On-the-go tech allows HR and employees alike to easily take care of daily tasks.
By Simon Kent
Artificial intelligence and automation are set to have a huge impact on business and the workplace. For HR, however, the tech in people’s pockets could be more game-changing. The oft-heard phrase, “There’s an app for that,” has permeated the function, leaving HR directors with the task of working out how these potentially useful solutions can benefit their business.
Senior Stakeholder Lead at the CIPD Katie Jacobs sees no reason why HR leaders shouldn’t make the most of the apps on the marketplace. The ubiquitous smartphone means this kind of technology is readily available and usually requires no employee training—a huge plus for organisations. Indeed, ease of use is one reason why workers often turn to external apps rather than using the tech provided by their employer. “Because we use apps to run our personal lives and relationships, when we get to work, the technology there can seem quite clunky,” says Jacobs. “People get frustrated by the tools in the workplace so they find ways to work around them.”
Whilst admitting that the relatively recent popularity of apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram has made it more difficult for companies to establish guidelines or policies for their use, Jacobs argues that the misuse of such apps is a reflection of company culture rather than the apps themselves. “There could be concerns about bullying or harassment, but that is not the fault of the technology,” she says. “The technology might offer a channel where it can happen but at the end of the day, that’s about your company culture.”
Dawn Moore, group people director of Murphy Group, agrees that app use is a positive thing, allowing the workforce the opportunity to access employee services wherever they may be. “My sector is infrastructure and construction, and clearly not everyone works nine to five,” she says. “My experience as an employee should be the same regardless of whether I’m working at different times or locations. For example, there should be an easy way to book holidays without me needing to be in an office with a computer.
“I always start from the premise of listening to employees and thinking about what would make their lives easier,” Moore continues. “If they say it would help them to have this technology to do these things, I feel that’s a much better starting point than considering technology in a boardroom situation and discussing how this would be nice to have but how will employees react?”
Without a doubt, more business-specific apps are already proving their worth for HR in a variety of ways. Keen to promote employee engagement with his company-wide presentations, Daniel Danso, global diversity manager for the law firm Linklaters, has been using an app by Vevox to deliver real-time involvement with his audience. “In some countries, pointing at people and asking for feedback simply did not work,” he says. “In others, everyone in the meeting was reluctant to speak up because they were afraid they did not have the right answer or were concerned about being shown up in front of their colleagues.”
Not only did the app enable Danso to capture feedback anonymously, but it also gave him insight into firm-wide data from the 5,000 people across 28 countries who attended a session. “In a business context, it is a very practical way for organisations to evidence they are including people in the conversation and taking a diverse range of views on board when making decisions,” he concludes.
Apps can also help HR eliminate administrative headaches. Pat Woodfield, HR director at corporate clothing company Dimensions, says the use of a mobile app from Selenity has supported her company’s flexible approach to working, ensuring that employees can claim their expenses on-the-go. “We run expense payments twice a month and this frequency means that employees will always have their claims refunded in no more than two weeks,” she says. The new app-based system has reduced administrative work, removing the need for company credit cards or cash advances. “The process is straightforward for employees and as a result, they’re much happier.”
Dedicated employee-orientated apps such as Zest and Perkbox mean the workforce has access to their benefits and reward packages wherever and whenever they want. But they also offer communication channels for HR.
“Zest allows companies to communicate to their employees by creating messaging through the pages on the site where they can communicate company culture, values, or a list of upcoming company events to keep everyone in the loop,” explains Alistair Dunn-Coleman, head of product at Zest Benefits.
Whether a dedicated employer-related app or a general use product, these mobile technologies don’t necessarily require an additional official policy. After all, they’re simply another form of technology that should slot in alongside the tools that employees already use. However, HR leaders should ensure that employee use is consistent with and reflects the company’s general people-related policies, providing a safe and positive platform where work can be carried out.
Jacobs also notes that whilst apps offer the chance to manage some positive aspects of employment, such as claiming rewards and understanding benefits wherever the employee may be, they can also push work concerns into home life. Businesses need to manage expectations around this possibility and respect their employees’ work-life balance.
“If you’re in a junior position, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a separate work phone, so the company needs to be aware if they are messaging people out of hours,” she says. “Even if the person sending out the message is not expecting a reply, it can put pressure on someone.”
For some in the company, it may seem natural to be on call 24/7; for example, senior managers may not feel that such contact exerts any extra pressure on them at all. However, for app use to be successful, all workers should understand the boundaries and conditions of use from day one.