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04 March 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Workers in the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries are using messaging apps without the HR department’s knowledge, reports Herpreet Kaur Grewal.

Research suggests that frontline ‘desk-less’ workers in retail, hospitality and entertainment industries are turning to unapproved messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for work-related communications – often without the HR department’s knowledge.

A study by private entrepreneur social network Speakap stated that half of global frontline workers admit using messaging apps up to six times daily for work reasons.

Sixty-eight per cent of respondents said they would stop using social media sites if their firms provided an internal communications platform to keep them up to date on company/product information and learnings with colleagues, teams, office staff and management. They also regarded document management/access and clearly communicated timelines for their work more important than AI, video or voice recognition technology.

Letting workers continue to use popular apps could also compromise a firm’s data security, undermine employee well-being because of the 24/7 nature of such apps and cause a company to fail an audit even if a data breach does not happen especially in senstive, highly regulated industries. 

So this month we asked, is your communications system good enough or do workers rely too much on messaging apps?

Zoe Watts

‘VachChat’ talkback

As a contract caterer that operates in London, we’ve historically relied on a weekly email newsletter to our frontline teams’ personal emails, complemented by daily onsite meetings where company news could be disseminated. We all operate in London, so we’re lucky enough to see teams on a weekly basis and not only be at the end of a phone, but the end of a short walk too. The open rate of our newsletters was fairly low, at about 60 per cent; the feedback we had from our team was that they wanted more.

We recently launched our bespoke dashboard and centralised comms app ‘VachChat’ to streamline our internal communication as the result of listening to what it was that would help our teams do their jobs better and feel a more inclusive part of the business. Seventy per cent of our staff don’t have a business-specific email address, but as long as they can have access to the internet and/or a smartphone, they can hear and see what’s going on. Before we launched the app, we were confident that the comms we were sending out via the weekly newsletter were read, but just not as much as they should’ve been. VachChat allows us to reach our staff in a way that’s convenient for them and allows us to share news in real-time… everyone in our business can now post on the timeline. 

Zoe Watts, commercial director at Vacherin 

Kelly Howell

Different mediums

The key for us is to treat our 25,000 colleagues in the UK as consumers. People won’t necessarily read something just because they receive it. We focus so much on what we want to say that we forget to consider what we want the person at the other end to think, feel or do as a result. I think businesses should communicate in as many different ways as possible. This is particularly important for companies like ours that have a diverse workforce made up of people of different ages, backgrounds, beliefs and customs, which is indicative to FM. We use lots of different mediums, so we have the best chance of reaching our frontline teams in a way which suits them. 

This includes messages on email payslips, posters which are available for managers to distribute to client sites, ‘Atalian World’ – our learning platform which all colleagues can access, social media including Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and LinkedIn, and sometimes old-fashioned paper letters. 

But there are downsides to every method… Posters can end up never making it to site. People move to a new house and can forget to let us know their new address, so letters fail to reach them, and many people aren’t on social media. 

Kelly Howell, HR director at Atalian Servest

Patrick Van Der Mijl

Data breach risks

We know from our research that 53 per cent of frontline workers use consumer messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, up to six times a day for workplace communication, with 16 per cent saying their HR departments are unaware of such use. Those numbers should be an alarm signal for businesses. But a key reason this is happening is that workers simply don’t understand the types of problems and risks they’re exposing their employers to. And using these apps as internal communications tools simply because they’re popular or have wide reach just aren’t good enough reasons. Data from our study shows that the 24/7 nature of messaging apps like WhatsApp can make it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Plus, there are the data security challenges that arise, especially when you consider the sheer number of data breaches and violations Facebook and WhatsApp have faced over the last several years. 

And using messaging apps like WhatsApp creates a mass spamming style of communications. Messages that firms deliver to their non-desk workforce can’t be spammy, irrelevant or insensitive to employees’ needs, as it won’t just turn them off – it’ll make them less efficient and less connected to their employer’s purpose and vision.

Employees are crying out for more personalised, relevant and intuitive communications methods. When we asked ‘if your company provided an internal communications platform/app, would you stop using apps and social media sites to communicate with fellow colleagues?’ 68 per cent of the respondents in our study said ‘yes’. 

Patrick Van Der Mijl, 

co-founder of Speakap

Lin Dickens

Contributing ideas

The true measurement of whether internal comms is effective is dependent on what the ultimate objective is.

Are you communicating with mass internal audiences to facilitate engagement? Is it to drive operational excellence? Is it to maintain contact with a disparate workforce? Is it all of the above?

Progressive business will have developed internal comms mechanisms that are safe, accessible and inspiring.

We employ more than 900 people in different locations around the country, and we understand the need to communicate appropriately with a diverse workforce.

That’s why we launched our #bmfamily app last year. Our new mobile communication and messaging app has transformed our communications. 

In the five months since it was introduced the on-the-go messaging app has already become a crucial element of our employee engagement. 

It provides a secure online platform to share information through an Instagram-style news feed as well as GDPR-compliant one-to-one and group chats. It enables access to a mobile team directory, video and photo sharing, flash polling and a mute function that allows staff to snooze notifications until their next shift. 

Not only has the app become a way to support training and development by sharing best practice, every team member is able to have direct communication with the company founders as well as other colleagues and senior management, enabling them to contribute their ideas.

Lin Dickens, marketing director, 

Bartlett Mitchell