Today's workforce is more fragmented than ever, with many companies still operating in a hybrid or totally remote model. It's increasingly likely this fragmentation will continue. While remote work offers plenty of benefits for employees and employers, there are some challenges—with communication being chief among them.
Fortunately, in the current digital environment, there are many options for mobile apps that can help streamline communications and ensure that employees and managers stay connected with their teams, colleagues and others. From enterprise tools like Slack to free apps and plug-ins, HR professionals are making use of a wide range of apps as they continue to navigate a new work reality.
Slack Tops the List
Shortly before the pandemic, in February 2020, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a list of "5 Apps to Improve Employee Communications." Slack was at the top of the list. Zoom was listed second. Obviously, both tools have seen widespread adoption since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Slack was already a go-to internal communications tool, but it's seen increasing usage since many work teams started working remotely.
The other three apps included in the U.S. Chamber's list were project management tools Trello and Wrike, and Connecteam, an employee management solution with team communication functions.
Tools in Action
Maciek Kubiak, head of people at PhotoAiD, a passport photo generator based in Warsaw, Poland, said Slack is the application that has worked best for the company since its move to a remote-work environment. "Overall, Slack's convenience is because it is a WhatsApp-like platform geared toward businesses," Kubiak said. "It remains a simple, primarily chat-based platform with features specifically designed to enhance remote-team collaboration."
There are some drawbacks, he said. Slack doesn't include features to track workflow and doesn't entirely solve the problem of personal interaction. "Humans are social creatures, and people work best in teams when they are familiar with their team members," he said.
Cathleen Garcia, HR manager for Skill Success, an online learning platform based in Irvine, Calif., said her company uses "many project management tools and communication apps to seamlessly integrate our tasks and communicate efficiently in the organization." These include Slack, as well as other tools such as Teamwork (a project management tool) and Jira (a project management tool designed specifically for software development teams). The tools are useful, she said, to "help us communicate effectively and track the progress of each task delegated to everyone." They provide a transparent and seamless environment that's important for engagement and productivity.
New employees are trained how to use the tools during onboarding. "The learning curve is pretty straightforward," she said, because the tools are easy to navigate. That's important to ensure both adoption and ongoing use.
With so many options available, it's important for HR teams to be strategic in considering what tools to adopt to best meet their organizations' needs.
Wading Through the Many Options
"There are hundreds of mobile tools available to support an organization's people strategy," said Rhonda Marcucci, vice president of HR and the benefits technology consulting practice at Gallagher, an insurance and risk management firm in Chicago. "In just the first half of the year, investors have pumped nearly $20 billion into the HR technology sector," she said. Gallagher's HR and benefits technology team monitors and evaluates these tools.
Finding the right app, she said, involves more than just considering the app's capabilities; not every app is a good fit for every employer. "Finding a best-fit app requires employers to define their goals for an app clearly and specifically, prioritize these goals, and then be prepared to make some trade-off decisions," Marcucci said. While there are likely apps available for whatever needs might be identified, it's important to consider how many apps employees will be willing to engage with. "In my experience, that number is very low," she said.
Marcucci recommended considering a "hub approach"—selecting an app that offers strong communications and engagement and supports or links to other HR mobile platforms.
Marcucci said it's important for organizations to consider risk as they adopt communication and project management apps. "Especially in a hybrid-work environment where many organizations have a BYOD—bring your own device—policy, communicating with employees and asking them to engage with the organization via an app may mean people are using their personal phones to do so," she said, which may lead to potential security risks.
Fair Labor Standards Act considerations also come into play. "If an app uses text technology, will employees potentially incur expenses for those texts?" Marcucci asked. "Also, for non-salaried employees, employers should be mindful of whether the use of apps may be perceived as an expectation to work off the clock—for instance, are messages sent after hours?"
HR professionals should "work with their HR technology advisors to help define their needs and learn what's available in the marketplace that meets those needs," Marcucci advised. "This will give employers confidence that they are making an informed choice around best-fit technology to support their people strategy."
Mobile apps have provided substantial benefits for organizations throughout the pandemic and are likely to remain in play long after virus concerns have subsided. But, as with any technology consideration, it's important to think strategically as well as practically about how the apps will be used, how they'll integrate with other systems, and what the adoption rates and costs might be in terms of training and ongoing support.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.