By Gloria Lombardi

Empathica staff portraits at the HQ in Birmingham. Picture by Shaun Fellows / Shine Pix

Gary Topiol (pictured right) is the Managing Director EMEA at the workplace performance software company, Nudge Rewards. Their latest survey found a rather disappointing disconnect between workers’ perceived value of mobile and the ability of their employers to maximise its benefits in the workplace.

In this interview, Topiol advocates for a rethinking of old organisational structures and processes. He clarifies the benefits and challenges of using enterprise chat apps for internal communications and points out the need to focus on the emotional connections with dispersed staff in a mobile, digital workplace age.

GL: What causes the mobile disconnect you found from your recent study?

GT: Many businesses need to deliver excellent customer experiences as a competitive differentiator, and so they need their workforce to remain consistently customer focused. But, you can’t force staff to care about their work or deliver excellence every day. Old ‘command and control’ organisational structures might’ve ensured processes were adhered to in the past, but they don’t motivate workers to excel. People need inspiration and enablement.

N2Yet, some businesses struggle to adapt how they are organised internally and move away from a process driven approach. They find it increasingly difficult to move at the pace that their staff and technology are moving. Some businesses actively prevent their staff from using mobile devices to serve customers (due to a lack of trust).

Leaders need to reimagine how their business could be organised, to take advantage of mobile technology. Employees should be able to use their own devices, when appropriate, as part of the digital workplace.

Millennials and  Gen Zs, well, most of us really, use mobile devices intuitively – mobiles are just part of how we live now, how we access information, talk to each other, and express ourselves. Asking employees to leave their devices behind when they go to work is like chopping off their right hand. It just leaves them feeling uncomfortable and unable to do their job in the way that they would like.

GL: So, how should organisations ‘reimagine’ themselves in a mobile age?

Nudge1GT: The starting point for organisations is to acknowledge that many of their employees, in various situations, want to use mobile devices to do their job better. Our clients often express some reticence on behalf of their employees; they explain that people do not want to be contacted outside of office hours and that personal devices are reserved for personal matters. But we find exactly the opposite – employees are hungry for information. They want to know what is going on at work and are excited to be able to communicate in a low friction manner.

To address this reticence, digital workplace leaders need to educate management colleagues on current tech developments and explore potential benefits. Identifying existing business problems and seeing how mobile could address real difficulties can demonstrate the business impact along with trials and pilots. Mobile can improve productivity and enhance employee engagement when the tech is truly useful.

GL: What are the missed opportunities for companies who prevent their customer-facing employees from using mobile technology?

GT: Organisations have become modern and agile when it comes to communicating with their customers. But they’re leaving employees behind. It’s not uncommon for a customer to be better informed about a product, promotion or service than an employee when they walk into a shop.

N3It can be hard to communicate with frontline teams, and organisations are under-investing in this area; they don’t know how to solve the problem and so do very little. Customers receive marketing messages, new product information, and discount offers but employees often miss out. It’s not sustainable, this lack of engagement costs money. Leaders need to reimagine how they can effectively interact with frontline teams across the country.

One of biggest opportunities offered by mobile technology is around information flow.  Mobile devices can be used to better educate staff and ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest products and promotions. Staff need access to accurate information while on the shop floor, when interacting with customers.

A secondary opportunity is around team communication and collaboration. At Nudge, we found that in the absence of official mobile tools, local teams turned to consumer technology. For example, by using public chat apps to communicate among themselves. Clearly, there are benefits from a communication flow perspective, but, using consumer apps for internal communications also creates a lot of challenges and business risks. There’s no way to know what chat groups are out there, no way to manage who uses which groups, and no easy way to track what has been said and shared.

The enterprise chat functionality (launching Summer ‘17) within the Nudge app will allow organisations to centrally manage groups. When new employees join your company, they will be included in the right chat groups, and when someone leaves they will be securely removed.

GL: Will people be ready to let go of WhatsApp and switch to Nudge enterprise chat?

N5GT: We can expect some challenges around the change of course. We’ll help our clients explain the benefits; for instance, many people do not like to mix business with pleasure within public chat apps – as they already have a lot of friends using the same communication tool. Also, some people do not like to give their personal phone number to colleagues, which is necessary for using tools such as WhatsApp.

So there’s an appetite to have separate apps for work and personal life. The switch to Nudge enterprise chat will be better for both the company and its people.

GL: How can the business best engage staff who are in dispersed teams?

GT: It’s important to plan the content and timing of frontline communications. Many companies communicate too much, and fail to provide the most helpful or cirtical information. There must be a degree of focus around the business-critical messages, so that the right information can be delivered at the right time. While it can be hugely useful to push out urgent comms in real-time, in general, it’s necessary to have a solid comms plan – a comms calendar – so as not to overwhelm staff.

There’s no way to engage dispersed teams without investing in technology. Emails don’t reach all frontline staff, and you can’t expect the local manager to print off your email and read it out in a team huddle! No, you need to see what’s working in the consumer world and harness that mobile tech for employees. Nudge Rewards is a communications platform that allows organisations to design employee campaigns to engage frontline staff at the right time; it’s a mobile-first solution to the retail comms problem.

GL: How does Nudge Rewards change local leadership communications?

N4GT: If we take, for example, a restaurant that is open from 8am until 11pm there will be lots of team members working different shifts. The manager who runs the restaurant would typically spend a significant amount of time in the back office reading emails and managing tasks that have been pushed from head office. The staff don’t see any of this, it’s up to the local restaurant manager to triage and filter the information, and disseminate it as best they can. Not an easy task considering the different shift patterns.

Relying purely on the local manager is not effective. An organisation should interact with its team members consistently and know whether their messages have been received and understood. Communications should drive behaviour change, so monitoring is needed. It is about enabling an effective feedback loop.

The Nudge app delivers information directly to frontline team members, allowing the local leader to focus on leading, rather than being a conduit for corporate comms.

Over the past couple of years, organisations have worked to understand how customers feel after interacting with their business. People tend to remember feelings more than what actually happened, which is a key driver of loyalty. There’s been much less focus on understanding the emotional mindset of a member of staff who is trying to deliver great service. This is another important area that we need to evolve in the mobile and digital workplace age. The ability to communicate directly with each and every member of staff while also giving them a voice internally, rather than going through the cascade spiral, helps to draw employees into the business and its core culture. And that is what we’re trying to maintain at Nudge – the link between the frontline workforce and the broader business.

Contact Nudge Rewards when you need to communicate with frontline staff and engage mobile teams.