Communication Strategies for Employee Engagement: An Interview with Jeff Corbin of APPrise Mobile

In this incisive interview, Jeff Corbin, CEO, and Founder, APPrise Mobile, talks to HR Technologist about the best communication strategies for employee engagement. Get actionable tips on how to communicate better – with white collar workers, remote and freelance workers, and especially with the 2.4 billion deskless workers of the world.

Employee engagement is a huge deal today for most HR leaders. What evolution in the space of Employee Engagement over the last few years led you to develop a specific product to help HR address this issue?

Technology has really been the catalyst of change when it comes to employee engagement, and more and more, companies are becoming challenged to keep up with ever-changing consumer behavior, including the way they prefer to receive content.

For the past 20+ years, I have been consulting with companies on their communications and, especially with their communications to employees. It became clear to me several years ago that an opportunity existed for companies to be more efficient and do better in getting information to their employees. Nearly everyone now has a mobile device, so if there was an easy and cost-effective way to take advantage of them, why not develop the software (i.e. an app) that would allow them to get information directly into the hands of their employees rather than rely on “trickle down” or cascading systems to communicate with front-line employees? Moreover, to the extent employees were relying on the small screens of their iPhones and Androids, there was a need to rethink the way content is created and distributed. Once-effective tactics like company newsletters and in-office posters, while still valuable, aren’t as effective as they used to be. And, there are no analytics to support whether their messages are working or resonating.

Employees at all levels and age groups are becoming increasingly digital. What are the typical challenges and roadblocks employers face in engaging employees in the omnichannel, always-connected world?

While the digital world can inherently create a “connected” environment for a dispersed or decentralized workforce by linking employees together, for companies with largely “deskless” employees (those who do not use a computer as part of their day-to-day work), tools like email and corporate intranets are not an option. In many organizations, intranets have become dumping grounds for content which can overwhelm employees with information causing them to ignore or overlook what is important. Unfortunately, while employees are increasingly becoming digital, the companies they work for are not. The good news is this is starting to change, especially since communications and HR professionals have the ability to identify new tools that are within their budgets and don’t require extensive IT involvement.

If a mid to large size company’s CHRO was just starting out on a structured employee engagement strategy, what should she prioritize and what would be the key milestones in that journey?

One of the first things a CHRO or Human Resources Manager should do when building out their engagement strategy is to assess how employees want to be communicated with. Undoubtedly, they will say mobile, since it’s the easiest. After that, the CHRO should find out what information employees want and need to have easy access to through their mobile device. An engagement strategy needs to be centered around what the employee needs to do their job and make their life better, not what the company thinks they need. If employees don’t care about the information being made available to them, they will ignore it.

This can be accomplished by simply issuing a survey on this subject. Take the information gathered and act on it. Qualitatively, things, like building the team and organizational unity, improving KPIs related to employees, enhancing employee engagement scores, as well as increasing engagement for corporate initiatives, can be evaluated (albeit less objectively).

How would the approach to engaging deskless and deskbound workforces differ, in practical application?

Believe it or not, there are 2.4. billion deskless workers in the global workforce. These are the truck drivers, manufacturing line employees, burrito makers and baristas, housekeepers, and healthcare professionals located in every country in the world. As I mentioned before, these folks do not work in traditional office settings, at a desk and in front of a computer. Many are part-time or outsourced, and therefore don’t have corporate email addresses or access to company intranets. What that means for HR professionals is that many people do not receive the information that their deskbound counterparts receive.

This is a major problem for many organizations. In fact, in a recent survey of more than 1,000 deskless employees that we conducted, only 56% of those responding felt connected and engaged by their employers. The deskless worker tends not to receive the same attention when it comes to communications and engagement as compared to their ‘white-collar’ counterparts, and so it’s up to HR and other professionals responsible for communicating with employees to invest in the tools to reach all workers equally. Again, this is where mobile communication can serve as a highly effective solution, allowing employees from the mail room to the shop floor to receive instant updates on benefits information, company news, announcements, and tailored notices related to their specific job functions or locations.

Even among the white-collar workforce; remote working, gig working and freelancing – even for important positions – is becoming mainstream and acceptable. What mindset and skill set upgrades do HR leaders need to compete in this context?

When it comes to the increasing gig, freelance, and remote workers, HR leaders need to first and foremost be aware of and willing to accept the changing workforce. Those who are Millennials and part of Generation Z have different requirements and expectations in how they are communicated with. They want easy and instantaneous access to information. They want short and concise communications. This means the way in which HR-related information like benefits, compensation, and policies are communicated needs to change, and HR professionals – like their communications counterparts – therefore should rethink how this information is distributed.

Another skill needed for HR professionals is to be more data-driven in their approach. It’s important for HR managers to showcase what is effective and will drive the most attention and interaction from employees to prove value to the C-Suite, as well as elevate their communications strategies where needed. While one of the best ways to accomplish this is through analytics, a recent study from Bersin by Deloitte showed that 60% of HR pros lack basic data literacy. It will be key for HR executives to hone in on developing these skills in order to remain effective and provide value moving forward.

What metrics and analytics can HR users get from an app such as theEMPLOYEEapp? In what areas would they be able to best demonstrate the business impact of the investment?

We introduced an analytics platform for theEMPLOYEEapp this year to address this issue, and further help communications and HR professionals effectively and efficiently evaluate engagement, particularly when it comes to what content is viewed the most and for how long (i.e. videos, if they are reading entire newsletters or just certain stories contained in them), determine the frequency and quality of content being created, and offer a way to know that information is actually being received by the front-line. Through these enhanced analytics, HR leaders can make more informed decisions on where resources should be allocated to better optimize engagement and ultimately drive greater business success.

What technologies and trends are you tracking in HRTech as we go into 2020?

Moving forward, we’ll be spending a lot of time focused on our analytics and how companies across different industries are evaluating (and changing) their content distribution and creation strategies in light of the information available to them and how employees are consuming and engaging with it. We are at the very early days of mobile, and it’s no longer about how to take computer accessible content and contrive it into the small screens of mobile devices. Rather, it’s about how companies really start to take advantage of the opportunity that mobile technology offers them to do business differently and to be more efficient and effective in doing so.

HRT: Thank you for such strategic insights into the best communication strategies for employee engagement, Jeff. We hope to speak with you again, soon!

About Jeff Corbin

As a corporate communications consultant for the past 20 years, Jeff Corbin is pioneering the use of technology in the communications industry as the founder of APPrise Mobile, a business-to-business/enterprise native app. Prior to APPrise Mobile, Jeff served as the CEO of KCSA Strategic Communications in New York City.

About APPrise Mobile:
APPrise Mobile is the developer of theEMPLOYEEapp®, an internal communication and employee engagement mobile platform that allows companies of any size to have their own branded app for Apple and Android devices (as well as a web app). It securely integrates with a company’s employee database and allows for the aggregation and distribution of content, workplace tools as well as the instantaneous push of messages, directly to an employee’s mobile device.


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