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How employee apps tackle business challenges

A held phone, with a question mark on the screen.

How employee apps tackle business challenges

During our research into employee apps, four dimensions emerged that gave each product its own unique flavour. These align with common business challenges and so each dimension has a departmental theme. Our ‘product focus’ chart makes it easy to scan for the apps that combine the right priorities for your needs.

Where business and user needs come from

There are many digital tools that are vital to employees across all businesses. While IT departments may help find solutions, the need for those tools often originates elsewhere. The dispersed working locations associated with firstline employees mean that departmental representatives and line managers will readily identify issues and challenges. Employees themselves will also have ideas that could bring business benefits. All of these sources could lead to introducing new digital solutions, potentially without discussing with other departments (including IT), which would result in a sprawling mass of clashing tools.

An illustration of a gardener with a rake.

Let’s imagine our business is a castle that’s open to the public for visiting, here are some examples of what employees in different roles may want:

  1. Gardeners may want a checklist of daily tasks in a digital format.
  2. Security guards on night shift may want to feel more included in the business.
  3. Waiting staff may want bite-size training they can complete quickly in the staffroom or back-office.
  4. Gift shop workers may want fewer systems to log into to complete daily tasks.
  5. Tour guides may want to refer to accurate historical material, and be notified of the next tour group’s size and any required accommodations for young children, or people who use a wheelchair.

While a castle may feel like a niche place of work and a small business, you can see how different roles have different needs, and that’s true of any business of any size.

Four business areas and four themes

It’s fair to say that many of the business challenges that surround employee productivity and engagement can be associated with four departments / teams:

  1. Operations
  2. Communications
  3. HR and people
  4. IT.
Product focus. Comms. Ops. HR. DW.

Likewise, with the prevalence of smartphones and the needs of firstline workers, app-based products are a sensible starting point for finding the right digital tool. During our research into employee app products we found that they fit into four themes. These themes match the above four departments / teams, so give an indication of which products are best suited to tackling certain business / departmental challenges. We have reflected these themes as a ‘product focus’ chart in each of our reviews in our employee apps report.

There is some crossover between the categories: “trying to improve employee engagement” falls into ‘communications’ and ‘HR & people’ for example. We’ve tried to reflect this through the awarding of ‘bars’ that indicate how far the product is trying to achieve a focus in those categories. Each of the four areas has from zero to three ‘bars’. Zero suggests that the app just isn’t trying to do anything in this area; while three means that it’s the primary purpose with directly related features, and potentially most appealing to that business area.

Note that these charts are intended to indicate the style of product; it is not a score of how well it performs, which is covered separately in our reviews. As an analogy, wines can be ‘full bodied’ or ‘fresh and fruity’ in character, but there are still good bottles and bad bottles of each.

1. Operations

To be considered an operations focused app, there needs to be a lot of practical features (such as shift swapping, employee services, or fine-grained integrations with business tools) that essentially give users the things they need to get their jobs done. Those ‘things’ are then provided by the app itself (rather than taking the user into another app / system).

These products are likely to appeal to operations teams the most; but IT may appreciate the consolidation of tools that this brings; with communications and HR piggybacking on (and appreciating the importance of) the draw of practical features.

Groupe.io and OurPeople are two examples of apps with a high operations focus.

Employee app on a phone.
App focus: Operations

2. Communications

App focus: Communications

Communications focused apps primarily cover internal news or messages from the business out to users, and the ways people can engage with those messages.

These products will of course appeal to internal communications teams; but HR and operations will appreciate the people-focus they bring as well as the sense of community that is created. IT may like the lighter-weight system when compared to something like an intranet.

Sociabble, Thrive.App and theEMPLOYEEapp are examples of apps with a high communications focus.

Sociabble employee app.
News photos.
News app.

3. HR and people

Those apps with an ‘HR and people’ focus put people at the heart of the app, through employee engagement, happiness, and / or people-related tasks (such as training, onboarding, or performance management).

These apps would appeal to HR departments that need a simple way to conduct quite complex HR tasks; with the simple approach being something IT would also like; while communications and operations will again appreciate the engagement and people focus.

Actimo and Flex-Appeal are two examples of apps with a high ‘HR and people’ focus.

An app of a website.
App focus: HR and people.

4. Digital workplace hub

An app with a digital workplace hub focus collates together a series of tools and / or is the gateway into the digital side of the business. It might even try to replace an intranet or similar tool. It may include operational features, but the app acts as a facilitator for other systems, providing a single starting point.

These apps will appeal to IT as they present the best case for being pocket-sized digital workplaces and so consolidate digital sprawl; operations will also like these apps as many of the systems will be practical tools; while internal communications and HR can take advantage of the draw of users to the tool.

Blink and Workgrid are examples of apps with a high digital workplace hub focus.

Social app.
Timesheet app.
App focus: Digital workplace.

Where to start

The overarching company strategy is, of course, your first reference point to work out what is needed from any product. However, the digital workplace, communications, HR and operations strategies also form part of this larger whole. (We’ve assumed that user needs are part of these strategies, but further research may be needed.) Each strategy needs to be considered and catered for as you look for suitable employee app products. You may only be responsible for or be able to influence one strategy, but an employee app can still serve the business as a whole even if you believe it primarily supports only one strategy.

The trick is to identify where strategies intersect, where an app may provide a suitable solution or feature. Our employee apps report furnishes a sense of the broader app market, to guide your search but also to help you identify where products match your intersecting strategy points. Once you’ve identified the intersections, you can begin your research into the product that is the best fit.

Employee apps report exec summary.

Our report will help you with that part too, as our expert evaluations discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each app, with screenshots, commentary, and clear scores. When you’re ready to pull together your shortlist and contact vendors, you’ll be armed with the right questions to ask.

If you’re still exploring, download our Executive Summary right now to understand how an employee app can extend your digital workplace and enable frontline workers.

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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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