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Communications and engagement apps for firstline employees

Oil rig.

Communications and engagement apps for firstline employees

Why, you may ask, does there suddenly seem to be so much news about mobile-first employee engagement approaches, and a focus on firstline employees? You may also be wondering about all the different platforms that claim to support mobile-first employee engagement approaches, because there are so many.

Two matters have coalesced to create this perceived prevalence: the workplace and the smartphone situations.

Engaging frontline workers: the workplace situation

According to Deloitte 70-80% of the workforce are “untethered” (or frontline, remote, dispersed, hard-to-reach, deskless, non-office) – essentially, anyone who doesn’t spend most of their time at a desk working on a computer (December 2018). This is around 2.7 billion people and even though $300 billion is spent on business software each year, little is spent on these workers.

Frontline employees are more visible and vocal than ever. This means that engagement is more likely to be a subject that execs are concerned with. Combined with many more public ways for employees to share their pleasure or displeasure – not just Twitter but sites like Glassdoor, Reddit or Huffington Post – it means that firstline employees can influence the public voice and image of a company.

Research, such as Remotely Interested, completed by Jenni Field and Benjamin Ellis in 2019, has explored what employees want, how they want it, and exactly what’s important to them. It was a topic that stood out during smilelondon in November 2019. But what does that mean for your use of technology and channels?

Mobile devices and mobile workers: the smartphone situation

The technology landscape in our personal lives has been dramatically changed by the introduction of smartphones. Here are some scary facts to truly show the impact:

It feels like everything has an app now and we spend a huge amount of time in our digital worlds. So much so that some countries have introduced pedestrian walking lanes specifically for those using mobile phones. Whether we like it or not, we now exist in a mobile-first world.

Options for employee engagement platforms

Now it’s time to ask yourself a question: Does my company reflect this mobile-first world in how it engages staff??  If the answer is ‘no’, don’t worry, you’re not alone and there are plenty of employee engagement platforms to get you started. These can broadly be placed into five types:

  1. SharePoint intranets (mobile apps aplenty)
  2. Office 365 (many official Microsoft apps for communication and collaboration)
  3. Independent (i.e. non-SharePoint) intranets
  4. Dedicated employee apps
  5. Other products.

SharePoint and independent intranets

SharePoint and many other Microsoft tools have dedicated mobile apps.

Some independent and SharePoint in-a-box intranets have their own dedicated mobile apps. Beezy, Interact, Valo, LumApps, Fresh, Omnia, Invotra and Oak have good examples of native apps that fully mobilise the corporate intranet.

Some are even available as a standalone app, entirely separate from their intranet software – like MatchPoint.

Some in-a-box intranet vendors just make use of the SharePoint app to a greater or lesser extent with their products – Origami is a good example of this.

Other intranet apps merely present the responsive, mobile version of the intranet – just as you’d see in your mobile browser. This is OK, as it may simplify the log on process, but many people will expect the native app to be simpler to use and with richer functionality.

The experience varies by product, so it’s worth discussing expectations when you come to select a provider. We explore the mobile approach taken by vendors in our SharePoint intranets in-a-box report, which will help you decide whether one of these would work best for your business. I’m pleased to say that we intend to review independent intranet products too later this year.

Employee apps

Considering the state of the workplace, frontline worker expectations, and the smartphone culture, it makes sense to prioritise your mobile-first or mobile-as-well strategy for internal communications, collaboration, and engagement. Maybe your intranet is the right platform to build or improve your mobile offering with. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe your intranet isn’t the hub you expected it to be ten years ago, or perhaps you’re at a point where an overhaul and a fresh approach to the digital workplace is needed.

A dedicated employee app could be an alternative that can help you focus on and reach particular groups within your workforce.

From my initial research I’ve found almost 70 app products that claim to focus on engagement and / or communication (and I’m sure there are more). The number of options and the lack of visibility of the products (few have the power of a Microsoft partnership behind them) means this is a confusing market to research.

Not only are there so many app products to choose from, but their similarities make selection tricky. They each have slightly different approaches to their purposes however, and different features and strengths, meaning they are as different as they are similar! Here are a few examples using just six features that businesses may look for in an app (please speak with vendors to check whether they can meet your specific needs).

Product / FeatureActimoBeekeeperBlinkDynamic
Document access
HR transactions
Employee recognition
Tasks / workflows

You’ll need to touch the table above to scroll to the right.

How to choose what’s best

This is a subject for another blog piece, but our detailed employee apps report will help you see what products are on the market and how their features can help your organisation.

All our independent reports will help you make up your mind about the best technology to choose, and we’re on hand if you’d like to discuss your requirements, objectives, and strategy.

Employee apps report cover.
Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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