catherine_powerKatherine Power (pictured right), Vice President of Communications & Corporate Affairs at Sodexo Canada, sums up the success of their employee app: “Each small increase in retention saves us thousands of dollars and therefore we believe investing in an app like Sodexo Echo should be a no-brainer for companies similar to ours.”

In May 2014, Sodexo Canada approached TheAppBuilder to create a private app to increase employee engagement when traditional methods were proving to be consistently ineffective in reaching operational staff. TheAppBuilder is an enterprise mobile app development company with a successful track record in providing global corporations with secure native employee apps.

A need for a direct connection to frontline employees

Power found that using offline communication methods proved to be inconsistent between teams: “When we were trying to cascade messages through the organisation via management, it wasn’t working. So we needed to be able to reach people directly.”

sodexo1The company wanted a solution that operational staff could use on their own time, on the way to work, for example. A system whereby every staff member could be instantly updated with everything from daily briefs to health and safety alerts and company news.

The vast majority of Sodexo frontline employees have smartphones, so reaching people via their personal device was definitely a strong option.

Sodexo asked TheAppBuilder to create a private app to engage the thousands of frontline employees across Canada.

James Scott, TheAppBuilder CEO explains: “Eighty per cent of mobile usage is spent in apps, with only 20% on the mobile web. The reasons we like apps in our personal lives – convenience, speed and fun – are what makes them such great work tools”. He continues, “companies find that apps are really popular with their employees, much more so than for example a mobile intranet. An app can connect a mobile workforce together improving efficiencies and can transform the responsiveness of operational teams.”

Engage staff to retain staff

sodexo_phone0Sodexo Canada employs around 9000 hourly paid operational staff based in more than five hundred customer locations. Research indicated that typically these employees would feel isolated from the business as they would have no way of finding out about Sodexo, what it stands for and what career opportunities exist for them.

Frontline employees would associate their employment and culture with the branch location where they work rather than with Sodexo as their employer and consequently would have little or no allegiance to the company.

Staff turnover rates in these kind of ‘entry level pay’ businesses are universally high, so even small gains in retention levels have a major positive impact in business results. Unsurprisingly, staff engagement and employee retention are key business metrics for Sodexo.

Scott believes an employee operations app can’t just be about providing information, although it needs to be content-rich. As he puts it, “there needs to be a two-way element – somewhere where employees can interact, express views, suggest solutions to problems they encounter”.

Collaborative build

sodexo3[5336]An initial pilot using iPads was conducted in 20 sites in the Toronto area in order to determine what kind of support would be required for roll out across the country. To provide further insights the app was made available on a dedicated iPad at 100 locations across Canada.

Having taken feedback and suggestions on board, the app named ‘Sodexo Echo’ was then fully launched in summer 2015 in both English and French.

As well as news features, employee benefits, and weekly job alerts, the app includes content aimed at employee wellness, corporate responsibility (including ‘Stop Hunger’ – Sodexo’s charitable foundation) and volunteer opportunities.

Power explains:

“It was very important that content was relevant to staff rather than wholly focused on the business.

“The overall sentiment expressed by frontline employees was one of ‘being flattered’ that the company would build an app specifically for them.”

Anecdotal positive feedback from frontline staff includes: “I like the diversity and inclusion section”, “having an app makes me feel connected”.

Ongoing connection and measurement

The content is updated frequently from Sodexo’s regional Head Office in Toronto with updates available on all sites within seconds. It’s deployed to hundreds of fixed iPad kiosks and is remotely updated using TheAppBuilder’s simple-to-use content management system.

Fundamentally, the app has the ability for employees to provide feedback and to share a story. Google analytics show that the three most popular sections are the news feed, “Stop Hunger” section and the section on diversity and inclusion.

Plans for the app for the near future include creating individual sign-ons and personalisation of content.

The bottom line – employee retention increased by 4.6%

sodexo_bk[5333]From the business perspective, Sodexo Canada has seen an 8 point employee engagement increase from 59% to 67% driven in large part by the positive contribution from frontline employees.

Overall employee retention has increased by 4.6 percentage points over the last year. Of course, it is not easy to isolate the specific positive contribution that the app has made in achieving these results. However, only a very small increase in retention (i.e. typically less than one half percentage point) associated with the introduction of the app would have been required in order to provide a positive return on investment due to the saving of recruitment and onboarding costs.

Power concludes: “As well as helping us improve customer service, we are confident the app has achieved its objective in connecting with frontline employees”.