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Lost in translation

BRANDED APPS
The firm researched various bespoke apps, including Yammer and Facebook Workplace, but opted for Speakap because it could be branded, which makes it feel more personal. Unlike the one-way communication of a newsletter, the app is very much a dialogue. Staff share ideas with each other and create groups for operations, management, chefs and site personnel. “It’s also instant. If something really exciting happens, we don’t want people to have to wait until the Friday newsletter, we want to let them know instantly,” says Watts.

Speakap came out of the retail sector, which has similar challenges to FM in terms of communicating with a geographically-spread front line, few of whom are desk-based. The importance of these types of tool being company branded cannot be underestimated, says Guy Chiswick, Speakap’s MD. “A non-branded app doesn’t feel that professional or personal and can easily get lost in your phone, whereas a branded version stands out. If you’re on a zero hours contract on minimum wage, you might not be that engaged, so the company has to work hard to make you feel involved.” The tool, which is also used by German FM company Wisag, is intuitive and consumer oriented.

Another channel which is becoming popular in FM circles is Andjaro, a management platform used by organisations to let their part-time or temporary team members know when there are spare shifts. Employees can also show when they’re available for additional work, removing the need for managers to have to phone around or use temporary agencies. It’s used by firms including Serco and Sodexo, particularly where the workforce may be very disparate.

Employees do need a smartphone to use the tool, explains Nick Adams at Andjaro. But he believes many employers are increasingly writing that into employment contracts so they have a sure-fire way of communicating with their disparate teams.

Other organisations have developed bespoke apps. Australian cleaning firm Cirka, which is opening in the UK, has the MyCirka app which the company uses to send announcements and updates quickly and easily to the teams. “We can post information to all employees or direct it to a particular group, site or contract,” says Gary Binder, Regional Director at Cirka.

For washroom supplies firm Woosh, Slack is a great tool to collaborate and communicate with their teams based all over the UK. “Dedicated Slack channels for different projects, sites and teams, together with WhatsApp groups for smaller groups, are an ideal way to communicate directly with our people,” says Woosh’s Wayne Magahy. “But nothing beats a good old-fashioned eyeball to eyeball conversation over a traditional cup of tea with our fellow Wooshettes. We enjoy engaging with honest, open dialogue and accept robust feedback – and sometimes that can only be done face-to-face.”

Slack, Basecamp and Trello are used by visitor management tech firm Proxyclick, which has people based all around the world working in different time zones. “Slack allows us to communicate seamlessly with one another and our partners without hundreds of email chains,” says founder and CEO Gregory Blondeau. “In the same way that our visitor management app helps our customers to keep track of their visitors, Slack allows us to keep track of our projects and communicate effectively with people we may only see a few times a year.”

However service partners choose to communicate with their frontline staff, it needs to be a dialogue, says Bruce Barclay. “Everyone tends to focus on pushing out information, but you also need to listen, embrace and engage. The coalface cleaner or handyman often does not feel engaged in the client business. If they don’t feel the love, or see the importance of their contribution, then they’re not going to go the extra mile.”

TOP TIPS FOR COMMUNICATING WITH FRONTLINE STAFF 

  • Choose a number of different channels from digital to physical to ensure your message is received at the front line.
  • Provide opportunities for a dialogue – communication shouldn’t be one-way. You need to listen more than you speak.
  • Ask staff what they want – surveys are great ways to get feedback about their experiences of your business, but also let you know how they want to communicate.
  • Make sure frontline staff receive, and engage with, communications both from the client organisation and their employer.
  • Don’t force engagement.

About Sarah OBeirne

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