By Gloria Lombardi

Foodservice Employee Using Phone 3The first ever mobile phone to feature apps, the IBM Simon, was launched over 20 years ago. Since then, the mobile (r)evolution has led to a seismic shift in the way companies operate and interact with their customer base.

Spending on mobile hardware and software shows no sign of slowing down. By 2020, the global smartphone-installed base is supposed to exceed six billion handsets, up from four billion in 2016. Mobile-based payment services, such as Apple Pay, will be available on over five billion devices. Messaging applications, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, are expected to reach 4.2 billion unique users by 2021. Over the next five years, chatbot use within messaging apps are also likely to open up new avenues for the e-commerce and banking sectors, among others.

So the game has truly changed. Companies are developing new ways to engage consumers as part of a wider platform strategy.

The challenge is now for businesses to use mobile tech to engage their employees. New research by workplace performance software, Nudge Rewards, shows a disconnect between workers’ perceived value of mobile and the ability of their employers to maximise its benefits in the workplace.

Learning what employees want and need from the enterprise mobile experience, could prove to be a key part of effective internal communications today. To this end, Nudge Rewards explored the views of 1,000 Millennials and 1,000 Gen X employees across various industries in the UK.

Reviewing the full results will help you hone in on what is lacking in your workplace, and exactly what is needed to create a successful digital workplace in the mobile age.

The mobile disconnect

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon is gaining acceptance across UK employers, with 43% of them allowing staff to use their personal devices at work. The benefits are obvious, so long as security risks are managed.

Almost 50% of customer facing employees surveyed by Nudge Rewards think that mobiles make them more efficient at work. For example, 32% use their devices to answer customers’ questions and engage in additional conversations, and 26% access product information. A further 33% use their mobile to communicate with colleagues about work related issues, speed up team communication, and breakdown information bottlenecks.

But even though half (51%) of all employees think that mobile helps them do their job better, just 8% of them are actually encouraged by their management to use their devices at work.

Nudge Rewards found that BYOD is higher within organisations where the majority of staff are office based, and lower where front-line staff are more dispersed. This seems contrary to common sense, considering the great need to connect decentralised people to the organisation.

For example, in industries such as retail, which is going through a massive digital transformation, the proliferation of BYOD is surprisingly very low: only 30% of employees are allowed to use their personal mobile devices at work. The situation improves for consulting, with BYOD acceptance rising to 65%.

Lindsey 1That said, workers use their smartphones and tablets anyway. On average, they use their devices for 1.5 hours during the working day.

So people are ready to challenge organisational culture and rules. “Employees are going to use their smartphones no matter what, and this trend is only going to increase. Organisations are beginning to fall behind in terms of evolving their workplace culture and policies to keep up with the world’s increasing use of mobile technology,” points out Lindsey Goodchild (pictured right), Founder and CEO at Nudge Rewards.

Broken communications and lack of trust

Mixed messages from management about the use of mobile devices in the workplace is one of the main causes of the disconnect between value and actual use of mobile. According to the study, 26% of employees are unaware of their employer’s policy on BYOD, if there is one in the first place! That is indicative of a workplace environment where staff can be confused and unsure about using their tools and apps. Goodchild believes that better communications and conversations about BYOD practices and guidelines would help reduce this uncertainty.

But, what underlies all of this is a deeper cultural problem: a lack of trust: 41% of employees worry that either their manager or customers will think they are using their device for personal reasons, even though they are using it for work. So 30% use their devices ‘discreetly’ out of fear of being judged by their supervisor. Again, this is a particular problem within the retail industry, with 40% of employees saying there’s a lack of trust surrounding the use of mobile at their workplaces.

For Goodchild it is clear that “organisations need to continuously and consistently communicate their stance on mobile phone use to cut through old cultural barriers. Supervisors especially need to understand new ways of working”.

Productivity and the communication paradox

RetailEmployees2 There are several studies that explore the impact of mobile tools on employee productivity. One of them, ‘Mobile, performance and engagement’ by the Economist Intelligence Unit, found that 60% of workers say that mobile technology enables them to be more productive.

Nudge Rewards’ report suggests that, overall, productivity could be improved by 12% if staff could have access to more information when and where they need it.

But according to the study, only 50% of employees believe they receive company updates effectively, in real time. This is despite the fact that two thirds of those surveyed would be happy to be contacted even outside working hours!

As the lines continue to blur between personal and work lives, UK workers appear to be open to seeing work-related updates around the clock.

Despite this positive attitude to out-of-hours communiqués and conversations and the clear need for real-time information, it seems businesses still inadvertently create communication bottlenecks. Tellingly, 30% of polled employees say their managers are too busy, which delays the conversation flow between management and frontline teams. As many as 50% of workers also say that key decision makers are not ‘visible’.

Generational differences

Nudge Rewards wanted to explore the differences, if any, between Millennials and Gen X employees in how they use mobile tech at work. The youngest generation are heavier users: Millennial workers spend 25% more time on their devices per day than Gen X employees. This is equivalent to an additional 20 minutes per day. This reported usage fits with attitudes, as 53% of Millennial employees believe mobile technology helps them do their job better, versus 48% of Gen X workers.

To be fair, the difference is not huge. “Where people get confused is thinking that it’s a complete generational divide, where in fact everyone is becoming increasingly digital and everyone is using mobile more,” explains Goodchild.

Yet, Nudge Rewards also found that Millennials spend more time on messaging with friends or checking social media while at work. But they are also spending more time on work-related activities, such as reading corporate news or engaging in group messages with colleagues. They (33%) are also more open than Gen X to spending time on work-related activities outside of work hours. “It is becoming important for employers to recognise the changing dynamic of their workforce and, as a result, the differing needs of their employees,” points out Goodchild.

Closing the mobile disconnect

Foodservice_Employees2Acknowledging the mobile disconnect (the employee desire to use mobile and the employer reluctance to provide mobile channels) is the first step to solving the problem. Brands have been embracing digital transformation to offer innovative solutions to their customers – e-commerce, mobile marketing, online shopping, and so on. But looking at Nudge Rewards’ study, it appears many organisations have forgotten their employees along way. “It’s important to recognise the gap, and start equipping workers with the right technology to do their job. Otherwise, employee engagement and the excellent customer experience that they are trying to provide will be jeopardised,” says Goodchild.

Nudge Rewards is not just saying, ‘Let your employees use their phones’.  A strategy is required to bring in the right technologies, security, access, and apps. It might mean rolling-out an enterprise social network, retooling internal communications for mobile engagement, or it may be necessary to leverage apps to get specific tasks done and drive performance. The strategy, solutions, and adoption plan needs to fit the business requirements and culture. “It is about findings ways to leverage different tools to drive performance inside your company.”

Discovering what employees need and developing technologies that meet those needs certainly helps. By talking with clients and prospects, Nudge Rewards realised that a large number of employees liked to use chat apps, such as Facebook Messenger, to communicate directly with each other and change work shifts, for instance. But, using public apps in a work setting can be an issue for some employers, as workers may end up with sharing sensitive and private information, even when they have the best intentions. The client took that feedback into account, and extended their enterprise platform to include an enterprise chat feature for teams to securely message each other. They understood the need, and provided a better solution than the consumer apps.

Among the organisations using Nudge Rewards is The Restaurant Group. Three of its restaurant brands – Chiquito, Frankie & Benny’s, and Coast to Coast – are using the Nudge Rewards app to educate, train, and reward 5000 frontline employees, ultimately driving team performance and profitability. The app is also used as a restaurant communication tool to update employees in over 300 locations on new menu items, specials, and promotions.

So, there’s no excuse. Allowing staff to use modern technology and focus on their jobs in ways that scale for the business is essential. “For organisations, the tools are already in the hands of their employees. The key will be the ability to adapt, empower, and engage their workers to drive the best possible performance.”