Yammer’s mobile app keeps far-flung staff in the loop, even mid-merger

With a company acquisition in progress, Vocollect employees can get updates and ask questions through their phones

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Telecommuting and on-the-road employees are usually less tuned in to company buzz, owing to the challenges of accessing intranets over VPN connections or via mobile phone. Add the always-stressful environment of an impending acquisition, and you have the potential for plenty of nervous workers who feel out of the loop.

That would have been the situation at Pittsburgh’s Vocollect Healthcare Systems this month, if not for the quick decision to bring in systems that would help employees stay on top of the company’s sale, whether they’re at the office or away. (Vocollect Healthcare’s voice recognition technology, AccuNurse, helps health-care workers maintain patient records via voice recordings.) The company is hoping that Yammer, the Facebook-like internal network for organizations, will make it possible for workers to trade questions and concerns as the acquisition of the company proceeds.

Starting in 2010, Vocollect Healthcare began to wade into social media waters with a blog, Facebook page and YouTube channel, says Pam Rak, the company’s acting VP of marketing.

“Initially, there was some reticence on the part of senior management to using social media,” Rak says. “But they were delighted to see that even some sectors of our audience that we thought were behind the curve with social media—like long-term care nurses—adopted it. So the comfort level with social media got raised.”

In mid-January, employees found out that Vocollect Healthcare and its parent company, Vocollect Inc., would soon be acquired by Intermec of Everett, Wash. That raised the question, Rak says, of how to get into an ongoing conversation with employees about the deal and about potential changes. However, many of Vocollect Healthcare’s 50 employees were scattered all over the country and were frequently in the field, helping customers with implementations or conducting training classes.

“The usual tools for employee communication weren’t sufficient for our needs,” Rak explains. “The parent company has an internal network called Collab, but there was no mobile app, and it was hard for remote workers to log in via the VPN.”

Like Facebook, Yammer enables users to post updates and share links to news, and carry on conversations with other people. It also enables businesses to keep posts private within a company, or even within groups within a company (such as sales or HR). That Yammer offered an app for mobile devices sealed the deal. (Most Vocollect employees use BlackBerries, although a few have permission to use their iPhones or Android phones for business communications.)

“When a company is being acquired, there can be a lot of instability,” Rak says. “You can use social media as a way to talk to employees, and to get them to talk to you. This gave us a way for people to ask questions in a way they haven’t done before.” It also gave mobile workers a way to take part in these conversations.

Yammer does have a free version of its service, but Vocollect chose its enterprise pricing model: $5 per user per month. That gives Rak and her marketing colleagues extra management tools and stepped-up support from Yammer.

To kick off Yammer’s availability in mid-January, Rak worked with the CEO to create an e-mail announcing the new feature. If you’re trying to get buy-in on new social media or mobile applications, Rak recommends going as high up the corporate ladder as possible: “When people get an e-mail from the company president, they take it more seriously.”

The executive e-mail appears to have worked: As of a couple of weeks ago, nearly all employees had set up their Yammer accounts. Though there hasn’t been too much discussion yet about the recently announced acquisition, Rak predicts that will come later. For now, workers are simply trading comments about new customers and current implementations, or about matters as basic as computer problems.

“Before, these communications would all have been e-mail based,” Rak explains. “Now people on the road don’t have to wait until they get back to their hotel or the office to see the messages—they can see them right on their phones,” Rak explains. “And they can add their feedback from the phones, which encourages more discussion.”

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