Mobile apps are receiving increased praise from the savviest of today's businesses. Highly regarded for being streamlined and convenient, their functions are designed to meet the most essential organizational needs, and they can be quickly implemented, especially compared to the large and cumbersome IT projects of the past.
But unlike tools for collaboration and employee-to-employee communication such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, employer-to-employee communication requires a better tool. But how does one even begin to choose an internal communications app? We're glad you asked.
The Benefits of a Mobile Employee Communication Channel
These days, every large company owns an intranet primarily used for distributing documents, i.e., communication content. In most cases, intranets are accessible only via desktop PC. But non-desk, offline, and frontline employees who lack easy access to a PC aren't exactly a marginal group, and their numbers are growing.
While it's true that intranet terminals have become increasingly common in warehouses and at the production level, they haven't exactly grown in popularity. The resulting lack of engagement is particularly painful when the employees receiving the least amount of information are the ones who need it most.
As a channel for internal communications, mobile apps facilitate access to employees via their smartphones. This can be true for devices provided by the company, as well as privately-owned ones. Accessing this new channel has many benefits compared to traditional communication channels such as the intranet and email. Communication via app encourages social interaction, letting users provide feedback through comments, likes, and sharing, while also providing administrators with the ability to analyze levels of content engagement.
These new communication elements also serve to establish a dialog between management and the operational level, while also helping communication officers identify important topics and effectively address them. Moreover, a mobile app aligns with the digital transformation happening in most contemporary workplaces. They automatically compile mobile-first content for your readers and they make targeting content easier, letting employees receive the information that's most important to their work, such as location- or department-specific news.
How to Implement an Internal Communications App
At first sight, the idea of an internal communications app might seem simple, but implementation requires some planning. An app is more than just an additional channel for intranet content adjusted for responsive display on mobile screens.
We've compiled eight of the basic topics that need to be covered.
1. Voluntary or Mandatory?
Voluntariness is a basic principle of internal communications. In a perfect world, communication is pointed toward as many people as possible (in other words, everyone)—but it should never be forced. To a large extent, employees decide for themselves which information from the company they want to see.
The more relevant this information is to their own work and interests, the more engaging it's likely to be. Therefore, implementing an internal communications app means making access to your information a voluntary act, replacing in-house journals and bulletin boards.
There are many other use cases for the app, such as facile communication processes and making employee directories or training manuals easily accessible. As app use becomes more essential, employees will need to be provided with the means to access it, such as company devices, or they should be reimbursed for work-related data charges accrued on their personal devices.
Company-wide distribution of tablets, once restrictive due to the high cost of hardware and software, can now be run with proprietary Wi-Fi, eliminating the need for expensive, individual data charges.
2. What Sort of Content?
Modern intranets have developed a growing number of new features to support practical use cases. While intranets were initially used to store frequently used documents, news and company communications were soon added. The next step was to establish employee portals that focused in particular on self-service employee processes, aka Employee Self Services.
The latest step involves the adaption of communities and project rooms where teams can work together and all important documents can be stored. Four main use cases (information, communication, processes, and teamwork) build the basic framework for modern intranets and offer a basis for the following question: Which use cases and related content need to be accessible on mobile?
Based on our experience, communication that reaches all employees via a mobile app is the logical first step. The second step is split between providing information (manuals, employee directories, menus, contact information, etc.) and access to processes (surveys, vacation requests, time cards). For reasons of security, both of these steps are best managed by a limited number of employees.
3. What New Features Does a Mobile Channel Need?
First of all, it's important to realize that an app on its own isn't enough. It needs to be filled with purposeful content. This means that ideally you need more than one administrator overseeing your app, in addition to full-time and part-time editors who with minimal training can create content easily and maintain it continuously. There is also the need for an intranet-specific Content Management System (CMS), as opposed to the kind traditionally used for the Internet.
A mobile app demands a further specialization of an intranet CMS. One of the most important features is "push" functionality. Apps can display so-called push notifications on the home screen of a smartphone, actively informing and drawing users to the app. Push notifications are a powerful tool, but users shouldn't be overwhelmed by them. If so, their effectiveness will gradually wear off. Even worse, users might wind up completely disabling this feature on their device. A mobile app CMS should therefore regulate push notifications, limiting their creation to a limited number of writers and making their distribution target-specific.
You can learn more about the management of push notifications from our T-Systems case study: How T-Systems Cuts Through the Noise with an Employee App.
4. How Do I Keep My User Lists Current?
This question is often raised in regard to all company-related IT applications. What's remarkable here is that an employee app target group will include non-desk employees who are generally unrecorded in any sort of IT system or user directory. Often these employees are only documented in personnel payroll systems. Thus the CMS needs to provide an easy method for importing employee lists that not only include a name and clear characteristics (for instance, an ID number), but further personalization of information such as specific location or region.
For details about user onboarding and app management, check out the blogpost: How to Onboard Employees to an Internal Communications App.
5. Native App or Web App?
Native apps are well-known from private smartphone use: they are small programs downloaded from an app store. The huge benefit is that only native apps are able to deeply affect the devices’ features which enable features such as push notifications. (Read more in our comprehensive guide: An Internal Communications App—8 Key Points to Get Started.)
6. How Do I Distribute the App?
The Staffbase employee app is distributed via a public app store. Employees are already used to this process due to having installed other apps on their device. The app store also ensures that the app is updated on a regular basis. (Read more in our comprehensive guide: An Internal Communications App—8 Key Points to Get Started.)
7. How Does an App Fit My Intranet Strategy?
An employee app can be viewed as a channel displaying the intranet. In such cases, the aforementioned CMS is therefore nothing more than the intranet itself. Most insurmountable challenges in this scenario result from information security and two related competing requirements. (Read more in our comprehensive guide: An Internal Communications App—8 Key Points to Get Started.)
8. How Do I Get Management Support?
Many companies are driven by one question: How can we make decisions quicker and implement them faster? (Read more in our comprehensive guide: An Internal Communications App—8 Key Points to Get Started.)
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