The signs of the mobile revolution in business are mounting. “There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Apple's CEO Tim Cook at BoxWorlds 2015 conference this week. “The best companies will be the most mobile.” With that, he also highlighted the need to rethink business processes more radically.
But, what does it mean to become a mobile enterprise? What are the benefits and challenges for internal communications? 'What's in it for me' when it comes to both the organisation and our colleagues?
I spoke with Ciara O'Keeffe (pictured right), Director of Product and Customer Delivery at StaffConnect App. O'Keeffe is not a stranger to simply-communicate. She is one of the judges of our web-show 'WhatAppTV?', a programme that looks at leading apps in internal communications. In this interview she shares her top tips and key points to consider when launching an employee app, the benefits and challenges of mobility at work as well as what to expect from the future.
Gloria Lombardi: What's the biggest opportunity for internal communicators when it comes to adopting mobile apps inside the company?
Ciara O'Keeffe: The biggest opportunity is always going to be with the disconnected employee. I constantly hear people saying, 'I am really struggling to connect with colleagues who are not in the office on a day-to-day basis.' For me, that is an obvious use case for having an internal communications mobile app.
You will hear some people arguing that not everybody has a smartphone, but I'd say, this is the same with any channel - you are never going to have 100% adoption or reach. Yet, if you are currently only reaching 20% of those employees - who are generally the managers - then any increase is going to be a benefit. 60% adoption of digital channels is considered very good.
Also, consider the indirect communications that mobile drives. Let's say in your manufacturing plant 50% of people have a smartphone and they are working alongside some colleagues who have not any device; a key message has just being sent out by the company - more than likely your employees without the phone will hear from they teammates who have access to it.
GL: What’s available in the market in terms of app type?
CO: There are many options in terms of employee apps. You can have a single use case app or a multi use app. With the former, like an employee survey app for example, you might want to conduct a quarterly staff survey, especially in times of change as opposed to the traditional one-year survey. Or you may want an Instant Messaging (IM) app so that your shop floor employees can ask questions at any time and experts from across the organisation can answer them straightaway.
Conversely, you might need a multi-feature application that you can turn certain features on and off depending on the business need and how that need grows and adapts. It really depends on the use case of the company.
GL: You have just mentioned 'use case'. What else should an internal communicator think about when embarking on the app journey?
CO: They need to be 100 per cent sure of the internal use case and how it relates to the business outcomes. It should not be, 'We need an app'. They need to clarify the success factors that they are trying to achieve and what does success look like once they have implemented the app. For some organisations, success would be reaching out to 50% more employees or receiving colleagues' feedback on a quarterly basis or reducing hierarchical barriers by opening up direct communications with leaders.
When choosing a particular app they should always relate back to the strategic outcome they are looking for.
Also, they should decide if they want to buy an off-the-shelf version or embark on building their own. I have always gone with the first option - building any kind of sophisticated app is complex. With off-the-shelf version enhancements, innovation and support are included, or at least they should be. This way, communicators can concentrate on making the app a success internally and leave the rest to the supplier. Also, timing plays an important role here - an off-the-shelf version can be switched on and customised in a short time. However, some organisations want a very customised app, and therefore, they decide to work with an app building company. So, internal communicators should give themselves more time than initially they think, as they will need to get it right from the start.
GL: From a communication perspective, what are the best approaches when introducing a mobile app inside the organisation? Are there similarities with other digital channels?
CO: Anybody who has helped launch an enterprise social network (ESN) will see some similarities. Yet, with mobile apps the process is lighter. If your budget is small, try to secure a pilot to test your favourite app for a minimum of three months. You really need six months to get good usage data. That way you are more likely to gain internal support from the right people, if you involve them in the pilot. You will also know if it is a good fit for your organisation before you fully commit to the product.
One of the key things to know would be to never go to your people - especially if you are asking them to use their own device - and say, 'This is something you have to use'. They may well come back to you with, 'Well, this is my device and I choose what I download on it.'
Think about 'What's in it for them'. Always involve your employees in the process; ask them to design the app with you and show that you have delivered on their feedback - that way they will have a connection with the channel and will be more likely to invest time in making it a success.
Also, it is vital that you involve IT from the start - if you try to get it into the business without their knowledge it will not help your case, and probably, it will not help your relationship with them. You need them to help you with security compliance, technical support, app deployment methods and any integration you may want to do both now and in the future.
GL: Talking about content, what does work well for an employee mobile app? And, what doesn't?
CO: Ensure that the content you publish is created purposefully for the mobile device. Don't just copy and paste lots of lengthy articles from the intranet. That is not going to work on the phone. Use short, snappy and visual messages instead. Generally, print material should be halved in order to be put into the intranet; you should think at least half again before you put content into mobile.
Think about the apps that you use outside of work - generally, it's a mixture of interesting information, alerts and notifications along with some sort of community pull. The same principles should be applied to your internal communications app. You should have the ability to send push notifications to users to alert them of important posts. When other users mention them or comment on their posts they should be notified - this creates a community feel and builds the social aspect of your app.
The relationship between what you expect at home versus what you expect at work is narrowing. Hence the same principles of what an organisation is offering to employees should apply - Is the content you are creating something you would like to receive outside of the company?
GL: How else is the mobile phenomenon 'disrupting' the more traditional internal communications?
CO: The mobile phenomenon challenges internal communicators to think differently and that should be welcome.
For example, it is good news for authentic leadership communication. CEOs and leaders who are out there, such as at client meetings or on the go, can take quick pictures and instantly share them with the rest of the organisation.
That is the type of content that engages people - authentic, real-time and transparent; employees appreciate that it is not ghost writing.
That direct line of communication really helps, especially with workers who don’t have frequent access to leadership content. Studies have shown that employees see the lack of direct communications as representative of their company's lack of recognition for their contribution.
GL: Mobility does not necessarily mean mobile. Looking forward, how do you see the future of mobile communications? I am thinking of wearable technology, for instance.
CO: As always, external communication is leading the trends. Going forward, wearable technology such as smart watches will be critical, especially for reaching retail employees who cannot use a smartphone on the shop floor. They would be able to see important alerts like health and safety notifications, or hospitality updates or quick notes that an important client has just walked through the door.
It would really revolutionise the way we do business. There is currently so much innovation happening that it’s easy to get overwhelmed about where to start. As I mentioned, focusing on the desired business outcomes should keep you on track. That’s why it is exciting for me to work with many different clients - finding out what their strategy is, what their goals are, and figuring out how mobile technology can be used to drive that.
If you are interested in knowing more from Ciara O'Keeffe, she will be running a table session about employee apps at SMiLE London on 9th November.