You think you have problems reaching your staff? Try communicating to 12,000 employees when 80 percent of them are not desk-bound—or even earthbound.
That’s the challenge that communicators for Canadian airline WestJet faced when they decided to amp up mobile messaging to its far-flung staff.
WestJet employs pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers and others in airports across Canada and elsewhere, says Robin Farr, director of internal communications and culture manager. Some are on the road for days at a time, and powering up the laptop might not be a priority for an crew member collapsing in a hotel after a redeye flight.
WestJet isn’t alone in recognizing the need for mobile. Internal communicators know they should be using the devices in everyone’s purse or pocket, a survey from RMG and Ragan Communications reveals. Many, though, are unsure where to begin and how to build a mobile channel.
In the survey, “The State of Internal Communications,” 83 percent of respondents say they aren’t using text or mobile, making it the least-used channel. Yet 66 percent think they should focus more on communicating using those devices.
Mobile holds more promise than intranets do, says Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology. “I would rather have employees have an app and get notifications on their phone than make sure that everything looks great on the home page of an intranet,” he says.
Here are some of the roadblocks and questions about mobile-and tips for overcoming them:
1. Executives fear that mobile-using employees will waste time.
Don’t trust your employees with mobile? Holtz has news for you: They’re already using it. But they’re not just updating Facebook and Instagram on the clock.
Factory workers at one plant have set up WhatsApp groups with photo capability to document their work, Holtz says. This enables them to share photographs of machine malfunctions with maintenance, eliminating the time spent running out to the site see what’s wrong, then fetching and returning with the correct part.
Similarly, when truck drivers pick up a trailer of goods, they open the back and snap a picture. “If the load had already shifted when they picked it up,” Holtz says, “they wanted to document that they got it that way, so they weren’t blamed for it.”
It might just work to sell mobile as a way of streamlining productivity.
2. Is mobile secure?
Organizations have security concerns about storing and transmitting confidential company information on a private phone. On the other hand, employees might not participate after they learn that companies have the right to wipe a phone that contains proprietary data when the staffer moves on.
“The big thing is making sure IT is comfortable from a security standpoint,” says survey respondent Mary Jennings, director of communications at Norton Healthcare, which is planning to institute mobile messaging this year.
One solution is to limit the information accessed by smartphones to only what employees will need when away from their desks. Keep your plans for that top-secret death ray behind your computer firewall.
Some organizations use services to partition off part of employees’ private phones. If a staffer leaves for greener pastures, the organization can “reach in” and delete its own data without affecting what’ stored in the rest of the phone, Holtz says.
3. Apps are expensive to build or buy.
Indiana University Health owns 14 hospitals and has 300 primary and specialty care offices. Eighty percent of its staffers are on their feet all day taking care of patients, so a mobile app would be useful, says Lauren Cislak, executive director corporate communications, public relations and social media.
The problem? “It came down to money,” says Cislak, a survey respondent. It is expensive to build an app, or even to get an out-of-the-box solution. One app IU Health was considering would have $1 million a year for its 30,000 team members in the first year alone. As staff were added, the costs would have ballooned.
“We made the case that if your employees are really well informed and engagement is high, performance is going to improve,” Cislak says. “But it just didn’t make the cut.”
There are options. Holtz says Sparrow is 6 cents per day per employee, and most companies either have either price reductions for volume or will negotiate.
“Beyond the apps, there is also the ability to offer chatbots through existing messaging apps,” he says, adding, “and mobile can also include using existing messaging apps like WhatsApp through the creation of groups without spending a nickel.”
Cislak says IU Health has explored some of alternatives already. Instead, the organization is working on upgrading its intranet. This would allow it to create an app that wraps around such messaging, she says.
4. Even with mobile, out-of-office employees miss information.
Employees who are traveling can miss days’ worth of information, and by the time they check in, news gets cycled off the page-even if they have mobile, Farr says.
Farr is enlisting an older technology: email. WestJet sends out a weekly newsletter accessible on phones through the Outlook app.
“If they go through the headlines and they read the brief descriptions, they’ll have enough information to know what’s going on,” she says.
5. The bosses think staffers might use mobile-accessed groups to gripe.
The trouble is that it’s no longer possible to contain employee conversations, says Christopher S. Penn, vice president of marketing technology at Shift Communications.
“People will talk about you on social media with or without you,” he says. “The question is how much do you want to participate in the conversation?”
Ultimately, the way to go is to set a mobile policy, just as you set a social media policy (we hope) a few years back, Penn says. He suggests IBM’s social media guidelines as a starting point.
It’s also essential to set up a governance committee that involves communications, human resources, IT, the legal department and others, as needed. This group sets standards, establishes ownership and educates employees not to share confidential information.
This article is created in partnership with RMG.