on experience whilst providing a listening forum to all. From working full time or part time to now juggling their role whilst also being a teacher, parent and play buddy, the boundaries are blurred. With a rollercoaster of good and bad days – the group is there to offer advice and outlay without judging your parenting skills. It’s also great to help with quick homework wins, creative projects and super useful links.”

What’s great about this idea…

It’s pretty clear. Currently there are many parents at home struggling to balance work and family. Anything that can be done to support is a good cause!


Wellbeing is a very widely (perhaps overly) used corporate term these days. Does that mean it’s not important? Not at all – especially now. There are two sides to wellbeing, mental and physical. Unsurprisingly, Auto Trader has both covered and they also add financial wellbeing into their overall strategy as they recognise this can have a significant impact on people’s lives.



Lauren says:

“As part of our long-term wellbeing strategy and to support our people through this unsettling time we have invested in subscriptions to the meditation and sleep app, Calm. We’ve offered these subscriptions to anyone in the company that wants one. If we need more, we’ll buy more as we want to give our people the resources and support they need to stay mentally healthy and complement the other resources we have on available to support our people.”

What’s great about this idea…

I don’t really need to say anything here. Auto Trader haven’t just said that mental health is important, they’ve acted. Job done, great work!



Lauren says: “We’ve got some keen fitness enthusiasts at AT, so there’s a channel for that! We’ve linked up with, Joe – sadly not the celeb off the telly! – a fitness coach from Results Inc in Manchester.

He hosts live workout sessions throughout the week that are aimed at all abilities. And he’s also on hand to ask any fitness or nutrition-related questions as well as posting short stretch videos, so if you’ve been sat at your desk all day you can take 10 and stretch yourself out.

We think it’s so important for people to stay active, so want to help people by giving them an opportunity to join in with everyone else, it also supports our wider wellbeing plans.”

What’s great about this idea…

Staying fit and in shape is seriously hard, even at the best of times. Right now, unless you love running, staying fit isn’t too easy. What helps is group accountability. If you know there a time slot in the diary, where you can access a free session, and your colleagues will be working out at the same time, you’re much more likely to get involved.


Of course, maintaining engagement isn’t all about staying healthy and having fun. Engagement in the business is equally, if not more, important. So how is Auto Trader UK handling the business side of internal comms?



Lauren says: “We use a mix of different communication tools to help our people navigate their AT life. Working at home has not stopped us using our usual comms tools and frequency of events – if anything we’ve made it better and increased engagement.

“All we have had to do is make small tweaks here and there but ultimately, we are continuing with the way things have always been. Previously we sent a monthly email to the business on what was coming up that month for people to get involved in, whether it be social events, educational sessions or celebrations. We’ve now moved this email message to weekly so it’s easier to see just that week and plan your time around it. We’ve kept out peer-to-peer sharing event – AT Talks – in the diary, we’ve just made them bi-weekly rather than monthly so we can share more of the incredible things we’re working on.”

What’s great about this idea…

Like many other companies, Auto Trader have seen that working from home has actually increased engagement, and teamwork through consistent digital check-ins. Regular communication to keep people in the loop is always an effective strategy.



Lauren says: “Our Operational Leadership Team (OLT) have a bi-weekly live video conference with the whole company, named OL:TV We see it as crucial that the business updates come directly from them, even if there’s not really much to update on it’s about their visibility and connecting with the team. Any questions that come out of the session are posted in the chat box during the hour or, on the OLTV Questions Slack channel and the team will go through and answer every single question without fail.”

What’s great about this idea…

Transparency and presence. It’s clear to everyone at Auto Trader UK what their Operational Leadership Team is doing right now, and how the company is working on a macro level. This alone can be a huge reliever of stress to your teams. If you can be as open and present as possible as a leadership team, you can inject confidence and calm into your organisation.



Lauren says: “Our CEO, Nathan Coe, took over the reins at the beginning of March, so it’s fair to say he’s had a baptism of fire! We thought it would be a good idea for him to give weekly video updates on how things were going from his perspective. We post the video every Friday, where he reflects on his week, any changes we’ve seen in Government advice, what we’re seeing in the automotive industry and how the dealerships we serve are feeling.

“The reaction has been really good so far, with most people tuning in either on the day or the beginning of the next week.”

What’s great about this idea…

Vulnerability. The Auto Trader CEO is being honest about his experience and sharing his human side. For a leader, this can be very hard and can feel like the wrong thing to do. It isn’t, and if you don’t believe me, check out Brene Brown.




Lauren says: “One thing for certain is that our teams across AT are a sociable bunch and being at home hasn’t stopped us getting together and enjoying each other’s company. We’ve seen so many teams start virtual Friday drinks, whether you’ve got your favourite cocktail or a cup of tea in hand, it’s a place for everyone to catch up at the end of a week. There have been themed quizzes, creation of music playlists for the day and some varying fancy dress on team video calls!”

What’s great about this idea…

We all need to let of some steam sometimes – so why not have a Friday night virtual drinks???



What became very clear when talking with Lauren was how passionate she, and the whole Auto Trader team, are about maintaining engagement – and that’s just it. Engagement, now and in the future, isn’t something that you can switch on. It takes consistent focus, enthusiasm, and creative thinking.

Walking into it thinking ‘how can we get some engagement?’ is a recipe for disaster. If you want to truly create a culture of engagement then get serious and find some people – like Lauren – who love it, are good at it and take pride in it.




About Lauren

Lauren has over 10 years’ experience in all things people; starting her career in HR she transitioned into internal communications. Her roles – gained from many household brands – have given her the opportunity to understand complex markets and organisations with varying demographics including global audiences.

The roles Lauren has held have focused on company-wide messaging, organisational change, mergers and acquisitions as well as employee engagement which have given her the opportunity to lead internal communications functions, deliver strategic messaging and manage company-wide events.

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Written by
Oliver Lee
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